Revisiting Disney Channel Original Movies: Classic DCOMs Part II

Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 2:23pm

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Design by Samuel Turner

For those of us who had cable growing up, there wasn’t anything quite like the magic of a Disney Channel Original Movie. DCOMs were fun, colorful and short enough for our tiny attention spans, so watching them always felt like a treat. Watching DCOMs now, we can clearly see the things that connect them — the heavy-handed dialogue, the cameos, the attempts to shoehorn Disney kids into musical careers by giving them original songs — but we are also often struck with the nostalgia of a simpler time.

This week, the film beat continues our dive into these made-for-TV movies with another installment of the “classics” — DCOMs that are widely known because of effective marketing campaigns and high-profile Disney Channel actors. This installment, covering the classics starting in 2005, are some of the most recognizable among college-age students (besides the musicals, which we plan to cover later). As with the last installment, we’ll end our reviews with a deeply subjective rating on a five-star scale, based solely on our enjoyment of these corny, silly, delightful films. Like any 2000s movie, some aged better than others, but we somehow still find them endlessly enjoyable. Whether they’re featuring pairs of famous Disney sisters, teaching spoiled teens an important lesson or trying to fit overly complex plots into 80 minutes, these are some of the DCOMs that defined childhood in the 2000s.

— Kari Anderson, Daily Arts Writer

“Twitches” (2005)

To set the scene, “Twitches” is the story that all kids tried to write when they were in elementary school; it has long-lost siblings, a mystical villain, a magical kingdom and forced, 2000s awkward dialogue. Starring Tia and Tamara Mowry, (“Sister, Sister”) “Twitches” blends together corny Halloween scares and a cheesy “love conquers all” theme. The first time I watched it, I was in awe of the fun magic and the scary antagonist, but watching all these years later just proved that it was like every single other story featuring prophecies or destiny for characters who had never heard of such a thing before. But surprisingly, it wasn’t the overdone plot that was the most annoying in the film, but the unrealistic characters. Yes, they were magical, but that’s not exactly what I mean. Alex and Camryn are 21 years old, yet they acted like middle schoolers. The tantrums that they threw and the unrealistic expectations that they set up grated on my nerves. No 21 year old that I know acts even remotely similar to the way that they do in the film. All in all, Disney tried to do something good in promoting diversity and unique family situations in “Twitches,” but the unsurprising plot and lackluster characters fell flat in what could have been a fun, scary and different movie. ☆½

— Sabriya Imami, Daily Arts Writer

 

“Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior” (2006)

I have to give Disney credit for their approach to “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.” They took Brenda Song, (“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”) an Asian American actress with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and gave her a storyline that they believed fit in with her culture. She finds out that she is destined to be a warrior who will take down an ancient Chinese warrior-villain. It may have been a stereotypical storyline, but they tried to do something that was diverse and new. Not only did they diversify in casting a person of color as the main character, but they also tried to introduce a new kind of female protagonist: One who was pretty and tough, to quote the old commercials. However, Wendy was still just a little too much like every other stereotypical high school girl in a Disney Channel movie. She is focused on her looks and her boyfriend and her popularity. She may have learned from her mistakes and chose to shift her focus at the end, but at the beginning, she’s a little bit of an airhead and certainly no role model. Even her shift to more humble endeavors at the end seemed forced and unrealistic. No DCOM is realistic, but Wendy Wu seemed over the top even for a Disney Channel movie. Despite the inadequacies in the film, Disney did something unique with this movie by introducing action sequences and fight scenes that weren’t exactly common in other DCOMs. Though the action scenes were a bit much, they did their job of breaking up a typical storyline with something that Disney audiences may not have seen before.  ☆☆

— Sabriya Imami, Daily Arts Writer

 

“Cow Belles” (2006)

The plots of DCOMs tend to be odd all over the board, but I think “Cow Belles” may take the cake for having the weirdest and randomest plot of all the DCOMs. The general idea isn’t that crazy, with two spoiled sisters, Taylor (Aly Michalka, “Easy A”) and Courtney Callum (AJ Michalka, “Super 8”), who learn to be more down to earth and appreciate what they have by participating in their father’s business: It’s actually pretty wholesome. Not to mention, it has Aly and AJ Michalka of “Potential Breakup Song” fame in it, which automatically makes the movie that much more exciting. So what’s the weird part? The family business is a dairy company. I’m not sure exactly who came up with that idea, but surprisingly, it does work. The movie itself is pretty cute and very early 2000s — the wardrobe alone has the early 2000s written all over it. In all honesty, “Cow Belles” is a really good example of a typical DCOM because it’s short and sweet, has some relatable and flawed characters and, in true Disney fashion, has a message. In this case, all viewers learn that money isn’t everything and that love is more important than any material thing — perfect for the six and seven year olds this movie was probably geared toward. Overall, this movie may be a bit outdated (after all, who sees bedazzled flip phones in 2020?), but it has a certain charm that I think makes it worth watching even now. ☆☆☆

— Sabriya Imami, Daily Arts Writer

 

“Read It and Weep” (2006)

“Read It and Weep” is for everyone who thought their childhood diary would become published someday. Jameson “Jamie” Bartlett (Kay Panabaker, “Fame”) becomes famous after her private journal is accidentally (albeit improbably) submitted to a writing contest and eventually published as a bestselling book. Jamie’s journal, written like a superhero story, features her confident alter ego Isabella, or “Is” (Danielle Panabaker, “Sky High”), navigating a modified version of her high school and classmates. As Jamie gets more famous, she taps into her alter ego’s confidence, but she soon finds herself fighting with friends, family and the entire school. Having the Panabaker sisters as Jamie and Is is excellent, not only because they look alike but because their personalities complement the characters: You notice when Jamie is acting like Is with the cadence of her voice as well as the filmmakers’ obvious hints. “Read It and Weep” is a fascinating story of how manufactured personalities can influence demeanor, told through magical realism and high school drama that culminate in a beautifully decorated winter dance. It features Jason Dolley (“Good Luck Charlie”) kicking off his Disney Channel career as the kind of boy you wish you’d dated in 9th grade, as well as costumes that do 2006 proud: chunky necklaces, bedazzled cardigans, sparkly headbands and a glimpse of that one green jacket Troy wore in “High School Musical.” And while the oddly schizophrenic delusions are concerning at times, you’ll still find yourself invested in Jamie’s rise and fall between fiction and reality. ☆☆☆½

— Kari Anderson, Daily Arts Writer

 

“Jump In!” (2007)

There is no question that “Jump In!” is a DCOM classic: It stars Corbin Bleu (“High School Musical”) and Keke Palmer (“True Jackson, VP”), and features mesmerizing Double Dutch sequences and a killer soundtrack, including Bleu’s song “Push It to the Limit” (which I maintain is one of the most motivational songs of all time). Izzy Daniels (Bleu) is a charming and talented boxer who joins a Double Dutch team to help his friend Mary (Palmer). In the process, he finds a passion for Double Dutch but struggles to tell his father (David Reivers, “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”) about his shifting interests. Izzy is showy and self-assured; though there are moments when Bleu struggles to come across as effortlessly confident, he still pulls it off through his charisma and energy. His relationship with his family is charming, as is his relationship with Mary — a classic “just admit you like each other” friendship. “Jump In!” isn’t perfect: Some of the dialogue is clumsily written, and there’s a pretty obvious use of stunt doubles during the Double Dutch sequences. Much of the film’s conflict comes from a lack of communication — a DCOM tension-building staple — but by the end there’s a lot happening: a redemption arc, a freestyle routine featuring glow-in-the-dark sneakers and a surprising but delightful meta twist. In general, “Jump In!” is distinct from other DCOMs: It was written by three women of color, and features a number of strong female characters who are unafraid to call out toxic masculinity. The bullies are still cliché, but they’re given more of a purpose and backstory than the typical DCOM bully is given. It’s a wholesome watch that stands out for its uniqueness and flashy jump rope routines. ☆☆☆☆

— Kari Anderson, Daily Arts Writer

 

“Minutemen” (2008)

I really, really, really don’t get time travel, and I sort of dread watching time travel movies because of that. And yet, despite my displeasure with most time travel movies, “Minutemen” is actually not that bad. The plot follows Virgil (Jason Dolley, “Good Luck Charlie”) and his two companions Charlie (Luke Benward, “Cloud 9”) and Zeke (Nicholas Braun, “Princess Protection Program”) as they travel backward in time. At first, they try to win the lottery, as is the usual train of thought of teenaged time travelers, but eventually, they decide to use their time travel powers for the greater good: They “rescue” the kids in school who have faced bullying or other forms of embarrassment. And, as is the case with most time travel movies, it’s all fun and games until you almost damage the space-time continuum and create a black hole. Not only is the film unique in its plot, but it also features a young Jason Dolley and a young Luke Benward, two actors who would later find even more fame on Disney Channel. The movie, with its time travel hijinx, fantastically strange costumes and friendships that are just weird enough to work, sounds pretty interesting — and it is — but truthfully, it’s pretty forgettable next to some more iconic DCOMs. It’s still a decent, watchable film, but it lacks that spark that most early-2000s DCOMs have. ☆☆

— Sabriya Imami, Daily Arts Writer

 

“Princess Protection Program” (2009)

“Princess Protection Program” has just about everything you could want from a Disney movie aimed at young girls — the obligatory makeover scene (think “The Princess Diaries”), a culturally and geographically ambiguous yet glamorous foreign country (again, think “The Princess Diaries”) and, above all, two young stars at the height of their Disney Channel fame. Selena Gomez (“Wizards of Waverly Place”) and Demi Lovato (“Sonny with a Chance”) star as Carter Mason and Princess Rosalinda of Costa Luna, respectively. Carter is not like the other girls, and she’ll never let you forget it. (She drinks milk straight from the carton! And isn’t afraid of bugs! Wow!) Her uncomfortably attractive, secret-agent dad (Tom Verica, “How to Get Away with Murder”) works for what’s called the Princess Protection Program, an organization designed to rescue and protect young princesses in danger. When Princess Rosalinda finds herself in this position, she is transformed from Rosalinda into Rosie, and sent to live in hiding with Carter and her dad in Louisiana. Though the two girls have trouble reconciling their differences at first, they inevitably become the best of friends, and the rest is history. “Princess Protection Program” was one of my favorites when I was ten. But, over a decade later, there’s still so much to love here: For example, baby Nicholas Braun (“Succession”), who towered over everyone even then (watching him attempt to fit his 6’6” frame inside of a high school desk is deeply hilarious). And there’s a feminist message that I’m still learning from — that an interest in all things fashion and beauty doesn’t equal shallowness. But best of all, and to my great surprise, is “Two Worlds Collide,” the Lovato song that closes the film. The fact that this powerhouse of a voice could come from the young woman who plays the delicate character Rosie is strangely moving. Femininity and strength are by no means incompatible — in fact, they coexist more often than we give them credit for. And for that, I can almost forgive “Princess Protection Program” for that revolting frozen yogurt scene and its blatant monarchist sympathies. 

☆☆☆☆

— Elise Godfryd, Senior Arts Editor

 

“Starstruck” (2010)

Like most DCOMs, the premise of “Starstruck” is derivative: ordinary girl Jessica (Danielle Campbell, “The Originals”) runs into pop star Christopher Wilde (Sterling Knight, “Sonny With a Chance”) in Hollywood, and a series of circumstances leads them to eventually getting to know each other. Despite its predictability, this has always been one of my favorite DCOMs. Sterling Knight is effortlessly charming as Christopher Wilde, who spends most of the movie hiding from paparazzi and deciding what he wants to do with his life. That said, the biggest hit to “Starstruck” is that the main character is so unlikeable: For every moment that Christopher is charming, Jessica is outwardly hostile to everyone (except her grandma). The best part of “Starstruck,” though, is the soundtrack. There’s nothing quite like a summer drive with the windows down and “Something About the Sunshine” blasting through the stereo, and Christopher’s performance of “Hero” (especially the unplugged version) can melt even the coldest of hearts. At its core, “Starstruck” is a classic DCOM, but it’s also an interesting take on fame wrapped with a bow — the bow being Sterling Knight’s piercing blue eyes. If you can find a way to ignore Jessica’s unpredictable hostility, or the idea of a giant group of paparazzi inexplicably flying to Jessica’s house in Kalamazoo, “Starstruck” is a good watch. ☆☆☆

— Kari Anderson, Daily Arts Writer


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