So due to Hollywood studios suffering from their worst drop in box office sales in a quarter century, which is surprising in a year that they gave us Fast and Furious 8, Transformers 5, and fucking The Emoji Movie. Here we are on Labor Day weekend and there are no major releases in theaters this week, so I’m going to take you back to a time before the Disney Channel sold its soul to Jake Paul and Miley Cyrus.
Yes, back in the time called the 90s, Disney Channel actually had things called original programming and I don’t mean the original programming that included an insulting amount of laugh track, Disney produced many great TV shows for kids that had more depth than teenagers trying to become famous. Shows such as The Jersey, which featured a Magic Jersey created by the Wizard Merlin that allowed teenagers to jump into the bodies of pro athletes during a game (and if that isn’t enough to hook you, you simply don’t have a soul).
So Weird which was about a girl young girl’s misadventures of the paranormal in a show that got so dark, Disney forced the show to take a lighter direction after the writers wanted to send the main character to Hell in order to save the damned soul of her father (this was a fucking kid show mind you) and so much more.
Back in 1997, Disney started producing their own original films for their TV channel. There were many films, but I decided to do some quick reviews on some standouts and see if they actually hold up after all these years or not.
Susie Q (1996)
Back in 1996, during the height of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers run (based on the Japanese TV show Super Sentai), Amy Jo Johnson as everyone knows as the original Pink Ranger starred in a film about a girl in the 1950s who died in a car accident on her way to the prom. 40 years later, her ghost stalks the new kid in town in trying to get him to help recover the land her parents lost shortly after her death. Now you want to see the day and night differences of Disney content from now vs 20 years ago, Watch this film, it’s hard to believe the same company produced this film. Susie Q manages a bittersweet yet heartwarming story that cleverly deals with the issue of death and depression of losing a loved one. Why the company thought they need to move away from films like this I don’t know because Susie Q remains in the élite class of House of Mouse films even 22 years later.
Nothing dates a film harder than Extreme Sports and Competitive Rollerblading. You know this is a 90s film, made back in the days where X-Games sports was at its height, Brink! is a film about a group of semi-pro skaters called the Soul-Skaters, who fight over the moral issue of selling out their brand for money, perhaps they were trying to tell us something? Brink! is largely regarded as one of the best Disney Channel films ever and it’s not hard to see why. Brink! Reminds every adult 5 years short of a midlife crisis of a much simpler time in society where kids rebelled using skateboards and roller blades. The reason this hits home with so many people is that everything about the film feels genuine. The Soul-Skaters were you and your friends back in the days of early high school during summer vacation. A must watch for all, but if there is one complaint I have is that a group of teenagers wouldn’t take a sponsorship during the height of Tony Hawk Pro Skater…yeah right, they would sell out simply with the promise of being in the video game.
Stepsister From Planet Weird (1999)
Stepsister from Planet Weird was one of those cheesy premises of a teen girl who mom gets engaged to a guy who turns out to be an alien. He and his alien daughter move in and it’s the case of the girl who cries Alien but no one believes her. This is one of those low expectation films you go in not expecting much and are pleasantly surprised. I think this could have worked without the angle of aliens and poor quality late 90s CGI but it was for kids so it worked for their audience.
Cadet Kelly (2002)
At one point this was the Disney Channel’s highest rated movie for the Network. They took two of most popular female leads on the entire channel at the time, Hilary Duff, who known for her role on Lizzie McGuire, the show that changed the game for the Disney Channel (probably for the worse if we are honest) and joining her was Christy Carlson Romano from Even Stevens and Kim Possible respectively. Cadet Kelly was a film about a spoiled rich girl going to a military school to learn her some damn respect. This film is a window into the armed forces for kids at the very least the ROTC. The film promotes individuality and leadership, and even if it takes a while to get there, we do get a touching family film. However, if he was being honest, Duff’s character would have gotten tossed a LONG time ago.
Get A Clue (2002)
There was a time in this country where Lindsay Lohan was considered to be where Emma Stone is today, instead, she ended up being the next Lindsay Lohan. However, pre-drug riddled meltdown right before her breakout year in 2003, Lindsay starred in Get a Clue. I always saw this as Disney’s version of Nancy Drew. This is one of the weaker films of the library, not one of the worst but simply not good. Lohan carries the film, but there isn’t much here to carry. Poor writing, a story that seems written in bullet points, and they could only add 83 minutes of mess including the credits. The only reason to watch this is to say “God Lindsay, why??”
The Scream Team (2002)
This film signaled the end of an era for Disney as this was the last film to carry the old logo. Scream Team was a Disney’s first shot at a Halloween franchise outside of their famed Halloweentown series. This is was pretty good for a kid’s Halloween film with a great cast of comedic actors (as well as Kat Dennings). One thing that really stands out is that they turned up the scary here for the younger audience. It’s like after putting the hammer down on their TV series for trying to display a Heaven and Hell that was too intense for kids, here the villain is an evil fire throwing spirit (basically Shang Tsung) who is as vengeful as he is menacing. Scream Team is a solid movie and is even scarier than horror films for adults these days *cough* Bye Bye Man *cough*
Right On Track (2003)
Based on the life of Courtney and Erica Enders, two sisters who get into the world of junior drag racing, Right On Track was the female empowerment movie that excels where modern-day feminism films fail. Starring a very young Beverley Mitchell and Brie Larson, the two on-screen sisters show their drive to live their dream, even if it is a male dominated sport. The girls let their skills do the talking and broke the barrier for women in the world of competitive racing. Disney didn’t do many biography films, but this one was a stand out for its story because Courtney and Erica not only achieved success but did it the hard way and garter nothing but respect.
Even Stevens Movie (2003)
The Even Stevens Movie serves as the series finale of one of the most popular TV shows in the history of the network. Before Shia LaBeouf was getting in fights at bars and screaming at the giant white wall, he was the most popular male on the Network starring in hit films for Disney such as Holes and the not so good Tru Confessions. But this was another end of an era as Even Stevens was one of the last original sitcoms under the 65 episode rule, meaning that despite its popularity, no Disney Show could go more than 3 seasons. This rule was thrown out with the popularity of the 2003 show That’s So Raven. The plot was goofy and pretty absurd mocking what was the rise of Reality TV shows at the time, but the show itself was goofy and absurd so who am I to judge? The film was disappointing considering this was the finale and they could have chosen a different route to close the series, but it stayed true to itself and was a fun waste of time.
Stuck In The Suburbs (2004)
Finally, we have Stuck in the Suburbs, this is where I knew I had outgrown the target demographic of the network and it was time to say goodbye. The plot is essentially teenage girls going crazy for a random pop singer and someone at the network thought that this would be the direction of their channel for the foreseeable future. The film itself isn’t the worst, the problem was what the film represented. For those growing up in the 90s era of Brink!, Zenon, Halloweentown, Johnny Tsunami, etc. Our time was up. I actually give the older movie’s credit for actually writing material that didn’t insult its target audience and gave them what they didn’t assume would just go over their heads. But after the rise of Hilary Duff and Raven Symone as teen icons, the network moved its agenda to the pandering of teenage girls and not entertaining content. Again, go watch Susie Q and then watch this film and you understand why I said the difference is night and day (and that change only took less than 6 years to complete).
In conclusion, Disney Channel Movies had a place in your heart if you were around at the right time. I recommend going back and watching the films yourself, i’m sure you can find a semi-legal site that has every film in question and more. You can’t recreate what once was, you can only relive it.