I remembered very little about this DCOM, so I don’t think I actually saw it in 2014. The second Zendaya DCOM after Frenemies, Zapped is all about a high school girl named Zoey who gains three stepbrothers after her mother remarries. Come to think of it, I really need to rewatch Life with Derek (blended family where two sisters gain three step-siblings). Though Zapped was co-produced with MarVista Entertainment, it is still classified as a Disney Channel Original Movie. (For example, 16 Wishes was also produced in conjunction with MarVista but was not considered a DCOM.) Zapped was inspired by the novel Boys are Dogs by Leslie Margolis, and the film was directed by Peter DeLuise, who also directed 16 Wishes. You’d recognize his brothers, too — David was the dad on Wizards of Waverly Place, and Michael was T.J. on Gilmore Girls.
Zendaya brings the right energy to her role. Zoey is supposed to be upset that her perfect life is being disrupted by three loud, messy brothers and their father. Living with them and their hungry dog is a huge adjustment for her, so she often loses patience. To be fair, her new family could be a lot more considerate and should make more of an effort to clean up after themselves. The film opens as Zoey is making a toast at her mom’s wedding. In their clumsiness, the brothers and their dog set off a domino effect of spills and trips that leave Zoey drenched in chocolate. Things aren’t much better at home, and when Zoey arrives at her new school, she can’t stand the boys there, either.
Zoey doesn’t fit in with the persnickety girls on the dance team, even though dance is her passion. She makes a friend named Rachel who is stereotypically “boy-crazy,” for lack of a better term. It’s kind of absurd. Even when they pass gas intentionally, fail to shower, or never wear shirts, Rachel is all about the boys. In another mishap with one of her stepbros, Zoey’s phone gets wet and lands in a bowl of dog food. It’s time for a DCOM Suspension of Disbelief. The smartphone is chemically altered to give Zoey special powers when she downloads a dog obedience app. Instead of giving commands to dogs, Zoey can command any male to obey her every wish. She takes full advantage of the app at home, instructing her stepdad to be quieter (he’s a boisterous basketball coach) and bringing out the gentler, cleaner, more careful side of each stepbrother.
Zoey then takes her powers to school, using the phone to control all the boys, except for the one she has a huge crush on, Jackson. Over a few days, Zoey has a school full of thoughtful guys who do yoga and practice chivalry. She goes too far when she digitally transforms a group of uncoordinated dancers before using them to try out for the dance team. The dance team villain, played by ZOMBIES’ Emilia McCarthy, tries to take Zoey’s powers for herself, but Zoey and her family help break the spell of obedience at the end, during a big game. We see them going for a run together as family after that.
Obviously, there’s a message here about men. If you look at the description of the original book the film was lightly based on, author Leslie Margolis’ characters are elementary schoolers. After the main character turns the guys into dogs, it seems that she turns the mean girls into cats (that one is called Girls Acting Catty). As a standalone movie, though, Zapped basically declares that boys are terrible. 2014 was almost a decade ago, but even then, it’s a little odd to place such old-fashioned “boys will be boys” expectations on an entire high school of males. Thankfully, we do start to see nuances in specific characters, even while they are under Zoey’s influence. I love Zendaya and enjoyed her performance, especially the dance team scenes (ironically, she had just come off her dance-themed show, Shake It Up). I think it would be interesting to see how this movie would change if filmed today, to offer a broader spectrum of gender expressions and personalities.