Gone Are the Dayes, the second Disney Channel Premiere Film ever made, was directed by Gabrielle Beaumont and written by William Bleich and Jim Brecher. The title is a pun, as the central family’s last name is Daye, and they are gone.
We find out in the first few minutes of the movie that the Dayes (mom, dad, two kids) are going to be gone because they witness a shooting while eating out. Awaiting trial, the family must enter the witness protection program to avoid the mob. With the direction of relocation agent Charlie Mitchell (Harvey Korman), the Dayes depart New York for Missouri. Just when they’re settling into their new lives, Mrs. Daye has a “no nukes” rally and blows their cover. This pattern continues, with someone in the family inadvertently giving them away in Colorado, Texas, and even on a Caribbean cruise. The Dayes finally settle in with relatives in Montebello, California.
The crime bosses track them down in Cali, too, kidnapping the Dayes’ son and holding him for ransom. I have to say, I’m not a fan of the kidnapping storylines I’ve seen in some of these ’80s and ’90s films. Thankfully, the authorities show up to apprehend the mobsters and return the boy to his parents.
The movie ends with the Dayes on a government-funded vacation, but they witness another crime, opening the door for a sequel film that didn’t ever happen. If you’ve ever seen Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as Maddie and Abby Parker in Our Lips Are Sealed, then Gone Are the Dayes might sound familiar. In the Olsen project, the twins and their family are in the witness protection program and keep blowing their cover. The last available place for them to hide is Australia, where they still can’t outrun a jewel thief and his henchmen. I can’t help but wonder if the writers of Our Lips Are Sealed were Disney Channel subscribers in the ’80s who subconsciously were inspired by Gone Are the Dayes. Probably not, but you never know.
Gone Are the Dayes is not on Disney+, but you can find a grainy copy online if you’re curious about this piece of 1984 Disney Channel history.
I’m surprised I was able to watch The Undergrads. When I did a preliminary search for movie availability in January, this one seemed to be nowhere online (save for a few clips) and nowhere for sale on VHS. But I finally found it, so I watched it. This is one of my favorite Disney Channel Premiere Films so far, and it came early in the catalogue — the channel launched in ’83; The Undergrads premiered in ’85.
The main character, Mel Adler, was played by Art Carney, a legendary actor with television credits including The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show. Mel Adler is in the process of moving into a retirement home because he accidentally set fire in his apartment and didn’t realize it for several moments. He is not close to his son, but he loves to spend time with his grandson, Dennis (nicknamed “Jody”). Jody has finished high school and is planning on the Ivy League, but he’d rather be with his grandfather than go to Harvard. Seeing how miserable Mel is at the retired living facility, Jody suggests that Mel come to live with him at a local college. To reside in a dorm, Mel must be enrolled in classes. That’s precisely what the grandpa does. He secures his spot, but only by making an agreement that he must earn a certain grade point average in his first semester to continue with his studies.
Although Jody has come from a privileged upbringing, his father has cut him off financially for not choosing Harvard. Mel has some emergency cash he keeps in a sock, but it runs out quickly when he and Jody account for all their school and housing expenses. They live on a shoestring budget and eat Raisin Bran for about every meal. Though I know it’s not appropriate, Mel’s flirtation with his professor is depicted very sweetly in the movie. Jody’s after-school job, however, becomes nightmarish when he finds out he’s working for a mafia boss. Despite their optimism for learning and living together, life keeps getting more difficult for Mel and Jody.
Mel tries to leave school and go back to the retirement home, but his grandson won’t have it. With no money, Jody runs across town to the facility and persuades Mel to try college again. After he finishes his final exams, the two wait with their friends at the bar for his scores to come in, and he meets the criteria to continue at the university. I’d say the best parts of this film are the grandfather-grandson bonding — seeing them attend class and high-five each other, talk to each other at their modest apartment, and enjoy the college experience together.
It’s a shame that this film isn’t more widely available. Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern, the movie was nominated for four CableACE awards, and Art Carney won for best actor in a movie or miniseries. The South Florida Sun Sentinel has an archived review of The Undergrads with this great description: “…a film that should serve as an inspiration to people who think they’re over the hill.”
Miracle in Lane 2 was written by Joel Kauffman and Donald C. Yost, the same team behind Full Court Miracle, and was directed by Greg Beeman. Our star is Frankie Muniz, whose Malcolm in the Middle premiere was in January 2000. Even though I didn’t watch Malcolm growing up (I LOVE it now), Frankie was a big part of my childhood. Big Fat Liar and Agent Cody Banks were favorites that now feel so representative of early 2000s kids’ movies.
I don’t recall watching Miracle in Lane 2 quite as much as other DCOMs, but I certainly remember it. There aren’t very many DCOMs with wheelchair users, which I hope is changing. This film was based on a true story. 12-year-old Justin Yoder (portrayed by Frankie Muniz) uses a wheelchair because he has hydrocephalus, a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the ventricles of the brain to cause pressure. He also has spina bifida. Justin’s parents stay very busy with work to provide for his needs, but they worry about Justin and want to keep him safe. This sometimes comes at the expense of Justin getting to enjoy being a kid. His brother Seth (Patrick Levis) is not sensitive to Justin’s feelings, but we learn throughout the film that Seth is in weekly therapy sessions and struggles with stressors of his own.
Justin so badly wants to win a trophy. He is turned away from the baseball team (and vomits his blue slurpee all over the coach), so he gives chess a try. After that attempt, he sees a group of men competing in a car show, including his neighbor, Vic. Justin helps Vic win in exchange for Vic’s prize trophy. The problem is, the trophy never arrives. Justin’s curiosity gets the best of him when he wheels over to Vic’s garage to look for the trophy. Aiming to reach a box that might house the item, Justin causes everything to tumble down… right into Vic’s classic car. As punishment, Justin must go over to Vic’s to help him out.
Like the tree with the forbidden fruit, Vic’s shed is off limits. Justin peeks through the window and sees a huge collection of trophies: “The mother lode!” he says. Once again, he can’t help but be curious, so Justin enters the forbidden shed. Vic’s late daughter was once a soapbox derby racer. As Justin looks at all the awards, photographs, and old home movies, Vic opens the door and angrily kicks him out. But the neighbor eventually comes around when Justin decides he wants to race, too.
Justin’s dad becomes very invested in the soap box derby plans, working with Vic to build Justin’s racer. This is where tension builds in the family. The dad misses Seth’s baseball game because he’s working on Justin’s racer. When there’s a mechanical issue that causes Justin to crash, he accuses Seth. The brothers have a hurtful fight in which Justin reveals to Seth’s friends that Seth sees a psychiatrist. Seth wishes he could physically fight Justin and tells him, “I was you were dead.” Haunting words, and not ones you’ll hear on many DCOMs.
In times of pain and confusion, Justin turns to his version of God, racecar driver Bobby Wade. He meets with God several times during the movie, including after the big fight. When Justin has a frightening accident with his racer, Bobby Wade actually comes to visit him in the hospital. His parents don’t believe that the driver really showed up, but the hospital scene is an interesting fulfillment of Justin’s spirituality.
Justin recovers and has another chance to race, so he trains and prepares for an Akron, Ohio competition. After traveling from Indiana to compete, Justin’s dreams are nearly sabotaged by another kid’s jealous dad, who snoops to discover the handbrake on Justin’s racer. He reports Justin, and a racing committee member goes to the family’s hotel to warn them that he might be disqualified for using the handbrake. Before meeting with the committee, Justin tells his brother, “All I wanted was just once, to know what it feels to be like you.” So Seth decides to help Justin, calling the media to come report on the discrimination that is happening.
It’s hard to believe that the racing committee could be so callous, nearly voting not to let Justin race! Once all those reporters come in with Seth, the authorities don’t have a choice. They must make their soapbox derby accessible by allowing the handbrake. Right before the race, Seth tells Justin, “You’re my hero,” helping to motivate him all the way to a win. Instead of the classic DCOM sports freezeframe, we end back at the Yoders’ house. One more scene between Justin and God/Bobby Wade. Justin asks if people become perfect when they get to Heaven. He is then shown a vision of Heaven in which everyone uses a wheelchair. We close with footage of the real Justin Yoder. Despite the Heaven images, Justin is very much alive.
I found a recent interview in which the real Justin is asked about Miracle in Lane 2. He explained that he was unsure about having so many viewers know about his personal details, but said, “I was still extremely grateful and extremely proud.” The screenwriters went to Justin’s church, he shared. Writer Don Yost said in a Goshen College interview, “What drew us to Miracle was a family under pressure that found ways to transform an obstacle into something triumphant.” Justin’s mom told the story of Frankie Muniz coming to the family’s hotel to hang out and play games with them. Justin is retired from racing now but loved being part of the sport as a kid.
Tru Confessions was based on a novel by Janet Tashjian and was adapted into a DCOM with the dream writing and directing team of Stu Krieger and Paul Hoen, respectively. Add in a sensitive score from Mason Daring and convincing performances from the entire cast, and this is truly a DCOM to remember. Clara Bryant won a Young Artist Award for her portrayal of Trudy Walker, a big sister with dreams of a career in the entertainment industry. She enters a filmmaking contest and decides to tell the story of her family life, focusing on her twin brother, Eddie (Shia LaBeouf), who has a developmental disability.
Tru and Eddie’s parents struggle to connect with the kids in their own ways. Their dad is a busy doctor who comes home for dinner and loses his cool when Eddie drops dishes. Their mom tries, but fails, to encourage Tru through the challenges of her daily life. DCOMs of the early aughts (and the late ’90s) were ahead of their time technologically, and Tru’s life is influenced in that regard. She uses a camcorder to shoot footage for her film, editing the whole thing herself. She logs onto a website for family members and caregivers, looking for someone to talk to about her unique life and struggles. Tru’s mom masquerades as a stranger on the site who gives her advice and comforting messages. The more I think about it, I find this dynamic both compassionate and unsettling. Ginny can’t find the right words to help her daughter, so she tries an alternate route for communication that initially proves helpful. But Tru trusts this stranger and builds confidence from the exchanges. Once she finds out it’s her mom, there is a certain amount of shock, and a breach of trust.
In this film, we see loving adults who are on their own journeys to becoming kinder, more understanding parents. We begin to comprehend Eddie’s world: the pain of upsetting his dad, the horror and panic of getting lost in a big library, the sensitivity to his twin sister’s feelings. You might remember what Tru tells Eddie once she finds him in the library: “You are different. But if you were just the same as everybody else, you wouldn’t get all that special help in school. You wouldn’t be allowed to rollerblade in the house. And you wouldn’t be the amazing brother that I love.” She shows her love with actions, too — standing up for Eddie and protecting him when bullies ridicule him.
20 years later, Tru Confessions is just as important and impactful. It’s an example of embracing families of all kinds, with storytelling that doesn’t water anything down for the kids watching at home. I believe Disney Channel Original Movies should be designed around many family scenarios, representative of a wide range of circumstances, interests, and ideas. Tru Confessions was a critical step in a direction of inclusivity for the DCOM brand. I hope you’ll watch it on Disney+ if you’ve not yet seen it.
I’ve discussed Hounded in a couple other spots on this website, but I’ll watch a Tahj Mowry project any day! He plays Jay Martin, a talented middle schooler who doesn’t want to go to military school like his older brother did. Jay is competing for a scholarship to go to an arts school, but there’s one big problem: Shia LaBeouf cheats in the contest. LaBeouf plays Ronny Van Dusen, son of the headmaster (Ed Begley, Jr). Ronny’s dad is forcing him to give a speech for the competition, and Ronny steals Jay’s cue cards, which were confiscated due to inappropriate sketches of Principal Van Dusen. Ronny takes the podium and gives Jay’s speech verbatim.
Jay is dejected about a missed opportunity, and he overhears Ronny admit to stealing the cue cards! Things get even weirder, as Jay tries to get to the bottom of things by going to the Van Dusens’ house, and their dog follows him home. Camille is a Pomeranian who is used to being pampered, so after a night without her medicine, she goes bonkers and destroys Jay’s home. His brother arrives from military school while their mom is away, and Jay pretends he is dog-sitting, but the truth slowly comes out.
The brothers hatch a plan to return the pooch and get even, but it isn’t easy, since Camille is really clingy. The headmaster is on the war path to get this dog back, so much of the comedy comes from transactions in which the dog is supposed to be returned. You really have to see the movie to appreciate the saga with the dog, but in the end, Jay gets his scholarship, and Ronny goes to military school. If you look closely, you’ll notice a young Olesya Rulin in this movie, and Sara Paxton plays Jay’s wheelchair-bound best friend.
Hounded was written by Don Calame and Chris Conroy, and directed by Neal Israel. It’s an emotional story of two brothers, it’s a rousing doggy tale (yep, there are a lot of dog DCOMs), and it’s a peek at military school before Cadet Kelly.
Lemonade Mouth was based on the eponymous book by Mark Peter Hughes, and the film was directed by Patricia Riggen. One of the producers is none other than Debra Martin Chase, who brought us The Cheetah Girls and Princess Diaries films. As Riggen notes on her website, “Lemonade Mouth has a cult following with kids and teens to this day.” The film was truly different from any DCOMs we’d seen up to 2011. Yes, you might be reminded of High School Musical, as both films take unlikely characters and mold them into star musicians. Both films also tackle the anthropology of high school, with an arts vs. athletics focus. But that theme goes even deeper in Lemonade Mouth, with the students in the movie getting at the blunt truth of which department gets school funding.
The principal of the high school is clearly unappreciative of fine arts, pushing performing and visual arts students into the basement. He prioritizes his athletics program and its Gatorade-esque sponsor. All his practices are called into question thanks to a chance detention meeting among students Mo, Stella, Charlie, Wen, and Olivia. To the music teacher’s delight, these five start making music down the hall from a fateful lemonade machine. We see Olivia (Bridgit Mendler) soar as lead vocalist, and as the band becomes a real project, we get backup and bass from Mo, Stella on guitar, keys by Wen, and Charlie as the drummer.
Each band member deals with their own life issues. Olivia’s dad is in prison, and her mom passed away, so she lives with her grandmother. Even her cat dies in this movie. Mo faces pressure from her father to be perfect in academics and violin. Wen can’t stand his dad’s girlfriend and feels neglected at home. Charlie’s mother has a weird fixation on him being a star soccer player and following in his brother’s footsteps. And Stella feels like an outsider in her brainiac family, ignored at the dinner table as she tries to speak out and be herself.
With the support of their music teacher, these teens practice their craft and discover that they’re really good. In fact, the music in this movie is really good, too! I had forgotten how empowering and electric these songs were. Mo begins to take the lead on some songs, and she really lets loose by performing her music and choreography with confidence. The problem is, her rotten boyfriend tries to steal her spotlight when Lemonade Mouth is up against his own band for a big competition. All the while, the principal is doubling down on his disciplinary actions. Early in the film, he already singled out Stella for her shirt with the message, “QUESTION AUTHORITY.” As Lemonade Mouth questions authority some more, they’re certainly met with resistance.
“Lemonade Mouth” is an interesting band name, but it’s derived from Stella’s run-in with a jock from the rival band. She spews a mouthful of lemonade all over him, so his insult to her becomes the name of the band! Clearly, lemonade is important to this crew. But the principal is having the Mel’s Lemonade machine removed to make more room for his knock-off Gatorade sponsorship. When Stella initiates a sit-in protest against the removal of the vending machine, the entire band lands in jail. When it’s finally time for the big competition, Lemonade Mouth is in sorry shape — Mo is very sick, and Olivia has stage fright. The crowd rallies their favorite band and starts singing “Determinate,” Lemonade Mouth’s biggest hit. And Mo’s ex-boyfriend helps them out on guitar.
After all that, the principal has an opportunity to change his tune about artistic endeavors. Mel, of Mel’s Lemonade, sits by Stella at Wen’s dad’s wedding and is persuaded to make a donation to the school. That money amounts to a brand new performing arts center. It was rewarding to see music finally be taken seriously by the administration. I was a junior in high school when this DCOM first aired, and I honestly haven’t watched it much since then. I’m so glad I revisited this special piece of 2011, and I hope you’ll check it out! The film is a great reminder that you never know what someone is dealing with in their personal life. Also, an unlikely group of friends can effect positive change in society, and we shouldn’t underestimate people.
Rip Girls is one of those DCOMs that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and very nostalgic for my Disney Channel childhood. It was directed by Joyce Chopra, written by Jeanne Rosenberg. Young Camilla Belle plays Sydney Miller, a 13-year-old girl who has a big decision to make. Sydney has inherited land in Hawaii and must decide whether to preserve it or sell it to developers. I’ll admit that I didn’t quite understand that part when I was in elementary school, but there are plenty of other pieces in the film for kid viewers to enjoy.
Sydney arrives at Makai from Chicago with her father and stepmother. We learn that Sydney was very young when her biological mother passed away, and we see Sydney gradually learn more about her mom through a photograph, a surfboard, and locals who become good friends. Gia, a girl about Sydney’s age, teaches the newbie to surf and encourages Sydney’s crush on a guy named Kona. It’s Gia’s mom, Malia, who shares so much with Sydney about her mother, whose nickname was Naniloa (as seen on the old surfboard).
Sydney’s stepmom is pretty cool, but her father is extremely resistant to Sydney doing anything that could be remotely dangerous. He is furious when she has a surfing accident and blames Malia for everything. Sydney starts making more of her own decisions and sneaks out to go to a luau with Gia and Kona. My absolute favorite scene in the movie: Sydney and Kona are standing close to one another as a storyteller begins her tale. Kona translates every phrase into English, speaking the words softly into Gia’s ear. He kisses Sydney and ends the story with, “The colors of the rainbow danced on their wedding day.” Just one of the absolute sweetest depictions of young love I’ve seen in my entire life.
As for the land and property, Sydney ultimately decides not to sell. But as you’ll often see in DCOMs, she thinks about making a different decision, which causes a rift between her and her friends. It’s so sweet when everyone reconciles, and Sydney gets to stay in Hawaii as her dad becomes more understanding (their heart-to-heart happens about an hour into the film). If you’ve never seen Rip Girls, I do hope you’ll watch it. The movie is beautifully filmed, perfectly cast, and appropriately nestled into the classic DCOM heritage.
Mitchel Musso had some experience as a school mascot. He had donned the Pirate Pete costume for Hannah Montana, and in Hatching Pete, he is seen as his school’s favorite chicken. However, Musso’s character, Cleatus Poole, is ready to ditch the feathers because of his allergies. He approaches his bestie, Pete (played by Jason Dolley), for a deal: if Pete will sub in as the chicken, Cleatus will help Pete land a date with Cleatus’s sister, Cammie.
Before I get any further, the rest of this curious cast must be acknowledged: Brian Stepanek (aka Arwin from The Suite Life) plays the school basketball coach. Edward Herrmann (aka Richard Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, RIP) plays the school principal. Sonny with a Chance star Tiffany Thornton is a cheerleader named Jamie, and Josie Loren (of Make It or Break It fame) is Angela, also a cheerleader.
Ah, Jason Dolley. I tweeted that he’s a “DCOM everyman,” and it’s so true. In Read It and Weep, he’s the best friend longing to be the boyfriend. He feels that in Minutemen, too. And eventually in Hatching Pete. Even though Pete wanted Cammie, he starts to find feelings for Angela, who has a long-distance boyfriend for much of the movie. Pete is basically invisible. People think he’s a new kid at school, when he’s really been there all along. A chicken suit is a clever vehicle for exploring popularity. Mascots aren’t always depicted as “cool” in teen TV or movies, but the chicken is sought-after. Pete continues to secretly perform mascot duties for Cleatus. But how will people not notice Cleatus out in the crowd? Well, we see Mitchel Musso with the school colors painted on his face, an afro wig on his head.
For a long time, the guys pull it off. Pete comes into his own as the chicken, but Cleatus gets all the credit (attracting the attention of cheerleader Jamie) until they both get found out. It’s a little bit of a wild goose chase, er… chicken chase? So I’ll let you watch the film to see how everything unravels. But of course, Pete and Angela get together — she knew Pete was the chicken due to his line about how “the magic is in the mystery.”
You bet there’s an official DCOM song for this movie. It’s 2009, baby! Of course we have a movie theme song in the post-HSM landscape! Hilariously, our song is called “Let It Go,” which should be a familiar title almost a decade after Frozen first premiered. Pete’s “Let It Go” features Mitchel Musso and Tiffany Thornton and even includes rapping. You’ll notice the cheerleaders dancing to it in the film. Hatching Pete is certainly a unique one, so check it out if you’re curious. This movie was directed by Stuart Gillard and written by Paul W. Cooper.
Danny the Champion of the World was directed by Gavin Millar and based on Roald Dahl’s novel by the same name. Production groups listed at the end of the film include Thames Television, Wonderworks, British Screen, The Children’s Film and Television Foundation, and The Disney Channel, of course. This movie was a family affair: Jeremy Irons plays a widow named William Smith, Sam Irons (his real-life son) plays his son, Danny, and Sam’s grandfather, Cyril Cusack, plays the doctor.
I’ve never read Dahl’s book, but the man himself reportedly loved this film. Per the Irish Times, Dahl’s wife Liccy said, “Roald liked films to be faithful to his books. His favorite of all the films was Danny, the Champion of the World, probably because it was the most faithful.” Danny and his father live in a caravan, and a local nuisance known as “Hazell” (played by Robbie Coltrane, Hagrid!) wants to buy up their land. Hazell is also possessive over the pheasant population, and William Smith likes to poach Hazell’s pheasants. The creatures are truly the main focus of this film, with the father twisting his ankle in the pursuit of them. We learn that Danny was kept home from traditional school longer than most children, but that his father taught him other useful skills, like fixing cars. Danny is able to drive to Hazell’s land and help his dad out of the trenches during a poaching session.
As this story is set in the 1950s, we also get a scene where Danny’s teacher is reprimanded for use of corporal punishment. But most of the focus is on the pheasants. In the end, the law states that the birds belong to the owner of whichever property they are on. So, Danny helps his dad capture the whole lot of them, and once they’re officially his own property, the boy decides to save the pheasants.
Sadly, director Gavin Millar died of a brain tumor in April 2022. His Disney Channel Premiere Film fits in with the channel’s literary direction in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Jeremy Irons thought highly of Millar’s adaptation: “Danny is that rare film I think parents will enjoy as much as children,” he told The Lewiston Journal during filming. If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl, you might enjoy seeing this father-son story on screen (you’ll have to poke around for it, though).
This is the spot for all my DCOM reflections/reviews! By the end of 2022, I will have watched every existing DCOM and Disney Channel Premiere Film that is available for streaming. Here’s what I have so far, from A-Z (more will be added regularly):