This isn’t a slideshow.
Just wanted to get that out of the way early for all of you out there so you don’t have to spend 120 clicks and page loads to get through Bleacher Report’s “Top 25 Eastern European WAGs of the Bass Pro Series.”
With that said, I can’t ignore that Complex Magazine dropped down and got their Bleacher Report on in December with this “Top 25 Disney Channel Original Movies”. It was pretty solid and for the most part they didn’t have any glaring omissions or discrepancies in their rankings. Having “The Color of Friendship” a spot ahead of “Jett Jackson: The Movie” was a lapse in judgment but TCOF won an Emmy so I can’t be too critical of its placement.
Here’s the thing; I’m not going to rank the movies. I’m just not going to do it. I’m not that guy. I’m not above the game. But because I respect the game however, we will use the Complex rankings as a contrast point as we go through and hash all this out.
DISCLAIMER: I write this piece with great pride and great prejudice. All of us have had a different experience with Disney Channel Original Movies (hereafter referred to as “DCOMs”) and we all have different memories and opinions of them now. Age is a big deal. I was born in 1986 so I was hitting the prime of DCOMs at the age of about 14. If you were 18 in 2000 you probably would have missed this wonderful experience and if you were 10 you would have looked at these movies in a much different light.
Considering all that, looking back at the DCOM universe is like looking back through a kaleidoscope. It’s just a little bit different for each one of us, but it’s always beautiful in its own unique way. With all that out of the way and speaking of beautiful, let’s get started…
ZENON: THE PRISM
Everyone has their own DCOM experience, so there has to be an origin point of where we all can gauge exactly what perspective we have. That point is Zenon; the prism through which we can understand and define each person’s individual experience.
When “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century” came out on January 23, 1999, I was 13 years old. This was the perfect age to experience Kirsten Storms, who was also 13 in the movie, but more importantly – was 15 in real life. Among many transcendent casting choices in the history of DCOMs, this may have been the most impressive, because when “Zenon: The Zequel” came out in 2001, Zenon Kar was 15 played by a 17-year old Storms, who much like Lindsay Lohan at that age was at her aesthetic peak. Two years did this:
So for me and many others born from 1985 to 1988, a 15-year old Storms in 1999 and a 17-year old Storms in 2001 were both dangerously well-timed as our emotions towards the opposite sex were developing.
As previously stated, if you weren’t in that window, the DCOM experience was probably very different for you. This has to be understood when considering how you personally viewed these movies. This is why Zenon may hold a very special place in the hearts and sexual development of many 23 to 28-year olds you know today.
So the prism through which I write this is the prism of hitting Zenon in the sweet spot, and all opinions and sentiments written forthcoming should be known to be from that perspective. I also want to acknowledge that in the previous sentence I incorporated the phrase “hitting Zenon in the sweet spot” and did not make any kind of euphemism or innuendo whatsoever. Impressive, I know.
The other pillar that Zenon serves for our purposes is as a cutoff point. This whole thing can be a jumble when dictating what is and what isn’t a DCOM. So Zenon will be our point of reference again. Here is a rough breakdown of what we are dealing with movie-wise here:
Disney Channel Premiers (sometimes also known as “Premears” – see what they did there)
54 movies beginning in 1983 with “Tiger Town” and going all the way up to 1997’s “The Paper Brigade” (more on this later).
Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs)
Currently at 97 movies, beginning with “Northern Lights” in 1997 and now the most recent being 2013’s “Teen Beach Musical” which someone apparently forgot to give an actual name.
“Zoog” Disney Channel Movies
Scholars and historians have been at odds to determine what, if any, the distinction is between the “Zoog” movies and DCOMs. The Disney Wiki has the breakdown at 43 Zoog movies and 48 DCOMs. Most of the heavy hitters are considered under this Zoog category (Brink, Zenon, Tsunami, etc). They list the oft-unlisted gem “P.U.N.K.S.” which introduced us all to Jessica Alba, and they omit “The Paper Brigade” altogether.
This is where Zenon continues to act as our final modifier for this exercise. Not one of us could sustain through all 97 DCOMs; it’s cross-generational and everyone has a different timeframe. No one who was old enough to watch and enjoy “The Paper Brigade” for instance would also be able to watch and enjoy “High School Musical” in the same way; it’s just not possible. Enjoying “High School Musical” is a task in itself. So we will consider everything from “The Paper Brigade” up to “Zenon: Z3” which came out June 11, 2004 officially a DCOM.
The post-Z3 world was an incoherent mess that had a bunch of Halloweentown sequels including “Halloweentown High,” “Return to Halloweentown,” and “The Halloweentown Chainsaw Massacre.” All the magic was officially ruined when “High School Musical” came out at the beginning of 2006. There were five or six Cheetah Girls movies in this retard soup and once everything was burned to the ground in 2007 they released the sequel to “Johnny Tsunami” and officially pissed on the ashes. That movie will not be mentioned or named. The only thing that ending it at Z3 really robs us of is the Lebron James-like rise of Aly Michalka through the more recent DCOMs. We were robbed of seeing exactly how she got to the point that she was averaging a triple-double every night. For example:
How there wasn’t at least a conversation about an edgier Zenon reboot with Michalka before she blew up is one of the all-time “left on the table” moments in Disney history. Maybe in television history. It kept me up last night.
Anyway…from “The Paper Brigade” in 1997 to “Z3” in 2004 we have 50 movies we can consider fully certified DCOMs. I’m including “P.U.N.K.S.” because it had Brandon Baker before “Tsunami” and was the first time we got the privilege of laying eyes on Jessica Alba. I’m excluding “Northern Lights” in 1997 because Diane Keaton was in it, no one watched it, and it sounds like an Emily Bronte novel.
Also not including “You Lucky Dog” because it’s about a dog psychiatrist played by Kirk Cameron who can read dogs’ minds. At one point this could’ve been promising but after “Kirk Cameron and Bananas” happened we really have to omit anything Cameron related.
Like I said before I’m not ranking these. I’m not James Franco I can’t just do whatever the fuck I want. I have some discipline and respect. There’s too much nuance and too many gaps to just line em all up. The only way to go is to break this down pyramid style and I will humbly do my best to do justice to this masterpiece collection. In that spirit…
THE WORLD BEFORE DCOMs
Life before DCOMs was rough and sparse. Like the ABA before the merger there were different rules, and the memories for those of us who grew up with the NBA are hazy to nonexistent. However, you have to know where you came from to truly appreciate where you are now. That’s why 1995’s “Escape to Witch Mountain” deserves to be mentioned. There are aliens and purple energy and Ari’s wife from Entourage and a mountain, but most importantly we were introduced to DCOM legend Erik von Detten. EvD is a gift that we would have to wait three years to open. It also unfortunately gave us this gift that we’d wait 14 years to open and then immediately return. I’m sure The Rock kicked that mountains ass in a sweet cut-off though.
The other pre-DCOM worth mentioning is the rollerblading movie before the rollerblading movie, “Airborne” from 1993. It’s about a kid who loves to surf who was displaced from his home to an unfamiliar world where he excels at a new sport – this plotline may sound familiar. And it begins the clichéd downhill rollerblade race ending that we see pop up in later in movies like “Brink!”, “Shakespeare in Love,” and “Schindler’s List.” It also gives us a young Seth Green, a young Jack Black, and this Wikipedia synopsis of the ending:
“An aggressive and athletic Snake reaches the finish first for Mitchell’s team, but two preps swiftly follow suit. Needing only one more person to win and with Blane in sight of the end, he decides to barrel into Mitchell but poorly times his attack and instead lands in the waters below. This leaves Jack and Mitchell in clear sight of the finish line, as they approach in tandem victory to the cheers of their awaiting schoolmates, and kisses of respective love interests. Mitchell has finally earned the respect of Jack and his friends, and he is lifted on the shoulders of a cheering crowd as the movie ends”
And yes, the ending is as epic as that paragraph describes. Don’t even bother watching it. It makes me physically upset that I didn’t write the phrase “and kisses of respective love interests” in that paragraph. Absolute fire.
Okay, so now that we’ve mentioned the OGs, we can get into it…
LEVEL ONE: Those That Exist So That We May Know What is Better
Under Wraps, Can of Worms, Stepsister from Planet Weird, Ready to Run, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, The Ultimate Christmas Present, Hounded, The Jennie Project, Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge, ‘Twas the Night, The Scream Team, You Wish!, Right on Track, Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook Off, Pixel Perfect
15 Movies here that will get us started on the base of our pyramid. There may be one in here that you particularly enjoyed – maybe something hit close to home and you have a special place for it. Maybe you were one of those freaks that was into the whole “Halloweentown” thing and you actually know who this “Kalabar” jamoch is and why his revenge is important enough to get a subtitle. Nothing wrong with that…but just know you are absolutely wrong for liking it.
Diamonds we can pick out of this Level One rough: “Can of Worms” gave us Erika Christensen, who we later got to enjoy in the “Leave it to Beaver” reboot and “Swimfan.” We saw Tahj Mowry and a very young Shia LaBeouf in “Hounded,” which was almost enough to sneak it out of the first tier, but it also had Ed Begley Jr. in it, who really loves the environment and definitely isn’t crazy.
Some of you may have liked some of these movies but it’s hard to make an argument for any of them to crack the top 10 let alone the top 25. Not one was in the Complex top 25 and there is a reason for that. We move on.
LEVEL TWO: Women Be Shoppin’
The Color of Friendship, Rip Girls, Quints, A Ring of Endless Light, Cadet Kelly, The Cheetah Girls, Kim Possible Movie: A Sitch in Time, Gotta Kick it Up!
You can probably pick up what I’m putting down here just by the context clues. Positives here: A young Camille Belle, a pre-Marissa Mischa Barton, Hillary Duff and CCR in the same movie, and Eric Matthews as Ron Stoppable.
I personally didn’t really enjoy any of these, but I know that many of the ladies out there did and therefore we oblige them and give them their own level. I don’t support domestic violence and I think Chris Brown is an animal…however, if there was a female I may hit it’s probably going to be that girl from “Quint.” A lot of pent-up resentment for me there for some reason.
The whole Kim Possible era is worth mentioning because it’s tough to handicap after the fact. They had a great formula: spy cartoon, CCR voicing the main character, Christina Milian killing the theme song, and a voice-over cast that included Will Friedle, Tahj Mowry, Nicole Sullivan, Kirsten Storms, Gary Cole (yup that’s Lumbergh), Patrick Warburton, Patton Oswalt as Professor Dementor, Rider Strong as someone named Brick Flagg, and a naked mole rat. Despite all this, I can’t ever really remember enjoying the damn thing I just remember that stupid four-note beepy ringtone thing they always played with it.
I was always impressed with Kim though for extending her career beyond her Disney channel fame which was always a difficult task; she got a haircut, a boob job, and a headset and had a good run as a spokeswoman for eSurance.
LEVEL 3: Never Go Full Retard
Miracle in Lane 2, Tru Confessions, Rain Main
Frankie Muniz is handicapped, Shia LaBeouf is special and holy hell I’m depressed. Just remember, Shia’s got chops man. Megan Fox and robot movies aside, kid can act.
LEVEL 4: WHOA!
Horse Sense, Jumping Ship, The Other Me, Going to the Mat
We must pay respect to the Disney Channel Royal family – The Lawrences. “Brotherly Love” was solid and there was nothing wrong with their collective jump to movies. “Horse Sense” left out Matthew, who was busy tearing up the college years of BMW and dating Rachel, who was a good foot and a half taller than him, but the whole gang got back together for “Jumping Ship” in 2001.
Andrew had a couple solo projects – surprising considering he was The Hapsburg Prince of the clan – with “The Other Me” and “Going to the Mat.” Both were pretty forgettable, as have been The Lawrence Brothers as a whole as time has gone on. After Matthew played a Sidney Crosby-like character in “H-E-Double Hockey Sticks” I was convinced he was destined for big things. This was not he case however. He flamed out after “The Hot Chick” (or during it more likely) and we haven’t heard of him since.
LEVEL 5: If You Bought the VHS It Was Acceptable
Halloweentown, Up, Up and Away, Phantom of the Megaplex, The Poof Point, Full Court Miracle, Don’t Look Under the Bed
Now we are getting somewhere. These were slightly more memorable and had a little bit more substance to them than just the base-level DCOMs. On the Complex list, we have #9, #19, #20, and #24 here on Level 5.
I really don’t get the whole Halloweentown thing. Didn’t like it, never watched it more than once, and was disgusted at all the attention it got. I simply put it here because it would be complete personal bias to put it any lower. I had devout allegiance to R.L. Stine and the cinematic adaptation of “The Haunted Mask” that Goosebumps put out on VHS in 1996. I wasn’t going to waver and it felt wrong to have more than one childhood Halloween movie. I was a loyal kid growing up. That’s why if anyone suggested playing Perfect Dark to “change it up” instead of hammering Dual RCP-90s all day in Goldeneye I went into anaphylactic shock.
This was a solid group; you had Erin Chambers for all you ginger ninjas out there, the movie that inspired Benjamin Button, a fantastic adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera” which none of knew was an adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera” at the time, and a politically-correct box-checker about a black family of superheroes that did about as much for racial progress as “Hangin with Mr. Cooper” did.
LEVEL 6: Too Famous for Disney
Get a Clue, P.U.N.K.S
Person 1: “Hey Matt, I think Lindsay Lohan was hottest in Mean Girls.”
Person 2: “Hey Matt, I think Lindsay Lohan was hottest in The Parent Trap.”
Look, neither of you are wrong. Both have valid arguments, but I’m going to split the difference and go with “Get a Clue” Lohan as my favorite Lohan – it’s where you can kiiiiiind of see the shame spiral get started.
From 1998 to 2004, LiLo went Parent Trap – Life Size – Get a Clue – Confessions – Mean Girls and was poised to absolutely take over the game. The cliff that she falls off of after “Mean Girls” could be arguably the most drastic in the history of IMDB pages. Draw a line after “Mean Girls” and its astonishing where her career ended up. Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
Alba as we all know did the opposite, and snuck up on all of us in 1999. Here is the craziest part: Alba was in two legitimate movies in 1999 other than “P.U.N.K.S.”: “Never Been Kissed,” and “Idle Hands.” Her performance in “Idle Hands” was all-time breakout hotness type stuff playing the love-interest of a burgeoning Devon Sawa.
Jessica Alba: 1999 :: Mike Trout: 2012. A five-tool rookie year like we’ve never seen before. Talent is just talent people.
LEVEL 7: Executing the Formula
The Thirteenth Year, Genius, Alley Cats Strike, The Luck of the Irish, Motocrossed
When Zuckerberg had the idea for DCOMs as an undergraduate at Harvard, these five movies were what he had in mind. Each of these succeeded as the perfect execution of the DCOM formula. A solid plot, great young casting, some involvement with a sport, and a predictable yet solid and entertaining conclusion. These are all memorable, rewatchable, and each cannot be scoffed at if someone were to say that one of these was their favorite DCOM.
A couple things in Level 7 DCOMs worth noting:
- The kid who played the main character in “The Thirteenth Year” was named Chez Starbuck. How he didn’t end up doing porn is one of the great DCOM mysteries (I can’t confirm he didn’t I am just assuming).
- “Alley Cats Strike” is the third greatest bowling movie of all time. Chew on that for a second. Behind “Kingpin” and “The Big Lewbowski,” the 2000 DCOM comes in third without much argument. Bonus: it gave us the introduction of Kaley Cuoco.
- The only problem with “The Luck of the Irish” was the fact that Ryan Merriman was an absolute embarrassment at basketball. He right-hand power dribbles his way through the whole movie, culminating in a final game where he pulls of the greatest steal in the history of basketball:
He made that steal on his way to leading the Soaring Eagles to the win after being down 72-64 with a minute to go and an evil leprechaun playing for the other team. All for a kid with no left hand.
- Finally, I still can’t decide if Andy Carson from “Motocrossed” was hotter with short hair or long hair. I’m not sure what that says about me but I feel like Talon felt the same way.
LEVEL 8: Lead Pipe Locks – Movies from Shows
Jett Jackson: The Movie, The Even Stevens Movie
These were no-brainers. Jett Jackson was one of the greatest premises in television history, and making a movie out of the thing was about as sure a bet as you could make. And of course, the thing delivered. Jett Jackson and Silverstone’s worlds became one in a genius writing move that had Jett actually save Silverstone, Artemis, and Hawk from Dr. Kragg at one point. Great stuff. My only overarching disappointment with Jett Jackson is that the whole half tucked-in buttondown thing that JB did never really caught on. Beckham even tried to make it happen.
“The Even Stevens Movie” was what it should have been – a more ridiculous longer episode of the show. They grabbed Beans, went on a family vacation that turned out to be a reality show, and hijinx ensue. It was sort of ahead of its time with the whole reality show thing. Clearly “Influenza: The Musical” was a more culturally significant event I’m not going to argue with you, but unfortunately that can’t be considered.
TIER 9: The Elite
Smart House, The Zenon Trilogy, Johnny Tsunami, The Paper Brigade
First of all, we’ll get the WTF moment out of the way. Guess who directed “Smart House”? LeVar Effing Burton. I’ll give you all a minute to wrap your heads around this. The guy who was on “Roots,” hosted “Reading Rainbow” for a thousand years, and was on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was also responsible for one of the greatest DCOMs ever. That’s range.
After that, you have Ryan Merriman again, solidifying his place on the DCOM Mount Rushmore alongside Brandon Baker, Lee Thompson Young, and EvD. There is no female version of Mount Rushmore because K-Storms is so far ahead of everyone else it’s not even a discussion.
“Smart House” was great, gave us the second best DCOM original song, and helped launched the 4-month career of red-headed-step-child-boy-band Five with “Slam Dunk Da Funk”. I personally thought “When the Lights Go Out” was their crowning achievement but SDDF was their most popular and was incorporated into the movie seamlessly.
Let’s finish this though – so what was the best DCOM original song? I’m surprised you even have to ask. Of course it’s Protozoa’s “Supernova Girl” from Zenon. Another reason why these movies are in a level of their own – they launched chart-topping hit singles. “Supernova Girl” was the #1 song IN THE ENTIRE GALAXY. Protozoa ain’t nothin to fuck wit.
We’ve covered Zenon enough so we can move right on to another tour-de-force performance by Storms and segway right into “Johnny Tsunami.”
Before we get into all the great things about JT, lets first address the huge Asian elephant in the room. Yes…the actual Johnny Tsunami, Johnny’s grandfather, happens to be Shang Tsung from “Mortal Kombat.”
This was brushed over in the movie and is rarely brought up, probably because of the damage it would have done to all of us back in 1999. Luckily I did not realize this until I was mature enough to handle it. I mean the guy killed Lui Kang’s brother for seemingly no reason whatsoever…then retired to Hawaii and became a surfing legend. #doublelife
Basically here is how JT happened: They said, alright let’s get Brandon Baker, the kid looks Hawaiian and he’s an up-and-comer here so we can let him drive this thing. We’ll take our two most marketable stars right now – Storms and Lee Thompson Young – and flank him with crazy talent. We’ll take the basic plot of “Brink!” because that killed, add snow and make pretty much the same movie.
Translation = They were not fucking around. They knew this thing was going to be legit and they made sure it had no chance at failing. Bravo Disney Channel. You pulled it off. There are many who claim this as the best DCOM ever and I can’t say I really have an argument against it. I may not agree, but I can’t argue with you.
“The Paper Brigade” gets the mention here as THE most underrated of all DCOMs. This is partly because some may not consider it a DCOM. However, being someone who once had a championship fantasy football team named after this movie, and wrote under the pseudonym “Gunther Wheeler” on fantasy message boards in high school, I may be slightly biased.
Kyle Howard and Joseph-Gordon Levitt were neck and neck back then and there careers forked in very different directions. Crazy that it was pretty much a toss-up between the two back then.
LEVEL 10: When you woke up this morning did you say to yourself “Today I’m gonna talk,” or “Today, I’m gonna skate”?
This was the first one that landed. The first DCOM to define the rest. Brink! was the domino that started this whole thing. This was The Blueprint. All others that followed must pay tribute to what Brink! allowed them to do.
The movie was shot in California – the whole thing was sunny and fun to watch. EvD’s hair was the only hair to ever approach Shawn Hunter level. You had the definitive DCOM good vs. evil contrast with Team X-Blades and Soul-Skaters/Team Pup ‘N Suds, even with Brink going to the dark side and then triumphantly coming back. The movie made rollerblading cool. Think about that. Rollerblading now is something you can’t legally do until you tell your parents you’re gay. After Brink! it was a legitimate activity.
If this movie didn’t affect your childhood in a positive way then you probably are having trouble transitioning into a functional and successful adult. Fear not, though – thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can relive all the soul-skating magic in one click. And that’s the only way we can really send this thing out. Thanks for wasting all that time reading this and here is another 96 minutes you can waste. Also, if anyone has a Team X-Blades tank I will gladly take it off your hands for a fair price.