Maurice: Growing up on Disney Channel meant that there was no October; there was only Monstober. I would turn on the TV and get showered with Halloween episodes, crossovers, reruns and, most importantly, new spooky Disney Channel Original Movies. Like any other child during the archaic 2010s, I patiently waited until 7 p.m. CST for the Disney Channel premieres. As I tuned in for “Girl vs. Monster,” I did not know that in less than two hours, I’d have a new favorite Halloween movie.
As a sophomore in college yearning for Halloween spirit, I succumbed to the Disney+ nostalgic propaganda and rewatched “Girl vs. Monster.” “Had Me @ Hello” has held me in a chokehold for the past 11 years, but after finally watching the movie again, the film’s grip on me loosened into a disappointing, awkward watch. I wish I had left my Disney yearning in the past, but Kristen thinks otherwise.
Kristen: My parents swore by PBS Kids for the majority of my childhood, which meant that the character I related to most (despite communicating via grunts) was Curious George. When my parents got more TV channels, Disney Channel was the front end of a cheesy preteen musical phase in early middle school. I saw “Girl vs. Monster” during a Halloween rerun on Disney Channel, and unlike Maurice, I was instantly hooked.
The characters in “Girl vs. Monster” appear shallow at first look; Skylar (Olivia Holt, “Status Update”) does a quirky cartwheel in the first scene to impress her crush Ryan (Luke Benward, “Wildcat”), and her besties are the nerd Sadie (Kerris Dorsey, “Ray Donovan: The Movie”) and loser Henry (Brendan Meyer, “All These Small Moments”). But, surprisingly, Disney makes these characters more multifaceted than those in media typical for a middle school audience.
Skylar seems like the picture-perfect hero, heralded by Sadie as having no fear, but the film challenges the idea that she, or anyone, can be invincible. Immortal monster Deimata (Tracy Dawson, “Call Me Fitz”) is out to possess her soul, so Skylar experiences fear for the first time. But Deimata feeds off human fear. Literal monsters act as a representation of fear as Skylar and her friends confront their most formidable inner demons in monster form.
Maurice: It’s not just Skylar who has to face her fears; everyone’s childhood crush, Luke Benward, plays Ryan Dean, who defies his love interest and plot-device expectations by showing vulnerability. Male vulnerability! He’s scared to sing in front of a crowd, he’s scared to ask the girl out. It’s a cute reminder that he’s just a nervous high school boy. Disney attempts a surprisingly honest glimpse at male complexity.
But, as usual in Disney Channel Original Movies, this film fails to follow through because the acting was too hard to watch. I am glad that the Disney cast actors were actually teenagers, but it was also obvious that they were teenagers: the choppy deliveries, constantly confused expressions, the exaggerated everything. I know they were kids, and I don’t want to be harsh, but instead of a college kid trying to relive my childhood, I felt like a cynical critic. The cast look like teeny babies, and they act like it too. They no longer are the cool older kids that I remembered, and the reality that comes with rewatching a Disney movie was impossible to ignore.
Kristen: On the other hand, “Girl vs. Monster” is right up there with the likes of “High School Musical,” securing a spot with one of the most timeless Disney Channel soundtracks.
Skylar’s performance of “Fearless” is the turning point that brings the character development of all the main characters together. No one is truly without fear, but standing alongside friends and family in the face of danger makes “feeling fearless” possible. This final musical number, alongside a cast having fun, bridges the gap between a decent life lesson and children’s media.
Maurice: I unironically listen to the soundtrack on my walk to class. So I know these songs front to back, but watching them in the film felt off-putting and a little underwhelming. The Disney concert style, the brainless crowd jumping and cheering … It’s like loving the song “golden hour” by JVKE, but then watching a video of him in concert without the autotune.
The live-action performance deteriorates the magic of the songs, which, on the surface, are catchy fan favorites. But when you watch the actual performance, it is a rare occasion where you’d rather hear and not see.
Kristen: “Girl vs. Monster” was the watch I needed to reminisce on my preteen era. Setting my expectations low in terms of quality but high in terms of loveability, I was pleasantly surprised to see characters extend beyond their archetypes, and revisiting Holt’s music reignited something in me. Preteen angst was the distraction I needed from my homework. For that alone, this deserves a spot on my Halloween watchlist, even if it’s not as nostalgia-filled as I wanted it to be.
Maurice: Revisiting “Girl vs. Monster” is exactly what you’d expect: corny and cheesy with a shimmer of timeless songs. Of course, it’s a movie targeted at younger viewers, so it lost a little bit of its magic for an almost 20 year old.
As much as I wanted to enjoy the film, the nostalgia wasn’t powerful enough to bring back that enchanting flare I remember. If you are thinking about a rewatch, I would advise against it. Instead, wander on your own through the faint memories of childhood; remember the magic, but don’t try to relive it. You might end up feeling a little disappointed and old.