Picture it if you will: It’s Friday afternoon. You’re in the back seat of the car as Radio Disney plays through the muffled AM radio speakers. Your mom drives you home after what seems to be the longest week of school in the history of the world. The freedom of the weekend lies before you, and its possibilities are endless. You arrive home, go to the kitchen, grab a Gogurt and turn on the TV, only to realize that the most exciting event of your weekend is about to happen at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central Time.
An all-new Disney Channel Original Movie (a DCOM as the true fans call it) is going to premiere, and your weekend plans are about to be set. First, you’ll settle in to watch the DCOM theme song. When those kids start jumping around on that roll of Disney Channel film, you know you’re about to have the most epic two hours of your life. You watch the movie, awe-struck. Is he a merman? Is her stepsister from Planet Weird? Twist of the century. Is Kyle a leprechaun? He really does have The Luck of the Irish. You watch the new movie all weekend just to make sure every plotline sunk in. Obviously, you wanted to be the DCOM expert at school on Monday.
Disney Channel Original Movies were a massive part of my childhood. Sure, they were formulaic and cheesy, but I look back on them with a feeling of extreme nostalgia. Some of my best memories were spent watching a great DCOM with my friends and family. Since Disney+ is about to release on November 12, I thought now would be the perfect time to look at 10 of the most memorable DCOMs that will be available on the streaming service. What makes them stand out? Why do so many of them contain random musical numbers? And why do we love them so much?
“The Thirteenth Year”
Starring: Chez Starbuck, Dave Coulier, Lisa Staul, Courtnee Draper
The Plot: Cody is a regular teenager who goes to school, hangs with friends and excels on the swim team. But did anyone ever think that maybe he’s so good at the swim team because he’s a merman? Yeah, these are things you have to take into account! Around his thirteenth birthday, Cody begins growing fins and gills, only to find out he was adopted. Could he really be a merman searching for his mermom?
What Makes it Memorable: Everything makes this movie memorable. I would love to be a fly on the wall in the writers’ room when the script of “The Thirteenth Year” was initially pitched. I imagine it went a little something like this:
Screenwriter: So you know, “The Little Mermaid” was a massive hit for us!
Disney Channel Executive: Yeah, everyone loves it.
Screenwriter: For the next Disney Channel movie, we’re thinking a reverse “Little Mermaid.” A teenage boy who’s 13 years old lives as a human, but finds out he’s actually a merman who needs to return to his mom in the sea.
Disney Channel Executive: Brilliant. This is why we pay you big money. I’m calling Dave Coulier right now to star as the dad. We’ll run it every night at 8 p.m. for the next four years.
And run it every night they did. “The Thirteenth Year” was one of Disney Channel’s most frequently played movies in the early 2000s. I’m pretty sure I had every plot detail memorized. My mom dreaded evenings that I had control of the remote and “The Thirteenth Year” was on, considering my brain had no limits to the amount of times I could watch the same story unfold. If you didn’t catch the tale of Cody finding out he was a merman and wonder if the same fate would befall you on your thirteenth birthday, were you even a Disney Channel kid?
Starring: Kimberly J. Brown, Debbie Reynolds, Joey Zimmerman, Judith Hoag
The Plot: A young girl named Marnie finds out her grandmother is a witch who lives in a town that celebrates Halloween all year long.
What Makes it Memorable: “Halloweentown” is one of Disney Channel’s most revisited classics due to its seasonal appeal and the appearance of Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds. It’s not every day a DCOM gets an Oscar nominee as one of its stars! The movie eventually got three sequels that were big hits for Disney. It has maintained such a cult status that the original filming location in St. Helens, Oregon, turns back into Halloweentown every year for the holiday! I guess Marnie was right: “Halloween is cool!”
“The Color of Friendship”
Starring: Lindsey Haun, Shadia Simmons, Carl Lumbey, Penny Johnson Jerald
The Plot: In 1977, South African Mahree Bok goes to live with Piper Dellums, the daughter of a black U.S. Congressman in Washington, D.C. The two have very different viewpoints and will have to learn what it means to embrace tolerance and friendship.
What Makes it Memorable: “The Color of Friendship” is probably Disney Channel’s most serious movie to date. It tackles the issue of racism head-on as Mahree and Piper try to find common ground with each other. Racism in the 1970s is a gutsy topic for a children’s TV channel, but “The Color of Friendship” finds a way to deal with the subject matter in a way that kids can understand and learn from after watching.
Starring: Hilary Duff, Christy Carlson Romano, Shawn Ashmore, Gary Cole
The Plot: A teenage girl is shocked to hear that she must go live at a military school.
What Makes it Memorable: Hilary Duff owned Disney Channel in the early 2000s. Everyone knew their Disney Channel viewing night would consist of seeing two episodes of “Lizzie McGuire” followed by the “Coming Clean” music video, then “Cadet Kelly.” She was the shining star. “Cadet Kelly” saw Duff team up with Christy Carlson Romano at the height of both of their popularity (Romano riding high from “Even Stevens” success). The two played polar opposites in the film: Kelly is a free-spirit, and Jennifer is a militant rule follower. However, they build an endearing friendship, at military school of all places.
“Stuck in the Suburbs”
Starring: Danielle Panabaker, Brenda Song, Taran Killam
The Plot: What if you accidentally traded cell phones with your favorite celebrity? That’s what happens to aspiring musician Brittany after she visits the set of her favorite pop star Jordan Cahill’s music video with her best friend.
What Makes it Good: This movie has it all: music, drama and the clash of Hollywood vs. suburbia. Did I mention Taran Killam of “SNL” stars as Jordan Cahill? It’s quite a departure from his usual comedic roots, but so worth watching. Starring alongside Killam are Danielle Panabaker and Brenda Song as teenage best friends.
Are there some plot holes in “Stuck in the Suburbs”? Yes. Brittany has a pink phone, and Jordan Cahill has a grey phone. They would realistically never switch them by accident. Also, this movie is straight fanfiction brought to life. (Don’t act like you never wished this happened to you with one of the Jonas Brothers.) Although it’s all wildly unrealistic, there is a genuine sweetness to the entirety of “Stuck in the Suburbs” about the longing to be unique and distance oneself from suburbia. As Disney ran toward a formula of sameness in the mid- to late 2000s, “Stuck in the Suburbs” stood out as a heartfelt DCOM embracing the importance of friendship and remaining true to one’s individuality.
“The Luck of the Irish”
Starring: Ryan Merriman, Henry Gibson, Marita Geraghty, Paul Kiernan
The Plot: High school is hard enough as it is with cliques, the pressure to succeed and the struggle to find oneself. As Kyle navigates the ever-changing halls of high school, he begins to turn into a leprechaun. The writers of DCOM’s throw in twists that would shock even Alfred Hitchcock himself.
What Makes It Memorable: Everything about this movie is gold (pun intended). Much like “The Thirteenth Year,” Disney ran with the “teenage boy turns into a mythical creature” plotline. Who am I to question what brought in viewers?
Kyle turns into a leprechaun, and I never doubted it as a child. I watched as if it was a Golden Globe-nominated drama. The premise is absolutely hilarious the more I think about it, but “The Luck of the Irish” has a specific entertainment factor that you can’t ignore. The more Disney played it, the more I was glued to the screen. It can’t be overlooked that the film’s overall message about embracing one’s heritage is heartfelt and important.
“The Cheetah Girls”
Starring: Raven Symoné, Adrienne Bailon, Kiely Williams, Sabrina Bryan
The Plot: A group of friends try to make it in the music industry.
What Makes it Memorable: “The Cheetah Girls” boasts an impressive group of talent in its stars Raven Symonè, Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan and Keely Williams. The movie explores the bond of a friendship that’s closer to sisterhood. Each member of the group has different strengths (singing, dancing, costume design, etc.) that makes the group work together as a whole. The movie embraces diversity and the importance of artistic freedom.
“The Cheetah Girls” gave the world so many incredible female empowerment songs to dance to including “Cheetah Sisters,” “Cinderella” and “Girl Power.”
Sure, the show business aspect of this movie is interesting, but the climactic scene where Raven’s dog gets stuck in the sewer is one of the most terrifying Disney Channel moments of all time. Only the Cheetah Girls could save that dog with the power of their song. (So they’re basically superheroes too.) If you haven’t seen “The Cheetah Girls,” it’s time to look it up on Disney+!
Starring: Ryan Merriman, Katey Sagal, Katie Volding, Kevin Kilner
The Plot: In the days before Alexa, Siri and Google were introduced into our lives, there was only Pat, an AI Smart House that just wanted to be part of the family. When the Cooper Family wins the Smart House in a contest, everything seems fantastic, until Pat’s dark side comes out in a terrifying way.
What Makes it Memorable: Back in the ‘90s, “Smart House” seemed like the most high tech movie to ever grace the television screen. It was almost unfathomable to think of a house that could talk to you and help you organize your day. It was the dream scenario — until Pat went crazy and tried to hold the family hostage.
“Smart House” starred Ryan Merriman of “The Luck of The Irish” fame. He was a true Disney dreamboat that will forever hold a place in our hearts.
I believe if you watched Smart House just the right amount of times as a child, you don’t own Alexa, and you have a deep distrust of Siri. (I may be speaking from experience.)
“Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century”
Starring: Kirsten Storms, Raven Symoné, Stuart Pankin, Holly Fulger
The Plot: A teenage girl who lives in a space station ends up being sent to earth after getting into trouble.
What Makes it Memorable: Long before Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Matt Damon decided it was cool to travel to space, Zenon lived there. Talk about a trailblazer! Where is Kirsten Storms’s Oscar nomination? “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century” was released in 1999, at the very end of the 20th century, but it felt futuristic at the time. The 21st-century girl gifted us with the catchphrase “Zetus Lapetus!”, a phrase that all Disney Channel fans know to use when expressing shock, joy or fear. Example: “Zetus Lapetus! I can’t believe Ryan Gosling didn’t get an Oscar nomination for ‘First Man’!” In addition to cutting edge catchphrases, Zenon introduced the audience to the interstellar pop star Prota Zoa, who gave us the one and only “Supernova Girl,” a song so catchy that it will get stuck in your head for days. Zenon went on to have two follow-up sequels, both highly enjoyable, but there’s something about the original that can’t be replaced.
“High School Musical 2”
Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu
The Plot: “High School Musical 2” follows our favorite singing class as they embark on a summer vacation that takes place at a desert resort, all while trying to maintain their relationships and work a summer job. Can they work it out?
What Makes It Memorable: You can “Bet On It” that this is an iconic Disney Channel Original. “High School Musical” was an absolute phenomenon, premiering in 2006 to massive ratings. As a musical enthusiast and DCOM fan, I love the first movie, but “HSM 2” raised the stakes of the franchise. The budget was bigger, the sets were better and the overall style was more original compared to the “Grease” formula of the first movie. Kenny Ortega stepped things up with “High School Musical 2,” giving the audience the musical numbers “Fabulous,” “Bet on It” and “I Don’t Dance”! To think one Disney Channel Original Movie contains all three of those numbers is astounding.
The entire HSM franchise has a ton of talent behind it, including Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Corbin Bleu. Anytime you sit down to watch this movie, I can promise you, you’ll have a fabulous time.
There you have it: 10 iconic DCOMs that you need to watch on Disney+! What are your favorite Disney Channel Original Movies? Do you plan on getting Disney+? Let us know in the comments!
Rebecca Daniel is a freelance journalist from Atlanta, Georgia. She was introduced to “The Sound of Music” at age two which led to her love of film and all things musical. You can often find her writing a review about the latest movie she’s seen in theaters or counting down the days until she watches the next one. Rebecca recently made a short film called “Movie: Impassable.” She just got her Independent Producing Certificate with UCLA Extension and hopes to make more movies in the near future! She is inspired by directors like David Fincher, Sofia Coppola, and Damien Chazelle. When movies aren’t on her mind, Rebecca enjoys hanging out with friends, watching football and baking a fun dessert.