The Disney Channel celebrated their 100th Disney Channel Original Movie by airing a marathon of every single original movie over this Memorial Day weekend. Given the fact that a number of our staff grew up during the ’90s and early 2000s, we leapt at the chance to revisit our childhood and once more step into the world of cheesy dialogue, heartfelt messages, and “where-are-they-now?” actors that only Disney TV movies can generate such excitement for.
Jump! Jump! The House is Jumpin! 1999’s Smart House told the story of Ben Cooper who enters a contest for a Smart House in order to help out his sister and widowed father whose lives have become over-run with chores. But winning the Smart House doesn’t solve Ben’s problems. Once his father begins dating the Smart House’s creator, Sara, Ben tampers with the AI personality, Pat, in order to prove his dad that they don’t need a new wife/mother. Admittedly, as a child I liked Smart House because it terrified me. Granted, the very idea of a house that can clean up your messes by sucking it into the floor, make all your meals, react to your every desire and need, and kick bullies out of your parties is awesome. I legitimately thought that by the time I was an adult that houses would be like this one, but alas, seventeen years later and I’m still spilling stuff and cleaning it up myself. So what was so terrifying? Katey Sagal’s Pat. After Ben messes with the house’s system, Pat becomes an overprotective 1950s mother who places the family under lockdown for fear that the outside world is too dangerous. Appearing as a hologram that was more alarming that humorous, Pat’s late film turn twisted a family movie into a sci-fi thriller, or at least my closest approximation of that at nine years old. At the time, I thought Smart House was cool, clever, and absolutely plausible, with enough suspense for a budding horror enthusiast.
So, how does it hold up? First of all, I’d forgotten that LeVar Burton directed this movie and the re-discovery of that makes it even more endearing. Expectedly, the dialogue is pretty cringe-worthy, especially when it comes to the scenes of “deep” emotion. Yet, Smart House feels more genuine in efforts than the pastel-colored Disney Channel Original Movies that began around the time that Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus became household names. Sure the technology within the Smart House is laughably out of date, the party scene featuring that hit-Disney single “Jump Jump the House is Jumpin” is the very absence of cool, and the acting is sometimes uncomfortably awkward. But there’s attempt to say something to kids here, and a relatively mature (for a Disney Channel Original Movie) look at grief and coping. There’s an actual divide between the lives of adults and children in this film, and there’s an existence of authority, as opposed to later Disney Channel Original Movies where the adults were all rubes and the kids ran the show. Smart House is a movie that’s better in nostalgic memory than in actuality, but as a made for television kid’s movie it’s pretty clever in comparison. Oh, and it’s still a bit terrifying. Maybe it’s the years spent watching Katey Sagal’s Gemma Teller on Sons of Anarchy, but Pat is still the stuff of nightmares even after she chills out and starts making everyone chocolate chip waffles by the movie’s end. –Richard Newby
Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off
Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off is a notable precursor to the High School Musical-era of the Disney Channel Original Movies. With Eddie, an underdog baseball team’s star player who secretly loves cooking, Disney gets to advocate that expression is important against overwhelming criticism from others to stick to the acceptable norm. It sounds familiar, because it’s the same basic premise and theme used in the High School Musical trilogy, Jump In, and Camp Rock. Instead of using basketball and theater, and jump rope and boxing, it uses baseball and cooking. What makes Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off notable is that it has a stronger emphasis on the ignorance of categorizing interests by gender. There’s a great takedown in the middle of the film, where a girl basically roasts her coach for saying she runs and throws like a girl. It’s sad to say that it drifted out of recognition when Disney Channel’s later and more popular movies came out, because it was a pretty delightful homerun in my book. –Anton Reyes
High School Musical
I love musicals. All types and all kinds. I have dug them pretty much as long as I can remember as long as you count animated Disney classics like Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast but the beginning of the evolution and maturation of my musical tastes can be pinpointed back to one fateful back in January of 2006 when at ten years old I watched the premiere of High School Musical on the Disney Channel. It was quite unlike any live action musical I had ever seen though, admittedly, my knowledge of those started and ended with Mary Poppins. But there was a pageantry to the musical numbers that almost felt extravagant (well as extravagant as a low-budget TV movie could be). It really spoke to me and from there I was obsessed. I would watch the movie constantly, I knew all of the words to every song, I eagerly anticipated the sequels. I like to think of High School Musical as a transition point for me because from there I would develop a love for musicals of all kinds whether they be on the screen or on the stage. Of course, it helps that High School Musical is a pretty solid movie in its own right with a bevy of catchy songs, charming performances from some soon-to-be stars, and energetic direction from Kenny Ortega that occasionally borders on camp. It’s an entertaining musical that had an impact on my life and certainly warrants revisiting. –Ryan MacLean
There’s always a danger in revisiting a childhood favorite. It usually ends in realizing what poor taste your younger self didn’t realize she had. Fortunately I don’t know what that’s like because Brink! is just as awesome in 2016 as it was in 1998. Brink! ranks up there with Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century and Halloweentown, classic ’90s Disney and only marginally cringe-worthy. Andy “Brink” Brinker (’90s heartthrob Erik von Detten) and his friends make up the Soul Skaters, a group of high schoolers in Southern California who pride themselves on rollerblading for the right reason—fun. But when Brink becomes privy to adult financial woes, he finds himself choosing a corporate sponsored skating group, knowing he’d have to team up with Val (Sam Horrigan), a guy with a reputation for questionable morals, placing all of his relationships in jeopardy in order to help his parents keep their home. Classic teenage drama, amiright? Though it may seem like a stretch, especially in how many teenagers are wildly, professionally talented with mostly absentee parents who don’t need to partake in contract signing, Brink! manages to capture just how many adult issues teenagers carry often unbeknownst to the grownups in their lives. And I found Brink’s heart-to-heart with his dad resonating with me more the second time around—18 years after my first viewing. When Brink admits to his dad that quitting the Soul-Skaters for X-Bladz wasn’t just about the money but about being someone too, Brink’s father clues the teenager in on something most adults neglect to see: your identity and self-worth can’t be defined by what you do but rather the quality of the relationships you keep. Pretty phat. –Grace Porter