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I was recently on a cross-country flight with my baby bro. Somewhere above the fly-over states, while I listened to Fleetwood Mac while white-knuckling my armrest as I battled the turbulence that turned the plane into a 40-year-old bus bouncing down a Nicaraguan dirt road, I peeked out of one of my eyes and noticed my brother watching a movie on his Macbook. I knew instantly what the movie was, but was in utter shock because the movie came out before my brother was even three years old. He noticed my leering, yanked my headphone out and said, “Best Disney channel movie, man.” I’ve never been more proud of either of my brothers. Not when I could confirm they were no longer virgins. Not when they were accepted to the universities they wanted to go to. I’ve never been more proud of either of my brothers, because there, somewhere above Nebraska, my brother told me his favorite Disney Channel Original Movie was Johnny Tsunami. I told him it was obviously mine, too. But as I sat there, I slowly began doubting if it actually was my favorite. I mean, there were so many, and so many of them hold a place in my heart.
So I went back and pulled out all the old titles, re-read the plots, watched old clips on YouTube, and now, finally, I can definitely come up with a top 12 list of Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs). I hope this brings up as much childhood nostalgia for you as it did me in my research.
Look, I can’t just do a top 12. Gotta include some Honorable Mentions. First HM goes to Right On Track (2003). A movie about drag racing sisters. Not particularly good, but it starred Brie Larson as one of the sisters, and Brie just won an Oscar for her role in the movie Room. Going from a Disney Channel Original Movie to being a fucking Oscar winner? Could they even write a better script for a Disney movie about her life? For sure not. That gets her (and the movie) an HM.
Another HM goes to Full Court Miracle (2003). A Movie about a Jewish basketball team. It was decent. Not realistic enough, though, as a team of all Jews would only shoot three-pointers and there were not nearly enough trey balls in the movie. I have to make it an HM because good on Disney for throwing us Jews a bone (like the one you put on the Seder plate). Also, if my mom read this and there was no mention of Full Court Miracle, I’d be in trouble.
Honorable Mention #3 goes to Double Teamed (2002). Decent one about twin sisters in high school who are giants – like freakishly tall – who are coerced into playing basketball. The only reason I put it on the list is to ask you all if you think that Disney knew they titled this a sexual innuendo. They had to know, right? Thought they could fool all the twelve-year-olds? Well, now I’m 25 and there’s no fooling me. This one is titled like a porn.
Okay, let’s get into my top 12. I didn’t do a top 10 because it didn’t feel fair cutting any two of the below movies and putting them into an honorable mention category. And here. We. Go.
12. Get a Clue (2002) – Boy did middle school Brostonian have a thing for Lindsay Lohan. So did high school Brostonian. Anyway, Lohan is a pre-Gossip Girl gossip girl who gets involved in trying to find her teacher who went missing. An actual detective is also on the case – dude’s car was found in the East River (no dive team?) – but it couldn’t hurt to have a 16-year-old future Entertainment Weekly columnist looking for the guy, too. Turns out the detective was extorting the missing guy who didn’t go missing, he just changed his identity. The plot holds up (naht), and Lohan crushes it as Blair Waldorf’s predecessor.
11. Going to the Mat (2004) – Story about a blind high schooler who is filthy at drums (think Neil Peart meets Miles Teller in Whiplash). He gets a new, awesome drum teacher, Wayne Brady, who’s much nicer than JK Simmons in Whiplash, and also happens to be blind. Two blind drummers drumming. What a time to be alive. Anyway, it isn’t cool enough that he’s a great drummer. He can only fit in if he plays sports at his new high school, because if you’re not a jock, you’re a nerd (duh). So he joins the wrestling team and becomes a stud. Underrated DCOM, and it holds a place in my heart because there are only like five quality wrestling movies, and as a wrestler, I could only watch Vision Quest so many times.
10. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999) – Contentious that I have Zenon only at 10? Yeah, I expect some pushback. The names in this thing were top notch. Zenon, Nebula, a pop star named Proto Zoa. It’s all gold Jerry gold. The best part was if you grew up on a space station you got a psycho name, but if you grew up on earth you were named Greg or Andrew. The year was 2049. Makes sense. This was a good one, but I just didn’t come back to it on re-runs as much. The plot just had too many holes. Makes no sense why Zenon wasn’t psyched when she was punished and had to live with her aunt on earth. Yeah, the space station was sweet, but there’s literally nothing better than earth. And some dude who lived on the space station wanted to crash it? Was he suicidal? Made no sense.
9. High School Musical (2006) – Overrated. There, I said it. Like yeah, maybe it was star-studded, with Efron, Hudgens, Tisdale, Bleu. And the plot actually kind of held up for a DCOM. But honestly, the songs stunk. They just weren’t bangers. And I gotta say, I’m not really a fan of musicals either. I don’t normally like to see groups of people break out into song.
8. The Luck of the Irish (2001) – Do you think the DCOM writers were sitting in a room and said, “Hey I got an idea. What if we took the plot of Teen Wolf, but instead of a wolf, it’s a leprechaun. And there’s an antagonist, who is a bad fairy-leprechaun thing (not as evil as the leprechaun in Leprechaun), who steals our hero’s lucky gold coin. Cut it, wrap it, print it.” Because that’s the plot. And it’s fantastic. Before Cleveland had LeBron, they had Kyle, the half human half leprechaun sharp shooter who had dribbling skills like The Professor from the AND1 tour. Kyle defeats the villain, gets his coin back, and banishes the evil leprechaun to forever live in Lake Eerie. Is there a worse fate than being stuck in Cleveland?
7. Motorcrossed (2001) – Before Amanda Bynes starred in She’s the Man, we had Motorcrossed. (Both modern day takes on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night). Andrea disguises as her brother – who has been injured – to compete for the family racing team on dirt bikes. She has to disguise as a dude because her dad doesn’t want his daughter racing because it’s a dangerous sport and he’s a really progressive forward thinker. Meanwhile, her dad goes to France to get a new rider for his team (Did Talladega Nights swipe this plot line?). The Frenchie is a dickhead but a sick biker so they keep him around. That is until he signs with a competitor. Andrea smokes him in the final race, everyone finds out she’s a girl, and her “love” interest becomes the most sexually confused dude in the room. The awesome race scenes make this movie, though.
6. Halloweentown (1998) – A movie about Halloween so good that it inspired two sequels. Have there ever been any other Halloween movies that can say the same? Didn’t think so (don’t fact check me on that). This cinematic masterpiece kicks off with Marnie being banned by her mother from going out on Halloween, which I’m pretty sure is illegal, but instead of DSS being called, grandma shows up. Granny is an instant crowd favorite, and unbeknownst to the kids, is a witch. Marnie and siblings follow her home by sneaking onto the magic school bus (shouts to Ms. Frizzle) and they’re whisked away to Halloweentown. Grandma Aggie begins helping Marnie train to become a witch, all the while we get to see the best Halloweentown has to offer: skeletons, gremlins, goblins, that douchebag who dressed as “Dick in a box dude” four years after it was funny; the whole gang. Marnie’s wet blanket mom shows up to take them back home when she runs into the mayor – and her ex-slam piece – Kalabar, the greatest Halloween villain of all time. Kalabar is secretly a demon who has been freezing residents in time, for reasons semi-unclear. The kids figure out how to create a talisman that will unfreeze everyone and use it to defeat Kalibar. It’s a rock solid flick, and no October was complete without Halloweentown. Narrowly missed the top 5 because it’s seasonal (doesn’t have as much pop in June) and I think the only reason Kalibar was freezing people was to create a museum. Can’t think of a more limp noodle reason to be a villain.
5. Brink! (1998) – Go up to anyone on the street, ask them if they remember Brink, and they will instantly light up. That’s a guarantee. Our main character is Brink (what an incredible nickname) who, piece of trivia for you, is played by Erik von Detten who also voices ultimate psycho neighbor Sid in Toy Story. Brink is an in-line skater who rolls in a crew called the “Soul Skaters.” They’re in it for the fun, not the money (I have the same philosophy about crackin’ stick). But Brink learns his family is going through some financial troubles, so he sells out and joins Team X-Bladz, who are sponsored, for $200/week. All the beer money Mr. Brink could ever hope for. The epic race between Brink and Gabriella, with Val (leader of X-Bladz) sabotaging the course and injuring Gabriella, is a top ten action scene from movie history, bar none. Brink loses all his friends, but his dad tells him he doesn’t need to support the family and he should be sk8ing for fun. Brink challenges Val to the in-line skating championship, absolutely dismantles the kid, gets offered a mega-deal to join X-Bladz sans Val, but declines because he’s in it for the fun. Lessons on top of lessons on top of lessons. The actors have insane chemistry, the skating scenes are pure heat, and Brink is mint early DCOM work.
4. Smart House (1999) – The guy who wrote Smart House was such a genius he for sure went on to work at Apple or Google. Perhaps the most original plotline in DCOM history. Ben Cooper wins a contest, the prize being the dopest house of all time, a “smart house” named Pat. Pat is perhaps the most improbable invention you could imagine. Materializes smoothies in nanoseconds, knows if you’ve been taking in enough fiber, straight up playing God basically. Ben throws an absolute banger of a party. People are still talking about it 17 years later it was that legendary. But the house gets left in shambles, and Ben’s dad is on his way home, so Pat, the problem-solving house that she is, just absorbs the entire mess. The only time I’ve ever come across anything so absorbent was my sophomore year carpets which could absorb a whole Keystone in under a minute. Ben gets pretty miffed when his dad starts dating Pat’s creator Sara (played by the same chic who pilots the spaceship in Armageddon). So Ben, like an idiot, decides his revenge on Sara – who has done nothing but hook him up with the greatest invention in human history – will be to somehow figure a way to reprogram Pat’s computer. Pat becomes a complete lunatic, locks the family inside the house, and we have a full-on hostage situation. Sara comes and reprograms Pat, saves the day, and shacks up with Ben’s dad. Pat, now nice, teaches Ben how to make it rain like Steph Curry on the courts and everyone wins. Such an incredible plot line.
3. The Cheetah Girls (2003) – Everyone wants to talk about High School Musical as having the best songs, but they’re dead wrong. Every song in The Cheetah Girls could have been Billboard top 40. How Cinderella wasn’t a number 1 hit bamboozles me. I dare you to put one of these on in your cube right now and not dance. Insurmountable feat. There will never be a better girl band. Raven Simone, Kiely Williams and Adrienne Bailon from the defunct 3LW, and Sabrina Bryan the token white chick who just did it for your boy when I was 12. The plot was pretty straight forward. These four femme fatales dominate their high school talent show, a producer discovers them, sees nothing but dollar dollar bills y’all, and decides he’s going to turn them into mega-stars. He picks out Galleria (Raven) as the superstar, the Timberlake, and wants to build the group around her. He wants her to be the face of The Cheetah Girls, and this inflates her ego like Steamin Willie Beamen. Meanwhile, Dorinda, the white chick, has to choose between Cheetah Girls and her dance troupe, which is silly because you choose international hip hop sensation over local dance troupe 100/100 right? Regardless, friendship reigns and they, in fact, do not become mega stars. Great plot, contentious relationships, fire tunes, electric chemistry, and the girls were hot.
2. Cadet Kelly (2002) – Lizzie McGuire was the “it” show, and Hilary Duff was the “it” Disney girl. Cadet Kelly basically took Hilary Duff, told her to play her Lizzie McGuire character, and put her in military school. She’s not really cut out for the military, but she’s stuck there because her stepfather, Gary Cole, becomes the supreme leader of the school. Her cadet captain is a complete hard-ass, played by Christy Carlson Romano of Even Stevens fame. They both vie for the attention of Shawn Ashmore. Kelly gets in trouble, because she’s a renegade, and is forced to do the drill team. Kelly shows up late to regionals because — get this — she realizes her actual father is in trouble and she goes with her step father to find her dad, where they find him fallen off of a cliff! What was he doing on a cliff?! Why was he calling Kelly?! All great questions. She saves his ass, gets back to the regional competition, dominates it, and all the relationships get resolved. Duff and CCR become friends and Duff begins to love Gary Cole as a father figure. The film gets high marks for its star power, believability, and understandable but resolved plot (sans the real father rock climbing thing).
1. Johnny Tsunami (1999) – What else. There can be only one. The GOAT. Johnny Kapahala is a better surfer than Kelly Slater, but his dad gets a sick job in Vermont, uprooting his Hawaiian family. Johnny becomes besties with the famous Jett Jackson, who takes him under his wing and they become snowboard buddies. The mountain is split down the middle, snowboarders on one side, skiers on the other. I ski, so I for sure would have sided with the original frat stars, Emily (the headmaster’s daughter played by Zenon), Brett (who had amazing lettuce; all hair team Vermont 1999-2004), and the rest of the skiers from their prep school. Johnny and Jett Jackson somehow deuce out back to Hawaii for some much-needed R&R, come back to the mountain and challenge the fratty ski legends to a race. Johnny and Brett then engage in the most outrageous race down a mountain you’ll ever see. You know those videos of guys being air dropped into remote mountains? Not nearly as incredible as the race between Johnny and Brett. Johnny wins, the mountain becomes desegregated, and Johnny ends up with the headmaster’s daughter. It’s quite possibly better than The Godfather and Citizen Kane.
I know this was long. Thanks for hanging with it and going on this unforgettable journey down memory lane with me..
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