Directed by Duwayne Dunham and written by Anna Sandor and Bruce Graham, Tiger Cruise is a DCOM that moves me today and made an impression on me as a child. Tiger Cruise is Disney’s only 9/11 DCOM (technically), the only DCOM starring Hayden Panettiere and Bill Pullman, and the only DCOM with Jennette McCurdy (watch for her at the beginning). I say it’s technically the only DCOM about September 11th because I think the argument can be made that Cadet Kelly offers a taste of post-9/11 patriotism. However, Tiger Cruise is the only Disney Channel Original Movie that recounts the events of the terrorist attacks, particularly through the eyes of adolescents.
My husband and I periodically discuss what we remember from the tragedy and its aftermath. Both of us were seven years old then. Every memory I have relates to my own little world and the childlike questions I had at the time. I was a 10-year-old I was when Tiger Cruise came out. I’d say this movie was pretty formative to me and perhaps to others. It was the first piece of media I viewed that attempted to reenact the events of September 11th, 2001 in any way. The action begins a couple days pre-9/11 on a tiger cruise, wherein family members board a naval ship to spend time with their loved ones who are at sea. Hayden Panettiere’s character, Maddie Dolan, is ready for her dad, Commander Gary Dolan (Bill Pullman), to come home. She has a bad attitude about being on the tiger cruise because of this; she also finds her navy-obsessed bunkmate, Tina, annoying. Tina calls Maddie a Navy brat, and Maddie detests being classified as a brat.
There are a few other key characters, but two that stand out are Anthony, a teen from New York visiting his brother, and Chuck, a middle-aged man whose son is a chef on the ship. On 9/11, Chuck is understandably distraught because his brother works in the Pentagon — and news eventually comes that his brother didn’t survive. Meanwhile, Anthony is obviously upset watching his hometown on the news, knowing that his loved ones are still there. Maddie shows great strength when her father asks her to help with the tigers for the rest of the week, as all their remaining activities are suspended. Small children turn to Maddie for comfort, and she has a change of heart about her dad’s job.
I became very emotional watching this movie and following the stories of the kids (and adults) on the ship. I know the characters are fictional, but zeroing in on them and their experiences of loss and uncertainty really hit me, especially seeing Chuck after his brother is confirmed dead. Hayden Panettiere’s song “My Hero Is You” is also very moving; it seems to be sung from the perspective of her character, Maddie, with the obvious “hero” being Maddie’s father. I’m glad this DCOM was made. As Variety noted, Tiger Cruise was “based loosely on the true story of the Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Constellation, which made naval history for being the first ship to go on full combat alert with hundreds of civilians aboard,” including children, on 9/11. I appreciate that Disney Channel chose to acknowledge and grapple with an event that changed the lives of its young audience. The channel has basically moved away from these kinds of films, but perhaps there’s still something to be said for a few carefully-planned historical fiction projects for kids.