It seems like Netflix has an original movie for every genre. Cringey horror movie? Try watching “The Influence.” Corny holiday romcom? “Holiday in the Wild” is particularly good. With their newest original movie, now it seems like Netflix has finally dipped its toes into one of the most specific and successful genres of the 2000’s: the Disney Channel Original Movie. “Julie and the Phantoms” is a charming, colorful, wholesome spin on this modern genre for a new generation of kids.
Disney Channel Original Movies come in all shapes and sizes, but have a few key defining characteristics. First, they are set in high schools with clear social cliques. The hero often has difficulties fitting into the rigid social structure of high school, but has a singular goal that guides their actions. Another trope is the rich popular villain, who by strength of their wealth and status attempts to thwart the protagonist’s plans. Often, this villain is dating the hero’s secret crush. In the third act, the hero excels at their event, defeating the villain and defying the rigid social structure of their school. Some of the most well-known Disney movies circa 2005 follow this formula, including “High School Musical”, “Lemonade Mouth”, and “Radio Rebel”. “Julie and the Phantoms” is a retelling of this very successful formula for 2020 audiences.
“Julie and the Phantoms” almost perfectly follows the defining tropes of a Disney Channel Original Movie. The hero of the story is the maladjusted Julie (Madison Reyes), whose secret talent is her incredible singing voice and piano skills. After exploring her deceased mother’s old studio, she discovers that it’s haunted by three dead members of a band. Julie and her new band find themselves in all sorts of adventures, ultimately coming together to play at their last gig at the famous Orpheum Theater in the season finale. The popular villain trope is occupied by Carrie (Savannah Lee May, “Knight Squad”), whose lack of natural talent is supplanted by lip-syncing and a wealthy choreographer. She stands in the way of Julie’s desire to play at the school dance, all the while dating Julie’s crush Nick (Sacha Carlson, “American Housewife”). Despite taking many of its cues from successful Disney films, “Julie and the Phantoms” still stands on its own as a great TV show.
Disney Channel Original Movies often reflect the values of the period in which they were created. In the early 2000’s, very few Black characters were featured in movies and were often sidelined as the protagonist’s sidekick. Further, most of the romantic subplots in Disney films were heterosexual, with unlikely romances between “the popular kid” and the “nerd.” Needless to say, these stories were hardly reflective of the diversity of storytelling possible. “Julie and the Phantoms” subverts these tropes brilliantly. Julie herself is half-Puerto Rican, and her best friend Flynn (Jadah Marie, “Home Invasion”) is Black. One of the phantoms, Alex (Owen Joyner, “Henry Danger”) is openly gay.
“Julie and the Phantoms” is an adaptation of the Disney Channel Original Movie formula for audiences in 2020. The show brilliantly adapts all the charming and wholesome aspects of great Disney films, including excellent music, choreography and talented actors. From underdog protagonists to odious villains, “Julie” perfectly maps onto the classics such as “High School Musical” and “Lemonade Mouth.” Finally, “Julie and the Phantom’s” embrace of diversity and representation in its story make it an excellent adaptation of a tried and true formula for modern audiences.
Daily Arts Columnist Joshua Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.