Old Navy's 'Unlimited' Is A Back-To-School Debbie Downer

I recently attempted to make a citizen’s arrest for crimes against humanity. The event that gave rise to this bold act of community self-policing occurred at a birthday party for one of the three-year-olds in my kid’s class. For some reason, the host decided to give out the goodie bags well in advance of the party’s end. For some reason, she decided to include whistles in said goodie bags.

What kind of sociopath hands over whistles to a gaggle of two- and three-year-old boys? You don’t need to curry favor with an audience of this kind; you just need to distract it with pictures of construction equipment. What happened next was exactly what you might expect: once one of the kids (not mine, for a change) dug out the whistle and deployed it in a manner consistent with its intended purpose, all the others followed. Having orchestrated my share of symphonic movements for kazoo, I know from cacophony - and this was cacophony multiplied by nuisance multiplied by Slayer.

Bravely, I jumped into action, pointing an accusatory finger at the host and reciting the few bits of Miranda verbiage I could remember from watching “Police Squad!” Before reality got really real, though, somebody mollified me with cake. Then I settled down with my binky for a short rest.

Maybe I should just accept the fact that the next 15 or so years of my life are going to be loud and free of nuance. If I can achieve that particular state of ear-Zen, I’ll probably have more tolerance for sound crimes like “Unlimited.” A bit of Old Navy marketing that, mercifully, doesn’t involve W-list celebrities and overt winks at the camera, “Unlimited” is more or less a music video. In it, an adorably precocious tween sing-navigates her way through her first day of school. As she does so, she wards off the doubts and worries in her head, which are voiced by… Grimace?

Oh - it’s not Grimace (and that’s a shame, as it’s been too long since we enjoyed a healthy dollop of corporate mascot cross-pollination). It’s the Womp Womp - named, I assume, after the sad-trombone cry that punctuates many a bummer. Anyway, as the protagonist imagines herself succeeding in science, sports, politics and cafeteria-chicken-sandwich transmutation, the Womp Womp rains on her charade with asides like “you are living in a dream world” and “awards are nice, but they don’t pay the bills.”

The protagonist appears to be 10 years old. Teenage angst, apparently, has trickled down the generational food chain and infected the prepubescent set. That’s not depressing at all. Hey, want some super-cute blouses?

That’s my main problem with “Unlimited.” The clip is professionally executed; its production values are on par with anything one might see on “Glee” or “Son of High School Musical.” The protagonist, played by Isabella Balbi, charmingly sells the self-empowerment gospel of the clip’s eponymous ditty. But the smidgen of darkness that infects “Unlimited” courtesy of Not-Grimace compromises its appeal.

Nobody’s saying that the first day of school isn’t perceived by many kids as a terrifying rite of passage, and nobody’s saying that every tween-centric piece of content should be all rainbows and happy pies. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense for a brand positioning itself as the back-to-school go-to for tween clothes to call attention to the self-confidence issues that plague so many kids.

I still say Old Navy deserves a pat on the back for “Unlimited,” both for departing from its usual kitsch-first approach to marketing and for resisting the temptation to arm all the extras with whistles and have them jam out. As a part of its parent company’s do-goodership kick, the clip is harmless enough. But as a brand booster designed to coincide with the back-to-school shopping season, “Unlimited” comes across as just a smidgen too dour. Why cloud an otherwise sunny afternoon?

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