Phantom of the Megaplex is one of those Disney Channel Original Movies that will always stir up excitement. Three siblings in a movie theater try to figure out who’s responsible for all the spooky glitches throughout the building. Like the Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom of the Megaplex wears a black cloak and disguises himself with a mask. This DCOM was written by Stu Krieger (our fave) and directed by Blair Treu (who also directed The Paper Brigade and Wish Upon a Star). The three principal characters were nominated for Young Artist awards: Taylor Handley as eldest brother Pete Riley, Caitlin Wachs as his sister Karen, and Jacob Smith as little brother Brian.
This movie has the perfect set-up for things to go bump in the night. Pete is the hard-working assistant manager of the megaplex, and his brother and sister are supposed to visit him while they view a children’s movie about a farmer. Karen plans to ditch Brian so that she can watch University of Death with her friends instead. It’s a busy night for the theater, as its owner will be arriving with A-List guests for a big movie premiere later in the evening. Pete narrates the opening of the DCOM to introduce us to his co-workers, and one of the sweetest is Movie Mason, played by Mickey Rooney. Mason isn’t on the payroll, but he dutifully shows up and gives the manager, Shawn MacGibbon, his daily schedule. MacGibbon displays his callous nature early on when he throws Mason’s schedule in the trash. Movie Mason is a possible suspect for the Phantom; MacGibbon asked him to leave the theater because his commentary and film opinions were slowing down his volunteer work as a ticket-taker. Perhaps Mason is upset enough to mess with rolls of film, turn a high-powered fan on full blast to simulate a hurricane, and even set off an alarm to douse patrons with sprinklers? Nope. Mickey Rooney would never do that.
There’s so much to love about this film, including its charming sibling characters. Pete is a 17-year-old who loves his job but also wants his crush to notice him, so he invites her to the big movie premiere. In the end, she sees that he’s so much better than the bully who competes for her attention. Karen is the perfect sneaky DCOM tween girl. She wants to be cool and have independence, but she learns that leaving her little brother alone in a big theater is not the smartest decision. Brian is more enthusiastic than anyone about catching the Phantom. “The Phantom of the Megaplex strikes again!” he says. Brian and Karen reunite and chase the Phantom downstairs. When they find Movie Mason’s secret hideout, Mason assures them that he wouldn’t taint the moviegoing process in any way. He loves cinema too much to ruin it. The real Phantom is the rude manager, Mr. MacGibbon. This is a serious villain! He throws a sheet over these kids and ties them up. You can’t say early DCOMs aren’t daring.
I love what happens with the mom (Corinne Bohrer from Under Wraps) and her boyfriend in this movie. DCOMs account for numerous family structures, and stepparents are sometimes difficult for the kid characters to adjust to. In Phantom, the children all seem happy that their mother is dating someone she really likes. She is ready to move forward and get engaged but has a practical discussion with her fiancé about the challenges of becoming a blended family. He finally pops the question at the end. It’s such a sweet subplot (with plant analogies, since the mom loves gardening) that I really liked.
When I got back on Twitter about a year ago, I had a lovely exchange with @Erikakamoviefan about Mason. Erik shared his appreciation for Mason’s “Magic at the Movies” speech, which reads: “Children, when we arrive in this world, magic is all around us. You simply have to see a baby discover a butterfly, or a toddler splash in the bath for the first time. Yet, as years pass, simple pleasures aren’t quite so simple to find. Myths, legends fall away. Santa’s secrets are revealed. Card tricks lose their fascination. True wonder is harder to come by, but there’s always magic at the movies. Pirate ships, bicycles that fly, angels earn their wings, beautiful women marry handsome men. And we all learn, ‘There’s no place like home.'” I love the Santa part, since Mickey Rooney was the voice of my favorite Rankin/Bass Santa Claus. The entire speech is such a treasure, as was the actor who gave it.
I hope you’ll enjoy a fun night in with Phantom of the Megaplex. While it can certainly be a Halloween movie, it was released in November, and the story takes place during the summer. So you can truly enjoy it any time of the year. While you’re at it, go follow our friend @stukrieger on Instagram, where he shares facts and stories about writing the beloved DCOMs of your childhood.