There's a classic Simpsons episode where Lisa pages through picture after picture of her favorite teen heartthrobs in "Non-Threatening Boy Magazine," and I couldn't help but think of that while watching Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience surrounded by an audience who probably weren't born when that episode first aired in 1993. The Jonas boys, Nick, Joe and Kevin, are non-threatening but they're not exactly neutered, either; they've spoken about their 'purity rings,' and decision to shun sex and drugs and alcohol, but don't harp on about it so much they might seem creepy and clenched. They make affable, sing-along pop songs, but the songs are actually better-written than they have to be, and they give every indication that they might actually be involved in the writing of those songs and not just adorable puppets. The Walt Disney Corporation has essentially made the Jonas boys into a corporate commodity, which your teens and pre-teens will be exposed to through their multi-level marketing machine, so part of me just wants to bow to the inevitable, shrug and note how it could, in fact, be far worse.
And I appreciated that fully watching Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, the new concert film and not-quite-documentary that brings the boys into the theater in eye-popping high-definition 3D. I joked that the Jonas Brothers in 3D had a minimal appeal for me — "It's like being in the same room as something to which you're largely indifferent!" — but within the first few moments, I was curiously won over, as the brothers take to the streets in a sequence plainly lifted from A Hard Day's Night. I found myself oddly touched by the effort the trio and director Bruce Hendricks were taking to steal from appropriate sources. And the 3D is great — impressive and exciting but (aside from the occasional guitar pick launched out at the audience like a bullet from a gun) never overly showy. And the footage is in such rich and complete focus that it's a little freaky; I found myself keeping track of every time Kevin broke a guitar string, for example.
And as we meet the hordes of teens that come out to shriek for the Jonas boys, we get a sense that the boys, at the least, seem aware of their good fortune. Kevin seems like an affable backbone to the band; Joe, the handsome class clown; Nick the most musically gifted. (Mark my words, in 20 years, I wouldn't be surprised if Nick is a bearded, reclusive pop genius in the Brian Wilson mold; you get the sense that Nick wants to be Elvis Costello, but is being marketed like Shaun Cassidy.) And just as the Jonas boys appeared onscreen in Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, the Jonases have guests Demi Lovato — who appeared alongside the lads in the TV film Camp Rock — and Nashville ingénue Taylor Swift. The more charitable will think it's great the Jonases are giving friends more exposure; cynics will brace themselves for Demi Lovato in 3D at some point in 2010.
Hendricks, who also directed the Cyrus 3D film, gets the guys out of the concert arena, too, with a number impressively staged in Central Park that shows off the 3D process remarkably well.
I know I'm not the audience for Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience — in fact, I could feel my hips honeycombing with the crumbling creep of osteoporosis as I sat in a press preview full of shrieking kids. But it was made for them, not me, and they loved it, and I couldn't help but think that this was a nice gentle way for kids to get the fun and mania of pop music while in their pre-teen and young teen years, before they hit 13 and the more adult pressures and pleasures of rock, rap and punk competed for their attention and their purchasing dollar. My favorite concert movie of all time is the woozy, boozy and lightly debauched The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese's chronicle of the final show by The Band; Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience is no last waltz, but it's going to be some kid's first step towards pop music, and it's so well made and exuberant that you'd be a fool to begrudge it.