As we reach a time that is so distinctly end-of-summer, it’s normal to have mixed feelings. I remember a couple things about this season growing up: 1. way too many commercials for Rooms to Go furniture sales. 2. those “last hoo-rah” pool parties that didn’t mean a whole lot considering how hot Florida would continue to be for a significant portion of the year.
I live in Michigan now, and I don’t see too many Rooms to Go commercials, but the sentiment remains. The Labor Day blowout, the church/school retreat on a lake, those last few beach trips or pool days before it’s technically not summer anymore.
In the spirit of wrapping up another summer, I’ve compiled a list of movies suited to this season. A lucky seven for your last splash! Though not all of these are Disney films, they’re all on Disney+ at the time of writing.
Hence the title of this listicle, “The Last Splash.” Emma Roberts, JoJo, Sara Paxton, truly the dream team. These ladies brought the best of tween/teen Hollywood with their combined experiences across Nickelodeon, Disney, the music industry, and seemingly random but cool miscellaneous projects (see Emma Roberts’ Nancy Drew movie and Sara Paxton in Darcy’s Wild Life). Roberts and JoJo play Claire and Hailey, respectively, teen besties who live in the Tampa area. The film was shot in Australia, per the Tampa Bay Times. The Times also graded Aquamarine and gave it a C??? Rude. Anyway, Aquamarine (Paxton) graces Hailey and Claire with her presence, and she’s a convincing mermaid. If Claire and Hailey can get hunky Raymond to fall in love with Aqua, she’ll grant the girls a wish, which would be to keep Hailey and her mother from moving to, ironically, Australia. I won’t spoil the ending except to say that there is a “Last Splash” in the development of the story. It’s a fantastic community party with a band that plays “Island in the Sun” so that Aqua and Ray can have an adorable date.
A Ring of Endless Light (2002)
Also filmed in Australia, A Ring of Endless Light is one of those more serious DCOMs that I happen to love. It’s an adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s book by the same name. The movie stars Mischa Barton as Vicky Austin. She and her siblings are staying with their grandfather for the summer, and Vicky has two incredibly difficult choices for the love of her life: Ryan Merriman as Adam and Jared Padalecki as Zachery. Vicky learns that she can communicate with dolphins while she’s helping Adam with his aquatic research. She has a sunny New England summer and cherishes conversations with her grandfather, but, very sadly, he dies of leukemia. The warm and loving grandpa, portrayed by James Whitmore, always believed in Vicky’s poetry. If you’re looking for an emotional story that will take you through one specific summer in a young woman’s life, spend some time with this film.
The Parent Trap (1998)
The Parent Trap is a staple for a ’90s girl like me, and it’s another summer tale that will carry you through all the feelings. This is the first movie I remember seeing in theaters…I would have just turned 4! I am also a big fan of the original Hayley Mills version, but I often think of Lindsay Lohan’s simply for the comfort of my childhood memories. I saw Lindsay’s movie before I was introduced to Hayley’s classic. The 1998 soundtrack still makes me so happy, but I’ll focus on the whole spectacle here. Even for a kid who didn’t grow up going to sleepaway camp, the girls’ camp scenes are so relatable. This act of the film is the only part with a cast of kids who aren’t Annie or Hallie, so it’s fun to see those interactions before the rest of the summer plays out. You know the story: Annie belongs to Elizabeth James, Hallie belongs to Nick Parker, or as his young girlfriend calls him, Nicky. The James family has a dear butler named Martin while the Parker family has Chessy as their housekeeper. I really want chocolate chip pancakes when I watch this, thanks to Chessy. From the big twin switch-a-roo to Meredith Blake’s mountain adventure to the eventual happy ending, this film never fails to be entertaining or emotionally engaging. All the loose ends must be tied up by summer’s completion, and there’s nothing like that sweet reunion after a rainy goodbye.
College Road Trip (2008)
I don’t think this movie gets enough love. It doesn’t take place at the end of the summer, no. However, it’s all about Raven-Symoné’s character, Melanie, embarking on a huge college road trip with her dad (Martin Lawrence) even though she knows she wants to go to Georgetown. In case you forgot, Brenda Song (!) and Margo Harshman (Tawny from Even Stevens !) are in this movie. Oh, and Donny Osmond. Also Lucas Grabeel and Kym Whitley, which is cool! I still remember laughing when I saw this as an eight grader. With all those Disney Channel stars, it was my ideal feature film. It’s so fun to see Raven, right after the end of her hit series, bring her comedic genius to a completely different character. Melanie wants to be a lawyer and desperately desires to have some personal space, even though her dad is set on her attending college close to home. That transition from high school to college is something you don’t usually forget, whether you go far away or stay near family.
High School Musical 2 (2007)
You know what’s ironic about HSM 2? It’s a celebration of summer, a commencing of vacation, a departure from school…but it premiered on August 17, 2007. The movie was totally a late-summer release. It might have felt odd to sing “What Time Is It (Summertime)” while going shopping for school supplies. At the same time, the DCOM was a ratings success, with The New York Times then estimating a record-breaking viewership of 17.2 million for premiere night. Nothing could stop the magic of the High School Musical franchise. Not even school. And when you think about it, this movie does stretch over the highs and lows of a summer. In one sitting, we see a whole journey for the Wildcats at the Evans family’s country club. It’s great to watch anytime — it makes sense equally for us to take in the film at the beginning or middle or end of our own summer story, or not during the summer at all! Some say this movie is the greatest of its trilogy, and I can’t argue with that. I love the splashy colors and the music, particularly the break-up epic that is “Gotta Go My Own Way.” So yeah, I’ll be watching this movie pronto.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004)
Like its predecessor, The Princess Diaries 2 was an August release. Like all the other movies on this list, it’s a summer adventure I’ll always love. Even though we say goodbye to San Francisco, we get Mia’s 21st birthday, Raven, Chris Pine, the return of Lilly Moscovitz, and a look at palace life during a beautiful season for Genovia. You probably remember that Mia has to find a husband in 30 days if she wants to become queen. Chris Pine’s Lord Nicholas Devereaux is there to distract Mia from her mission so that he and his family can swoop in for the throne. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Nicholas and Mia are falling in love, even as she goes through the motions of an arranged marriage with someone else. I remember being so excited to continue the story with my favorite characters. In the end, Clarisse and Joe finally get together. Mia gets to take her rightful crown without a husband. It’s the perfect cozy movie to watch as the August sun goes down.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005)
I could never leave one of my favorite sequels off the list. This is definitely a Labor Day last-hoorah story. The Bakers actually seem like the “happier, stronger family” they were supposed to be in the first film. But alas, a proper family vacay eludes them. It’s time to head out to Lake Winnetka for a modest cabin and too much quality time. There’s a new twist that, arguably, makes this movie even funnier than the first: the Murtaugh family. Steve Martin pitted against Eugene Levy is a surefire recipe for hilarity. Remember when Levy played an aspiring wedding singer in Father of the Bride? Rewatch that scene. Then watch Cheaper by the Dozen 2. So, the two dads force their families into a classic face-off, just in time for the eldest Baker kid to give birth. Hilary Duff signed on for this one, but it’s really Alyson Stoner’s character, Sarah, who has one of the more compelling arcs in the film, I think. She’s crushing on one of the Murtaugh kids, played by Taylor Lautner. Steve Martin’s interruption of their date is one of the most memorable parts of the movie, but so is the pre-date girl talk where Hilary Duff’s Lorraine does Sarah’s makeup. Additional golden family moments and lake rivalries make for a fun blast from the past.