Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Cadet Kelly was released slightly before my Disney Channel watching days, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t go through a major military school phase after watching it. Originally premiering in 2002, Cadet Kelly stars two of the biggest Disney Channel stars in the early 00s: Hillary Duff (Lizzie McGuire) and Christy Carlson (Even Stevens and Kim Possible). It follows free-spirited teenager Kelly (Duff) as she moves from NYC to a strict military boarding school after her mother marries the new commandant. Kelly struggles with settling in until she becomes involved with the drill team and finds a new respect and appreciation for her school and her fellow students.
The plot is cute. It’s simple, one-dimensional, but cute. I highly doubt that their presentation of military school is anywhere near realistic, but it works well and made 8-year old me beg my parents to send me to George Washington Military Academy. Due to it being relatively longer than the majority of DCOMs (it’s almost 2 hours in length), there’s more plot and character development that you would usually expect from Disney. However, a lot of this extra time is filled with unnecessary drill team sequences and poor dialogue which makes the film feel clumsy at points.
Christy Carlson, who plays the mean and strong-willed Cadet Captain Jennifer, has the best performance in the film. She’s strong and dedicated to her role whilst having a hidden heart and respect for Kelly. Apart from the main two female characters, everyone else in this is the worst. Kelly’s mum clearly puts her new husband before her daughter, whilst her dad is more interested in his travels than he is in Kelly. Joe, Kelly’s new step father, is even worse: it takes him until the end of the film to become a basic human being as he has no interest in his new step daughter for the majority of the film. He only really shows interest in her when he’s forced to or it suits his new marriage.
Female empowerment is at the heart of Cadet Kelly. Despite the pettiness between Kelly and Jennifer, they begin to bond over their dance routines for the drill team and eventually learn that their success as a duo is more important than their rivalry. They work together to destroy the competition and despite not winning, succeed in accepting each other's differences and supporting one another.
Hillary Duff was the queen of early 2000s Disney, and this only adds to her legacy. Duff and Carlson make this film as good and memorable as it is and I can’t imagine anyone else in their roles. Despite its cliche plot, awful characters, and poor pacing, there’s a reason Cadet Kelly is treated as a classic DCOM: it’s the rainbow hair scene.