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Tale of divas-in-training is simply ‘Cheetah'-licious

Times Staff Writer

“May the growl power of all the fabulous divas who came before us be with us now. May we use our hearts, our brains and our courage to reach our cheetah-licious potential, right here, right now.”

With pop diva-hood as their inspiration, and a credo of equality and self-respect to keep it real, four sassy, singing, dancing, self-proclaimed “wanna-be stars in the jiggy jungle” pursue their dreams of fame in “The Cheetah Girls,” a new Disney Channel movie (at 8 tonight).

Based on the book series by Deborah Gregory, this effervescent, girly-girl film stars a talented quartet -- Raven (“That’s So Raven,” “The Cosby Show”), Sabrina Bryan and singers Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams (two members of the platinum-selling R&B-pop; group 3LW) -- as teens who enter their Manhattan high school’s talent show and attract the attention of a slick record producer.

What looks like the Cheetahs’ big break doesn’t turn out quite as they expect, between the producer’s attempt to remake the group and the rift that develops because of Galleria’s (Raven) desire for the spotlight.

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Meanwhile, other stresses beset the rest of the group. Dorinda (Bryan) is afraid she might lose standing with her more upscale Cheetah sisters if they discover her impoverished, foster care background; Chanel (Bailon) is troubled by her single mom’s obsession with a new romance; and Aqua (Williams), who’s from Georgia, is finding it difficult to acclimate to New York.

In the end, a lucky crisis involving Galleria’s fuzzy little Bichon Frise pup, Toto, brings the city to a standstill, the four friends back together and a hint of romance too.

Written by Alison Taylor, directed by Oz Scott, and executive-produced by Debra Martin Chase and Whitney Houston, this upbeat film makes suspension of disbelief a mite difficult. For starters, singing a trapped dog out of a hole is a bit much, and a group this fab would already be on the charts.

But the attractive melting-pot cast, the emphasis on character-building and respect for oneself and others, the clothes, the songs, the clothes (and did I mention the clothes?) are simply “cheetah-licious.”

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Fans of the books will notice many changes, including the omission of the fifth Cheetah and the placing of Galleria, rather than Chanel, at front and center, but author Gregory’s healthy, empowering spirit of Cheetah Girl power shines through.


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