Throughout the fall, I’ve been thinking about two Disney Channel movies that each offer a dose of Arthurian legend. Avalon High and The Four Diamonds are 15 years apart and represent two very different eras of Disney Channel. The Four Diamonds is one of the last “Disney Channel Premiere Films,” and it was written by a boy named Christopher Millard. Sadly, Christopher died due to cancer at age 14. This story was a school assignment, but it also seemed to help him cope with his diagnosis. Per the Four Diamonds Organization (which offers support and financial resources to families facing pediatric cancer diagnoses), the story “was Christopher’s symbolic description of his fight against the evil and unpredictable cancer.” The diamonds each represent honesty, wisdom, courage, and strength. You can read the original short story, in Christopher’s handwriting, here.
The Disney Channel adaptation moves back and forth from Christopher’s time in and out of a pediatric cancer ward, to his imagined Arthurian tale. The movie takes liberties by putting individuals from Christopher’s real life into his story. His cancer doctor transforms into an evil sorceress named Raptenahad (Christine Lahti). Christopher becomes Sir Millard. His own mother becomes a helper to him in this medieval world. As the boy notes in his original tale, Raptenahad keeps the titular four diamonds. Sir Millard may only be freed from her if he completes a task for every diamond. One of the most memorable is when he has to capture a swan for the diamond of wisdom. He builds an elaborate faux swan outfit and wears that to lure the creature to himself.
When Christopher isn’t escaping into the creation of his short story assignment, he is trying to live a normal life with his family in Pennsylvania, but he suffers from several complications and often has to return to the cancer doctor. Another boy befriends him during this difficult time. At home, Chris’s little sister (Sarah Rose Karr from Beethoven) struggles with the demands of his cancer and doesn’t fully understand it. His father seems to be in denial much of the time, thinking Chris is doing a lot better than he really is. The film closes with a victorious Sir Millard riding around his kingdom, after Chris has one last Thanksgiving with his family. A narrator concludes, “Chris Millard and his legacy of courage, wisdom, honesty, and strength will not be forgotten.”
In 2010, Disney Channel made another knightly film, albeit a very different one. The DCOM Avalon High was based on Meg Cabot’s novel of the same name. I was so into this film in high school that I read the book after I saw it. I’m sure that at 16 years old, I was glad to see characters around my age. I also loved literature and couldn’t resist a good teen romance story. The film was directed by Stuart Gillard and has a couple of Disney Channel staples — Gregg Sulkin from Wizards and Steve Valentine from the Wizards movie, Don’t Look Under the Bed, and Teen Beach Movie. This is a gender-flipped take on Arthurian legend. As the movie unfolds, the following characters and their medieval counterparts are made clear:
Jen is Guinevere
Lance is Lancelot
Mr. Moore is Mordred (the villain)
Miles Is Merlin
Allie (Britt Robertson) is Arthur
Will is kind of like a first gentleman, in lieu of the Lady of the Lake
School mascot “knights” = actual medieval knights
Britt Robertson is a refreshing DCOM protagonist and easy to watch. Allie’s parents are professors and scholars of King Arthur, and they move around a lot for their work. This time, they’re planning to stay put long enough for Allie to finish high school in one place. She really likes the big man on campus, Will Wagner, but he has a girlfriend named Jen. Jen is cheating on Will with Lance (just like in the legend, apparently). Mr. Moore, the history teacher, is plotting to defeat and destroy a reincarnated King Arthur. Will’s evil stepbrother is a suspect, but it turns out that he’s actually a protector for Arthur.
Allie thinks Will is Arthur. An eclipse and meteor shower must occur simultaneously for Arthur to be reincarnated. Conveniently, “the night of the big game” is the evening of this once-every-thousand-years phenomenon. Leading up to the legend’s fulfillment, Allie and Will become rather close. They go running together, have “friend burgers” at her house, and talk about their future careers. Before Allie can tell Will his BFF and his GF are making out, he sees that for himself. Sometimes the Arthurian theme is a little too obvious, especially with a line like this one: “We’re like the knights of the round table. We’re brothers,” Lance tells Will after being caught cheating. The last 15 minutes of the movie are dedicated to a big duel, where “any sword in the hands of Arthur becomes Excalibur.” And our girl Arthur rocks, of course.
Give this movie a chance; I’d like to hear what you think. Sadly, Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield” didn’t make the Disney+ cut, so just imagine it playing when Allie is running.