When one thinks about Walt Disney Studios’ creative output, films that generate billion-dollar box office figures are bound to be the first titles that come to mind. Disney dominated the box office in 2019 — the last year of normalcy, before the pandemic changed the way we view movies. “Avengers: Endgame,” that year’s biggest film, boasts a worldwide gross of roughly $2.8 billion. Of the top 10 highest grossing films in 2019, Disney made seven of them — and had a hand in the making of an eighth, “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” the 23rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

But there’s more to Disney Studios than big-budget blockbusters.

Beginning in 1983, the Disney Channel evolved into a showcase for niche films that appealed especially to the tween demographic — 9- to 13-year-olds. Some of the most recognizable of these include “The Cheetah Girls” franchise, the “High School Musical” franchise, “Camp Rock,” “Princess Protection Program,” and the “Descendants” franchise. With the introduction of Disney+ in November 2019, the studio added another platform — and another way to generate income — for exclusive movie content. During the pandemic, Disney+ also became an outlet for films that the studio had intended to release theatrically but chose not to due to COVID-19 protocols on public gatherings. 

“Stargirl” was never intended to be released in theaters. It debuted on Disney+ on March 13, 2020. Directed by Julia Hart, the film is based on the young adult novel of the same name written by American author Jerry Spinelli and published in 2000. Optimistic and rewarding, “Stargirl” is a melodious anthem for uniqueness played on a ukulele.

Now Disney+ has delivered a sequel. “Hollywood Stargirl,” billed as a teen romantic drama, was released on Disney+ on June 3.

Like its predecessor, “Hollywood Stargirl” is confident and hopeful, with not a hint of negativity to be found. It is disarmingly optimistic, and it manages to entrance viewers with its rose-colored perspective even though, deep down, we know chasing dreams can be risky business.

Hart returns to direct the sequel and Grace VanderWaal reprises her role as Susan "Stargirl" Caraway. Stargirl is a free spirit who plays the ukulele and sings cover songs. Set in the summer between her junior and senior year in high school, she and her mother are moving once again, leaving their Arizona home behind for a new world of possibilities in Los Angeles. The two relocate often as Stargirl’s mother, Ana (Judy Greer), job-hops repeatedly as she searches for the perfect career fit.

Almost immediately, Stargirl is presented with new friendships and new opportunities. She meets Evan (Elijah Richardson), who lives in the same apartment building. His brother Terrell (Tyrel Jackson Williams) wants to make a movie. After hearing Stargirl sing, Evan believes she could write music and possibly star in Terrell’s film.

The only source of tension in the film emerges when Ana loses her job and must decide between moving once again or staying in Los Angeles and trying to find employment. The situation provides a glimpse at real-world obstacles that often hinder or thwart the music makers and the dreamers of dreams. 

While the previous film focused on self-esteem and personal expression, “Hollywood Stargirl” emphasizes the importance of chasing your dreams. Once Stargirl finds her place in a community of like-minded creatives, she flourishes. She becomes part of a team that embraces her, encourages her, and challenges her to grow and evolve artistically. 

In many ways, the film is an homage to Hollywood. Ironically, early versions of the script sent Stargirl and her mother to Paris.

“Now I can’t imagine any other version of the film than the one that we landed on,” Hart said in the film’s production notes. “The thing that we missed the most during quarantine was our movie family, and so we wanted to tell a story about all the wonderful people that we get to work with and create with and what it means to find those people for the first time.”

“Hollywood Stargirl” is emotionally engaging and unapologetically hopeful. It’s a booster shot of optimism that might provide much-needed inspiration for the next generation of filmmakers, artists, composers, and writers.

 

Assistant reviewer B.C. Zumpe, a 15-year-old, shares her thoughts on the film:

 

I’ve had an interest in movies and theater for a long time. 

I would like to be a director someday, though I might find another job in the film industry that is equally attractive as I learn more about filmmaking. “Hollywood Stargirl” depicts the things I find appealing about making movies. Before we get into that, let’s start from the beginning. 

The film opens with Stargirl Carraway’s move from Mica, Arizona, to Los Angeles, California. For those of you who read the books, you should know that this isn’t based on “Love, Stargirl,” the sequel to the original novel “Stargirl.” This is a different story with different characters. 

One thing that the movie sequel has in common with the book sequel is that the story focuses on Stargirl’s perspective. Also, while Leo is mentioned, the only characters from the first movie that appear are Stargirl and her mother, Ana. 

Ana has a job as a costume designer for a movie. We soon discover that the director is not easy to work with. Stargirl is having doubts about constantly having to move. Ana is just trying to support her daughter, and it’s hard to find a permanent job. She promises Stargirl that they will stay for her senior year. 

After they settle into the new apartment, Stargirl starts singing and playing her ukulele. She is noticed by her neighbor, Evan, who compliments her singing. He and his brother Terrell are making a movie called “Tell Your Story,” and they need to make a sizzle reel, which is a small version of the actual movie. 

Evan thinks that Stargirl could write the music for it and play the female lead. Stargirl has never acted before, but Evan and Terrell convince her to try it. Stargirl ends up making some friends who help with the movie as well: a former producer who lives near her apartment (Judd Hirsch) and a retired singer she admires (Uma Thurman). 

While watching the first movie gives viewers a better understanding and appreciation for this sequel, I also feel that it can stand on its own. I enjoyed watching the characters bond as they created the movie. It reminds me of my experiences in drama club, meeting interesting people and being part of something special. I also liked that we got to know Stargirl better as a person. I liked Leo, but it’s nice to see things from her point of view instead of her being the mysterious love interest. Her new friends accept her for who she is without questioning her. 

There are several recognizable people in the cast. Ana Carraway is now being played by Judy Greer, a well-known character actress with more than 250 credits in film and television. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she plays Maggie Lang, ex-wife of Scott Lang. She also voices a character in the adult animated sitcom “Archer” and had roles on “The Big Bang Theory.” 

Judd Hirsch plays Mr. Mitchell, Stargirl’s neighbor and a former Hollywood producer. Coincidentally, he also appeared in “The Big Bang Theory,” but he is more well known for films like “Independence Day” and the television sitcom “Taxi.”

The singer, Roxanne Martel, is portrayed by Uma Thurman, who played The Bride in “Kill Bill.” 

The acting was great. It was realistic and it brought the characters to life. I was able to connect with the story. Even if they’re not that interested in cinema, I’m sure that viewers will enjoy the positivity from this movie, or picture, as Mr. Mitchell would call it. The story is relaxing and uplifting, and it inspires people to dream.

 

 

Photos

 

(L-R): Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway, Tyrel Jackson Williams as Terrell, and Elijah Richardson as Evan in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

(L-R): Uma Thurman as Roxanne Martel and Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

(L-R): Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway and Elijah Richardson as Evan in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

(L-R): Grace VanderWaal as Stargirl Caraway and Uma Thurman as Roxanne Martel in Disney's live-action HOLLYWOOD STARGIRL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved