watch your step
by Liz Davies
I remember so many Friday nights during my childhood, sitting at home waiting for the next Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) to premier on the Disney Channel. They were a huge part of my childhood, and there were so many classic gems that emerged during that time, and I thought it was about time that someone ranked them in order of awesomeness!
DCOMs cannot be confused with movies from the Disney Channel that premiered in earlier years. There is a huge difference between DCOMs and Disney Channel Premier Films (The Parent Trap II, Susie Q). While some of those movies were freaking awesome (Wish Upon A Star literally taught me what a hickey was. Also, check out a young Katherine Heigl in a pre-Grey’s role!), they don’t even compare the DCOMs. I also only chose to include movies that premiered through early 2002, because after that things got a bit too mainstream for my liking. I mean, Hilary Duff already had Lizzie McGuire, did she really need Cadet Kelly? And then they just got lazy and started turning their shows (Even Stephens, Wizards of Waverly Place) into movies. This list contains no scientific facts or evidence, just my opinions which obviously don’t represent my entire generation. But if you feel like taking a trip down memory lane, put in your butterfly clips, gel up your frosted tips, and start reading my list:
First, a few films that didn’t quite make the top 10 but deserve mention (in no particular order):
Quints (2000) This was kind of the original Jon and Kate plus 8 if you think about it. But there were too many babies crying and stupid dilemmas (much like Jon and Kate Plus 8).
Halloweentown (1998) Spawned a couple sequels, but other than it being Halloween-themed, I don’t remember much about it.
Johnny Tsunami (1999) After the reality of the severity of tsunamis hit upon younger viewers, Disney stopped airing this movie, which also made me forget it pretty quickly.
Alley Cats Strike (2000) “A movie about bowling, count me in!” said no one ever.
Rip Girls (2000) Came so close to the top 10, but you have to make cuts somewhere. Gotta love movies about girls kicking ass and overcoming adversity.
Miracle in Lane 2 (2000) A very young Frankie Muniz is a racecar driver I think. It’s too sad to make fun of.
Stepsister from Planet Weird (2000) Just as stupid as it sounds, which I was already able to figure out by the tender age of 11. And my favorite show was “So Weird”, so that’s saying something.
Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000) I don’t remember it at all, but I’m pretty sure I could tell you the entire plot just from the title. Props to being ahead of the Vampire-craze of today, though!
And now, on to the top 10!
#10: Phantom of the Megaplex (2000) How in the mega-hell did they get Mickey Rooney to star in this movie? I’m guessing that he had some great-grand children that he needed to impress, but otherwise I’m having a hard time figuring out how this happened. He’s the only reason that this movie made the top ten, because honestly I don’t remember much about it other than a movie theater being supposedly haunted by a phantom trying to sabotage everything from popcorn machines to film reels. I think it turned out that the disgruntled manager was the phantom, but who really cares when he was so overshadowed by Rooney? For all I care, Mickey Rooney could have been the phantom and every other part in this film. You know what would have made this movie better?…is what I’m sure Disney executives are still trying to figure out to this day. Well let me help you out: anything. Anything would have made this movie better.
#9: Double Teamed (2002) Not going to lie: a major reason this is included in the top 10 is because of the title. I feel like Disney just did this so that their viewers could laugh about it when they grew up and understood the double meaning of the title. Well played Disney, well played. Hold on, I’m still laughing so I can’t write the description yet. Okay (legit 45 seconds just passed), I’m ready. So I didn’t remember this movie until I re-read the description, but then it all came flooding back in a tidal wave of ass-kicking feminist power. It was the one about super-tall twin sisters who are really great at basketball, but are constantly told not to get too attached to the sport because there is no way for them to become professional players. Well this wouldn’t be a true DCOM without a happy ending, and there sure is one here! The sisters end up being among the first professional players in the WNBA, and even though they play on different teams, it’s a win for everyone! I was raised in a household of strong women (well, just one, but she was strong enough to represent an army of working moms), so she always loved when I watched this. Despite having no athletic ability myself, I was tall so I connected with the characters and, for a brief moment, thought I could be just as great as they were (I wasn’t an am still not). This is also the DCOM that came out the latest and was still included on this list, so maybe I was just older when it came out and appreciated the message better.
#9: Jumping Ship (2001) Apparently this is a sequel to a movie called Horse Sense (1999), which I vaguely remember, but not enough for it to make the list. While this marks their first appearance, Jumping Ship involved ALL of the Lawrence brothers: Joey, Matt, and Andy (I’m in!). I call them by their nicknames instead of their formal first names because I feel like I’ve gotten to know them over the years due to their numerous DCOMs and the oft-overlooked yet amazing show Brotherly Love. Jumping Ship was about cousins who embark on a fishing trip, only to be chased down and caught by pirates! It was cheesy in all the best ways, and definitely entertaining. Also, an appearance by Matthew Lawrence during his Boy Meets World heyday? Yes please!
#7: Brink! (1998) This movie was so great, and how could it not be when it’s described under the genre of “aggressive inline skating” by Wikipedia. Well if I had to choose any form of inline skating after seeing this movie, it would definitely be the aggressive type! The “soul skaters” make it well known that they don’t skate for fame or money, just for the love of the sport! That is, until their main crony, Brink, played by Erik von Detten (didn’t have to look that up, and why should I have to when he had the dreamy locks of Leo DiCaprio in Titanic!?) takes a sponsorship to help his family out of financial troubles. A few crazy and outrageous scenarios later, Brink ends up winning his friends back after they abandon him, and helps his family out. He also turns down a sponsorship from a team because, as already mentioned: they skate for fun, not money! “A feel-good ending with a positive message,” which could be added to the end of any of these movie descriptions.
#6: The Other Me (2000) I specifically remember turning down a sleepover with a friend who didn’t have cable just so I could stay at home and watch the premier of this DCOM. Well if that doesn’t justify a place on this countdown, then I don’t know what does! This movie is about the youngest Lawrence brother cloning himself (I’m sorry, did Disney invent a machine that can peer into my dreams?). The clone’s name was Twoie, which is even dumber to type than to say out loud. The rest of the movie is a blur of random bits and pieces. There’s a school dance in which the main characters perform to “Bringin’ Da Noise” off of the No Strings Attached album by *Nsync. I think Andy Lawrence had a microwave in his room, which I just thought was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Guess what the first thing I bought for my room when I got into college was (mini microwave? Treat yo’ self). He also had the same phone that I did; it was lime green obviously. Of course, calamity ensues because you can’t expect to use a clone in your everyday life and for greedy henchmen not to try to kidnap him. In all honesty, this movie was probably not that good, but I respect the producers’ artistic aspirations. Just kidding: they used an “Nsync song so I bumped it up a few spots.
#5: Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999) and Zenon: The Zequel (2001) You may have noticed a couple of things right off the bat, and let me help to walk you through them. First, I grouped these movies together because I couldn’t tell you a difference between the two except that Protazoa doesn’t sing “Supernova Girl” in the second film. (Fun fact: the first time I ever heard any behind the scenes factoids about a movie was about the first Zenon. Apparently it took 2 hours to make Protazoa’s hair stand up in so many spikes. Amazing!) Second, I didn’t include the third Zenon because I don’t remember it at all, and honestly the girl that played Zenon was probably well into her 20s at that point, so it shouldn’t count as a children’s movie anymore anyway. Third, this movie is far lower on the list than you would probably expect. But honestly, it just wasn’t one of my favorites. Sure, it was one of the original and probably most well remembered DCOMs, and it will always hold a special place in my heart because of that, but as the other DCOMs began pouring in, they replaced Zenon in terms of entertainment as well as quality. I remember the general premise—Zenon has to save the space station that she lives on from crashing. Cute, but the other movies on this list are just more memorable for me. Keep an eye out for a young Raven Symone making one of her first post-Cosby appearances in this film. (Side note—you should see the amount of spelling errors that Microsoft Word is trying to get me to notice right now. There are more red squiggly lines in this paragraph than the rest of the article combined! My ass that Zequel isn’t a word…)
#4: Smart House (1999) This is the first of several DCOMs starring Ryan Merriman, who I was pretty sure was the hottest thing I’d seen on television since Jonathan Taylor Thomas (JTT!), the Red Power Ranger (Jason), or a Lawrence Brother (Matt was obviously the hottest). This movie was a pretty spectacular commentary on the possibly detrimental effect of our dependence on electronics. Just kidding—it was about a really cool cyber-house that did everything for you! When a family wins a completely self-sustaining and fully electronic house (named Pat of course!) their lives begin to turn upside down. While it’s pretty cool that a house can pack you a lunch that stays hot in your thermos until you’re ready to eat it, it kinda sucks when it tries to imprison you and prevent you from ever leaving. Even though Pat was kind enough to cover up a house party thrown by the kids, she eventually went crazy and tried to control everything. Who knows how the hell Disney got Katey Sagal (Married with Children, Futurama, Lost) to play such a ridiculous part, but she did it as well as anyone could have. This movie tried to teach a valuable lesson, but ended up being absolutely absurd, which is one of the main components of a DCOM that makes it successful in my book!
#3: The Luck of the Irish (2001) This movie was amazing; crappy fake Irish accents and all. Kyle Johnson (played by Ryan Merriman again, hazza!) is the luckiest kid in the world until his lucky Irish coin goes missing! It turns out that an evil Irishman has stolen the coin in hopes of capturing Kyle’s luck. Things start going crazy until he becomes a racist interpretation of an Irish person that only children’s movies can capture. Direct quote from Wikipedia: “Kyle’s mother begins to do Irish things, such as cooking breakfast in the fireplace and speaking with an accent.” If those aren’t actions solely designated for Irish people, then I don’t know what are. Kyle eventually learns that his mother is a Leprechaun, making him half leprechaun (his dad is from Ohio. Come on, even Disney knows their realistic boundaries when it comes to children’s movies)! I can’t remember how, but Kyle eventually beats the antagonist and wins the coin back, restoring his life back to normal! There might have been a basketball shoot-out, or maybe that’s a different movie that I’m thinking of. Does it really matter though? A silly, unrealistic movie that made me chuckle a couple times, this movie managed to insult my Irish heritage and entertain me at the same time, a fantastic combination!
#2: The Color of Friendship (2000) I come from a very liberal state and family, and yet this movie taught me so much about racism and tolerance. Caucasian South African exchange student Mahree and Piper, the African American daughter of a Washington, D.C. congressman, are thrust together in 1977 and forced to learn about each other’s cultures. While they fight it at first, they eventually overcome their differences to become good friends. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t quite as progressive as these friends are, and, just as the girls are starting to get along, Mahree is separated from Piper and her family due to racial riots and tension at the time. Of course, in true Disney Channel fashion, they are reunited, and Mahree returns to her country later with a newfound appreciation for the hardships that African Americans have faced, both in her own country and around the world. This movie actually won an Emmy Award in 2000 for Outstanding Children’s Program, which is no surprise to anyone who remembers this movie. This is probably one of the only DCOMs that I could still watch today and fully appreciate as much as I did when I was a kid. In all seriousness, this movie blew all other DCOMs out of the water with its positive message and actual artistic integrity.
#1: Motocrossed (2001) This movie had everything that a fan of DCOMs could wish for: a heroic leading lady, a dreamy crush, tons of action, and mentions of an *Nsync concert! It makes me really sad to think that iPad-toting youngsters singing High School Musical songs will never know the joy of watching a VHS taped copy of this movie in the backseat of their parents SUV on the way to Ficco’s bowling alley, as my best friend Montana and I did in the sixth grade. Try to find one girl who didn’t want to become a motocross champion after watching this movie. Even after the main character, Andrea (props to me for not even having to look that up!) had to chop off all of her beautiful hair to resemble her twin brother, I wanted to be just as badass and brave as she was. Motocrossed even managed to slip in some social lessons: sexism isn’t cool, and if your twin brother breaks his arm, you should totally be able to take his place in a competition without pretending to be him just so you can compete on the same level as he does! In the end, Andrea lands the cute crush, destroys the douchey French guy, wins the championship, and scores a sweet sponsorship for her family! This movie is everything I wanted my life to turn out to be instead of creating this list from my parents’ basement while watching the OWN network. My own failures aside, this movie was truly and hands down one of the best that Disney has ever produced. I can comfortably say that I would sit down and watch that movie right now instead of Oprah’s Lifeclass: The Tour featuring Bishop T.D. Jakes!
Hopefully this list satisfied your desire for DCOMs, because Disney stopped airing all the good ones in 2004 in favor of showing ones featuring their new stars. With the exception of The Color of Friendship, which airs a couple times in February, there’s very little chance of seeing any of these films unless you were smart enough to record them on VHS (Montana, where the hell is Motocrossed and when are we watching it?). What I wouldn’t give to be able to sit down on a Friday night with friends and watch a couple of these movies. It would be even better now because we could make it into a drinking game! Drink every time something completely outlandish and unrealistic happens! You’ll be passed out well before the closing credits.