I have no youthful memories of watching Susie Q, and that might be a good thing. I like the film, but it’s a lot to digest. A teenage girl in 1955 (Susie Q, played by Amy Jo Johnson) dies in a tragic car accident on the way to her prom within the first few minutes of the film. She then haunts her town in the ’90s because she left something very important behind. Before he died, Susie’s grandfather wanted her to make sure her mother received papers pertaining to the ownership of their family home. She didn’t remember until after she left for the dance, and she and her date died trying to turn around for those papers. In 1955, a teen boy named Zach (Justin Whalin) moves into Susie’s old home in Willow Valley with his mom (Shelley Long) and adorable sister Teri (Andrea Libman). Since he found her bracelet, Zach is the only person who can see Susie Q, and she eventually convinces him to help her.
The kids learn that Susie’s grandfather owned the old house and a ton of the surrounding land. However, he died before he could produce the deed. Susie’s parents were forced to move into a trailer, but they’re about to be run out of there due to new development. There was a 40-year window for grandpa’s home ownership to be proven before the executors (the bank) permanently seize the land. Zach, Susie, and Teri have until Friday night at midnight to produce the papers. After they find them, Zach and Teri are pulled over by a cop who is in cahoots with the evil banker. They escape jail by pretending Teri has supernatural abilities. Susie’s parents get their papers just in time. A couple other aspects of the movie I thought were very good: Shelley Long is her wonderful movie mom self here. Her husband (Zach’s dad) passed away the year before, and she’s working hard as a reporter at the local news station. Before the family moved, Zach’s dad died on his way to see Zach play basketball. In that sense, he has something of a connection to Susie Q, besides living in her house. His father’s death has kept Zach from playing basketball, but after his adventure with Susie, he is encouraged to join the high school team. Garwin Sanford, the coach, was also in Life-Size and a couple episodes of So Weird.
I’d say most of us Disney Channel scholars have classified Susie Q as a Disney Channel Premiere Film since it premiered before the development of the DCOM brand. However, I’m not sure we can even it call it a DCPF. When asked about the film years ago, the late Disney archivist Dave Smith said, “Susie Q, starring Shelley Long, Justin Whalin, and Amy Jo Johnson, was not a Disney movie, even though it aired several times on Disney Channel in the 1990s. It has never been released on DVD.” The film is original to Super RTL, a German channel — which is why it is actually subtitled “Engel (angel) in Pink.” I’ve always read that the Disney Channel stopped airing Susie Q in the early 2000s, and Disney Channel Broadcast Archive identifies February 2, 2002 as the final date the film aired on Disney in the US.
After Amy Jo Johnson had done 152 episodes of Power Rangers, she was ready for a change. The actress told the No Pink Spandex show, “I was really good friends with Shuki Levy, who was one of the owners, him and Haim [Saban] … I just went to him and, as a friend, said, ‘I think I’m done. I think I’m ready to go try to do something else.’ And he said, ‘Awesome. Great. Here — I wrote this little movie called Susie Q.'” Levy, an award-winning composer, musician, and producer, asked her to finish her Power Rangers season and star in his movie, and Amy Jo agreed. He wrote the film with Douglas Sloan, his Power Rangers colleague. Sloan wrote Johnny Tsunami (with Ann Austen) and produced several other DCOMs. John Blizek directed Susie Q. Amy Jo Johnson told the “Sharing the Details” blog in 2014, “Susie Q was my first real lead in a film and all my hopes and dreams were as big as the universe. I cherish that feeling and that time on that set.” She’s also tweeted that she’d love for her daughter to see the film, which fans truly wish Disney+ would add. If you have a chance to watch it, enjoy all the doo-wop music, including the title track and “My Angel Lover.”
I think Susie Q is fascinating, not only because of its non-DCOM status, but also because it dives right into death and grief. Susie’s parents clearly miss her, but as a ghost, she can see them and obviously misses them, too. You can see how much it pains her not to be with them anymore. Zach grieves the loss of his father, and here he is, connecting with another soul who left earth too soon. Zach can’t have Susie Q — she returns to the afterlife to reunite with her prom date and her grandfather. But in a very sweet final scene, Zach meets a student at his school named Maggie (also played by Amy Jo Johnson), who looks exactly like Susie. Though this movie has a graphic depiction of death in the beginning, the story gives the viewer a gift in Susie Q, the girl in the pink prom dress with a beautiful heart to match her smile.