The Whipping Boy (1994)

The Whipping Boy (1994)

The Whipping Boy is based on Sid Fleischman’s eponymous children’s book, which won the Newbery Medal in 1987. The Disney Channel adaptation was directed by Syd Macartney and won a CableACE Award. The story is set in the mid-18th century. Orphans Jemmy and Annyrose see Prince Horace (Nic Knight, Quintin from The Santa Clause) when he is coming through town in his carriage. The prince nearly runs them over and the wheels splatter dirty water on them. Annyrose nicknames him Prince Brat since he is from Brattingham, and he’s bratty. Prince Brat harasses the orphans, who are busy catching rats to sell to a pirate. They use the rat money to secure lodging.

I believe I’ve commented before on kidnapping in a couple of Disney Channel Premiere Films. It happens more than once in this one. Jemmy is kidnapped by the prince’s men to become his new whipping boy. “Me? The future king? I’ve never been spanked in my life!” the prince exclaims. Instead of bearing the punishment for his own misdemeanors, Prince Horace has his whipping boy take the beating. The prince frequently acts out because his father is too busy to spend time with him. “You are old enough to know that affairs of State take precedence over royal recreation,” the king says when he bails on his son. Two of the prince’s offenses include putting rats on the dinner trays for a royal feast, and tampering with a painting of his grandmother by putting her head on a horse’s body and the horse’s head on her. The final straw: the brat puts goose grease on the saddle of an ambassador who is visiting the king about a border dispute. The king tells the prince that he will be whipped this time, not the whipping boy.

Prince Horace decides to run away, forcing Jemmy to go with him. In the forest, there’s another kidnapping — robbers who stole from the ambassador’s carriage turn around and take both boys. Luckily, the prince’s teacher taught the whipping boy how to write, so he fools the crooks when he agrees to write a ransom letter for them. These clowns aren’t very smart, but they know they want the prince’s weight in gold before they’ll set him free. They think Jemmy is the prince and Horace is the whipping boy. The children escape but again are kidnapped. Thankfully, a gypsy helps them by sending her pet bear to chase after the bad guys. The king is so grateful to Jemmy that he sets Annyrose free from prison (she was there for stealing a handkerchief, which she didn’t actually do). Jemmy and Prince Horace become friends. It’s not the writing, the acting, or the time period I dislike. It’s the fact that a homeless orphan is drafted to endure corporal punishment for about half of this movie. I was an infant in 1994, but I wonder what kids watching Disney Channel at the time thought of The Whipping Boy!

A Friendship in Vienna (1988)

A Friendship in Vienna (1988)

Jenny Lewis, Ed Asner, 1930s Vienna, Austria. Please note that this film contains antisemitic images and dialogue.

Jenny Lewis as Inge in A Friendship in Vienna

This Disney Channel Premiere Film was directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and based on the book Devil in Vienna by Doris Orgel. I had seen this film not too long ago but decided to watch it again as I wrap up my large DCOM/Disney Channel Premiere Film project. Jenny Lewis gives a discerning performance as Inge Dournenvald, a Jewish girl who is best friends with a Catholic girl, Lise Mueller. A Friendship in Vienna focuses on Lise and Inge’s changing relationship, as Lise’s father is a Nazi official. Set during the time of the Anschluss — when Nazi troops took over Austria and incorporated the nation into Germany — Nazis in the film target Inge and her family. An older Inge (Jean Simmons) narrates the opening of the film, recalling this part of her life as “a winter Hitler invaded our country and took from us all my family and I held dear. When I look back, I see pieces. Some significant, some trivial, but all combining through mysterious alchemy to comprise a life.”

The troops are vile, as we know from history, and the Dournenvalds endure horrible treatment up until their escape from Austria. Inge’s best friend’s brother, Heinz, purposefully trips Inge’s mother on the stairs so that she breaks her leg. The Dournenvalds’ former errand boy blackmails them by inventing an offense Inge’s father did not commit. Nazi soldiers force Inge’s father and Opah Oskar (Ed Asner) to get up one morning and use their toothbrushes to scrub horrific antisemitic graffiti off a building. After this scene, Inge’s mother tells her about her friend: “Tommy had a brain hemorrhage; they think it was from the shock of what the Nazis did to his father yesterday. Inge, he died this morning.” If they want to survive, the Dournenvalds must leave their home.

After Opah Oskar is able to leave first, Inge and her parents narrowly escape. They’ve obtained permission to go on vacation to Yugoslavia. But in order to do so, the Dournenvalds must pretend they are Catholic and produce baptism papers. When her parents are unsure of doing so, Inge reminds them that the ritual is meaningless but would save their lives: “I would bathe in gallons of holy water if it would bring Tommy back,” she says.

For reasons I’m not yet sure of, there are several Disney Channel Premiere Films set close to World War II. Yet, they’re all different, revealing how this time period affected people throughout the world. But the hatred in this specific film, sadly, didn’t end. I wish we could watch films like this and only know evil as a thing of the past. Instead, we watch them and are reminded that people in our world still feel this kind of hatred and show it towards others every day. If you have a chance to see it, I do recommend A Friendship in Vienna — but please note that the images capture heinous acts of cruelty.

Songs for Tomorrow: Remembering Aaron Carter and Advocating for Children’s Mental Health

Songs for Tomorrow: Remembering Aaron Carter and Advocating for Children’s Mental Health

On Wednesday, January 18th, I virtually attended a concert benefiting On Our Sleeves, a national movement to break stigmas surrounding children’s mental health. More than $150,000 was raised. The event was held at Lance Bass’s Heart WeHo venue in West Hollywood, California. After hearing recordings of Aaron’s music, I saw Angel (Carter) Conrad and Lance Bass take the stage.

Lance said, “When Aaron passed, Angel here, the twin of Aaron Carter, needed to do something.” She called Lance, who offered his stage and his help. Angel expressed her appreciation for the crowd and explained, “A week after Aaron passed away, a fire lit inside of me and I said, ‘I cannot let Aaron die in vain.'” Angel and Lance concluded their thoughts and introduced the host, social media influencer Rod Thill, who is known for his nostalgic TikToks and Instagram reels. The first musical performer was B. Howard, who was joined by two singers introduced as Ian and Blake. Dr. Drew briefly spoke to the crowd about the importance of taking care of the mind, just as we do the body. Next was singer Ryan Cabrera, who had a technical difficulty with his guitar battery but still resonated with the audience. Surprisingly, he started rapping the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and he sang a snippet of “I Want Candy” (a cover Aaron Carter was well-known for) at the end of his set.

Rod shared more information about On Our Sleeves and then introduced Lori Knight, Aaron Carter’s former manager. She spoke candidly about the Carter family and defended Angel and Nick’s efforts to help Aaron. “We’ve been fighting like hell to save him,” she said. In describing 25 years of knowing Aaron, Lori used the words “scary, “sad,” “heartbreaking,” as well as “love and laughter and pain and hope and hopelessness.” The manager expressed the complexities of working with the singer and told a story about his kindness toward a fan who had been in a car accident. “I know AC is here, I know he is, and I know how excited he is that we’re all here…” she said, naming audience members she knew, including Hilary Duff’s mother, Susan Duff, and several individuals who worked with Aaron.

Following Lori Knight’s emotional speech, David Archuleta was such a wonderful face to see on the stage. Like Ryan Cabrera, he experimented a bit with his set, opting for an impromptu piano-vocal performance of “A Thousand Miles” but stopping before the second verse. David said after his hit song, “Crush,” “Something that helps me get through — I benefited a lot from going to therapy, and I did an album called Therapy Sessions… one of the things that I felt was most most important to learn, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you’re feeling anxious, when you’re not feeling good enough, to take a step back and just breathe.” The last song in his set was “Just Breathe.”

I think the best performances of the night were from the boy band members — representing LFO, O-Town, *NSYNC, and the Backstreet Boys. Brad Fischetti tragically lost both his former LFO bandmates, Rich Cronin and Devin Lima. He paid tribute to both of them, addressed the importance of mental health care — “Be vulnerable enough to say, ‘I need help,'” he said — and shared poignant memories of Aaron with the crowd. Brad was then joined by O-Town’s Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick, and Jacob Underwood. The “Girl on TV” performance was very moving, balanced by a rousing rendition of “Summer Girls.” O-Town stayed onstage for a bit, shared their Aaron Carter remembrances, and closed with “Bye Bye Bye.” They invited Lance to jump in, and he joined them toward the end of the number, which was amazing!

In between the boy band festivities, former manager Johnny Wright discussed the time when he worked with Aaron, at the beginning of the singer’s career. In fact, he shared that he started Aaron’s career. Johnny recalled how sad Aaron was that Nick would be leaving for the Backstreet Boys’ first headlining tour in Europe. He asked Aaron if he could sing, and the boy answered, “Yes! And I can sing better than Nick!” From there, Johnny had Aaron recording The Jets’ “Crush on You,” and the rest is history. The stories Johnny shared from Aaron’s adult years were more somber, involving his struggles with rehab. Later came an equally deep address on choosing sobriety from BSB’s AJ McLean, who performed his new song “Electric” while wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt. “I’m a f*cking ray of sunshine” was written on it. Both AJ and Brad Fischetti brought to life the energy and light of young Aaron’s memory.

Fans were met with Aaron’s voice as he sang “Recovery” in a previous recording. His sister Angel shared that the song had come out of his efforts toward sobriety in the early 2010s. Young Aaron was then projected on-screen playing basketball with Nick, right before Nick’s performance of “Hurts to Love You.” This heart-rending new song is worth a listen.

Closing out the night were the boy-banders with “I Want It That Way” and “Shape of My Heart.” In addition to Lance Bass, Nick Carter, and AJ McLean, 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons joined for these, too! It was so special to see these singers supporting each other, and Nick expressed his gratitude for the crowd’s support. “This is my little brother, and no matter what, I’m always gonna love him. And I know that you love him, too,” Nick said. The final song, with all performers invited back up, was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” From start to finish, the performers and speakers honored Aaron’s life and shed light on the importance of mental health and treating mental illness.

For more information about On Our Sleeves, visit their website. From this special event, I’ve been reminded of two important things: Seek help when you need it, and do everything you can to help the people in your life. Rest in peace, Aaron Carter.

Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (2011)

Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (2011)

Over Christmas vacation, I watched two Austin Butler films: Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure, and Elvis. I had seen Sharpay in the past, but this was my first outing with 2022’s Elvis. As entertaining as all the social media pics of Butler on Disney and Nickelodeon are, they really just prove his versatility. He can be Sharpay’s bestie-turned-boyfriend and the King of rock and roll. He’s convincing as a beach-blond teen and as a pivotal historical figure. People contain multitudes.

Ashley Tisdale and Austin Butler backstage in Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure

I’ll admit that Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure isn’t the most entertaining DCOM I’ve watched lately. But really, it was a direct-to-DVD film that was later labeled a DCOM when it aired on Disney Channel. I’d imagine it might be hard — or at least kind of weird — to follow three huge High School Musical movies without your castmates, but Ashley Tisdale carries her movie well. She doesn’t lose the true essence of Sharpay; I think she actually sharpens the inner strength of Sharpay, since the character is forced to be resourceful in a new environment. Okay, throwing money at a problem and massively redecorating a NYC studio apartment might not be everyone’s idea of “resourceful.” And Amber Lee Adams isn’t super believable as a megastar. But for an hour+ of pink sparkles, cute dogs, and Gabe from Good Luck Charlie (Bradley Steven Perry), this is fun.

As NYU student Peyton, Austin Butler is tasked with showing Sharpay around the city and helping her get set up. I think they’re a good pair, and I wonder what it would have been like for Butler to lead his own DCOM. He has to fill some pretty big shoes in this one with Ryan absent — until the end. Lucas Grabeel’s special appearance didn’t make the Disney+ cut, sadly. Fun facts: Michael Lembeck, who directed this film, also directed The Santa Clause 2 and 3, and writer Robert Horn wrote the Teen Beach movies and The Suite Life Movie. If you’re an HSM fan, do you also like this movie?

Spooner (1989)

Spooner (1989)

I had no idea what a movie called Spooner would be about. Someone spooning? Using spoons? A boat? Turns out it’s about a guy named Harry Spooner (Robert Urich). Well, Spooner isn’t his real name. It’s Michael Norland. This guy is on the run, wanted for forgery. Norland has used many aliases to hide from the authorities. This time, he fakes a work pass so that he escape from jail while at his factory job. The convict takes on a dead man’s identity: Harry Spooner, who was a high school English teacher.

Spooner being lifted up by school wrestlers

The new Spooner gets a teaching gig and becomes invested in the wrestling team he coaches. He butts heads with the dean of male students, who starts digging into Spooner’s past and finally figures out that Spooner is a fraud. Despite being found out, Spooner is determined to coach one more wrestling match. He’s been mentoring a troubled player and trying to set the example he’d never had. Even though he’s a criminal, it still cute that Spooner has a budding relationship with another teacher (Jane Kaczmarek from Malcolm in the Middle). 

The ending is a little hard to believe, though sweet. Spooner isn’t off the hook for his crimes, but he gets to coach that last match. What strikes me about this film is its similarity to Get a Clue, one of my favorite 2002 DCOMs. In Get a Clue, banker Nicholas Pedrossian was framed for theft, so he took on the identity of the late Orlando Walker and became a beloved schoolteacher. However, Mr. Walker/Pedrossian was innocent, and Mr. Spooner was guilty. Whoever uploaded this to YouTube called it “MOST OVERLOOKED DISNEY MOVIE?.” I certainly wouldn’t have heard of it if I didn’t study Disney Channel history. If you watch it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Jennie Project (2001)

The Jennie Project (2001)

The Jennie Project, based on the novel Jennie by Douglas Preston, is one of the most obscure DCOMs of the 2000s. I still haven’t figured out why it isn’t on Disney+. Dr. Hugo Archibald (Lance Guest, the alien dad of Stepsister from Planet Weird) is a scientist who rescues a chimpanzee whose pregnant mother was poached in East Africa. He brings the chimp, Jennie, home to live with his family temporarily. In the book, (per the author’s website), Jennie is based in part on the same chimp who was Curious George’s inspiration. In the 1930s, this chimp was brought up in Boston’s American Museum of Natural History, where the fictional Hugo Archibald works.

The Jennie Project Andrew and Jennie

Jennie is a very active chimp. She makes big messes and does exactly what she wants whenever she wants. The Archibald family members have their ups and downs adjusting to Jennie. The kids love her, and Hugo is quite invested in her progress, but his wife Leah (understandably) struggles to welcome the mischievous primate into her home. Renowned primatologist Dr. Pamela Prentiss (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) is brought in to teach Jennie sign language and help her mature. Dr. Prentiss feels that Jennie is behaving too much like a human under the Archibalds’ care, so she begins to push for Jennie to stay at a primates research center. The Archibalds fight to keep her at home. Andrew Archibald (Alex D. Linz) feels neglected by his father, who travels often for research. Andrew is so upset about this that he rips up his dad’s grant acceptance letter for an upcoming trip. In the end, the entire family gets to go on the trip and be together.

In the final scene, they help Jennie re-enter her species — letting her go from their family so that she can be part of her birth family again. Andrew narrates the ending and explains that although his father has a scientific, orderly outlook, “Jennie taught him something: that we see the world not only through our eyes, but through our hearts.” This is a deeply moving scene, emotionally amplified by the music of prolific DCOM composer Phil Marshall along with Alan Williams. Alex D. Linz was nominated for a Young Artist award for his performance. I really hope to see this film on Disney+ so that subscribers of all ages can experience Jennie’s story.

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988)

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988)

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss is a Disney Channel Premiere Film which was co-produced by WGBH, PBS’ American Playhouse anthology, and Disney. The film was written by Jean Shepherd and directed by Dick Bartlett, and it features Shepherd’s characters from the 1983 classic A Christmas Story (which was based on stories in his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash). In Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss, the Parkers are going on a two-week lakeside vacation in the 1950s. It’s important to note that the cast is different here than in A Christmas Story. Jerry O’Connell plays teenage Ralphie. However, Jean Shepherd narrates as adult Ralph in both films. (The Parkers are seen in other PBS projects with different casts, including The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski.)

Parker family on road trip with overloaded car in movie poster

The vacation part of Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss doesn’t get going until about halfway through the movie, after the family loses and finds their dog. Ralph is supposed to stay back to work his first summer job moving furniture, but he gets fired and tells his family he’s quit. The Parkers finally get their overloaded car on the road, taking Fuzzhead the dog with them. Narrator Ralph is heard pontificating about travel, the road, and carsick brother Randy.

If you don’t like loud whining or long road trip scenes, this is not the movie for you. The mom only prolongs the agony by making the dad stop at a rug store on the side of a country road. She doesn’t buy a rug because the proprietor is too attached to her wares. “Just once, I’d like to get to Ollie’s before dark. Just once,” the father says. He does not get his wish. Consistent car problems make this supposed haven seem very out of reach. The Parkers have a roadside picnic where Randy becomes positively insufferable over not having a PB&J sandwich. In his defense, Randy barely has room in that car to breathe, much less move. The family finally makes it to Ollie’s grounds with about ten minutes left in the film. Just in time for Randy to use the outhouse, and for the dad and Ralph to bond.

I read that in 1994, a theatrical sequel was released in this Christmas Story universe: My Summer Story/It Runs in the Family. Tedde Moore, who played the teacher in the original ’83 film, was also in My Summer Story. The ’94 film starred Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen as the parents, with Kieran and Christian Culkin as the brothers. Fascinating. I’m not an expert on the film adaptations of Jean Shepherd’s writings, but I’m glad to have learned about a few of them through watching this film! I still need to check out A Christmas Story Christmas (2022).

Go Figure (2005)

Go Figure (2005)

I once gleefully discovered that I could count Double Teamed as a holiday movie. Heather and Heidi Burge have a New York basketball tournament that requires their team to play over Christmas. Similarly, a case can be made that Go Figure is a holiday movie. Let me explain…

Katelin wearing hockey skates, figure skating pink outfit, holding stick and helmet

The film, directed by Francine McDougall and written by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, opens by setting up the life of figure skater Katelin Kingsford (Jordan Hinson), who desperately wants to level up her skating. She is nothing if not persistent, so Katelin finds a way to train with top Russian coach Natasha Goberman. She must attend a boarding school on an ice hockey scholarship, as Natasha coaches figure skaters at this school. A little far-fetched, but this premise already provides wintry vibes. And even off the ice, skaters are typically dressed in long sleeves and look like they’re staying warm. Back at Katelin’s family home, her brother (Ryan Malgarini from Freaky Friday!) and a friend are seen playing outside with snow on the ground. In one scene, her mother wears a festive snowflake sweater.

Katelin's mom's festive snowflake sweater

The exact timeline of the school term is not clear. Katelin’s mother turns Katelin’s bedroom into a little workshop for her online auction business and mentions that she wasn’t expecting Katelin until a semester break. A school calendar is briefly shown in the girls’ hockey locker room, but even into the 25th-28th (days that school would not be in session during December), it looks like classes are still in session.

Still, there’s a bit of holiday evidence I never noticed until 2022: a Christmas tree. Yep. You blink, you miss it. Katelin is studying in what appears to be the library. A lovely tree is lit up in the background just as one of her hockey teammates comes to find her. There is no mention of Christmas, or of an upcoming holiday break. This movie was also released in June, not remotely being tied in with the holidays during its debut. But this tree was such a cool discovery for me, no matter what. 

Katelin carrying stack of books, Christmas tree in background
Katelin and Hollywood with books, tree in background

If you do watch Go Figure this winter, there are plenty of DCOMly things to ponder. How does it stack up for you among other DCOMs that center on winter sports? Katelin is a fierce competitor and actually finds a thrill in the sport of ice hockey. Where do you place Go Figure in the classic DCOM trope of characters trying to successfully multitask? Katelin faces an Olympic figure skating qualifier and a huge hockey championship on the same day. Is Katelin’s budding relationship with an assistant hockey coach totally inappropriate, or is he some kind of student assistant? Finally, where do Katelin’s parents rank on the supportive scale? It’s her mother who has the tougher exterior, and perhaps the higher expectations. She asks her daughter which decisions in life will make her a better woman.

Whatever you think, there’s no denying that the theme song “Go Figure” by Everlife is a bop for the ages, and this is great DCOM for the winter season. Happy holidays!

‘Twas the Night (2001)

‘Twas the Night (2001)

Fun fact: Nick Castle, who directed this DCOM, also directed the 1993 Dennis the Menace, one of my childhood staples. ‘Twas the Night was written by Jim Lincoln, Dan Studney, and Jenny Tripp. Lincoln and Studney were two of the Genius writers and worked on the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV show for Disney. Tripp has an “additional story material” credit for The Lion King.

‘Twas the Night both opens and closes with a shot of a house bedecked with Christmas lights and a mailbox that says “The Wrigleys.” Danny Wrigley (Josh Zuckerman) is a troublemaker whose Uncle Nick (haha, like St. Nick) is a bad influence on him. Malcolm in the Middle-era Bryan Cranston plays Nick, a con artist specializing in internet schemes. He’s being chased by the guys he scammed out of $30,000. Nick will do anything to keep from being captured again by his scam victims — even stealing a Santa outfit right out from under a guy while he’s on the toilet. The conman goes to hide out at his brother John’s place, conveniently right as John and his wife Abby — both doctors — are paged to go to the ER to help tame the reindeer flu (yes, you read that right). That leaves Uncle Nick with Danny, Kaitlin, and Peter.

Twas the Night movie poster

Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” is read before the parents leave for work. The dad takes one line, “the children were nestled all snug in their beds,” to heart, sending them all off to sleep and away from Nick’s vices. No use. Danny comes back downstairs when he hears a rattling on the roof. As Variety noted, this movie has a taste of The Santa Clause: The rattling was good ole Father Christmas, who lunges at naughty Nick and Danny. Santa trips, hits his head on the mantle, and THUD. Falls to the ground. Another Santa Clause similarity is the teen bad boy: Charlie and Danny might be friends if you put them in the same movie. This film has a nice, high-tech sleigh, too.

Danny starts to seek goodness within himself, so he wants to help the knocked-out Santa. Nick sees this, but he only wants to sneak his way out of a problem, so he suggests they both carry out Santa’s Christmas deliveries. What happens next is what I most remember about the film: Nick and Danny go to lavish homes, where Nick steals furniture and other goods. He uses Santa’s shrinking gadget to make every item temporarily tiny. Danny becomes more invested in his cause of giving. After seeing that a young boy has been fighting at school, Danny chooses to give him a punching bag to help release anger. During this portion of the film, we get Nick’s sob story — brother John always opened his requested science equipment on Christmas, but Nick never got the guitar he wanted or the attention he needed. John was nice, Nick was naughty, and that’s the way it was.

Twas the night kids and Nick (in Santa suit) cuddling

Santa and the other Wrigley kids get involved by heading to a computer store for a state-of-the-art setup. Physics wiz Kaitlin steers with a joystick to remotely control Nick and Danny’s sleigh. Naturally, Danny is upset when he learns that Nick has been stealing. He heads home and accidentally crashes Santa’s sleigh, so it looks like the big guy won’t be able to complete his Christmas Eve deliveries. Meanwhile, Nick starts to feel badly for his actions while sitting outside a church as the choir sings “I Saw Three Ships.” He can’t outrun his problems forever, so Nick uses Santa’s shrinking doodad to miniaturize one of the angry collectors and get them all off his back for a little while. He gives up his scammy computer so Santa can revive his sleigh, and on Christmas morning, Nick finally gets his dream guitar (which he plans to sell to pay back the money). Like The Ultimate Christmas Present, this zany holiday premise is one that only a DCOM could get away with. If you revisit this rare holiday Disney Channel feature, listen for composer Craig Safan’s clever take on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Merry Christmas!

The Christmas Visitor (1987)

The Christmas Visitor (1987)

The Christmas Visitor was Disney Channel’s first Christmas movie. Confusingly, it has had two other names: Miracle Down Under (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but think that one was a little inappropriate) and Bushfire Moon. The film was written by Jeff Peck, who later adapted it into a novel, and was directed by George Miller. It was released theatrically in Australia and in Europe, according to the Great Falls Tribune.

Disney Channel Christmas Visitor poster

There’s a very cute little boy in the main role (Andrew Ferguson) who reminds me of the eldest boy in The Little Kidnappers, another Disney Channel Premiere Film I watched this year. Also, it’s very cool that the mom from E.T., Dee Wallace, is the mom in this movie. Ferguson plays Ned, a little boy in 1890s Australia whose father runs a sheep ranch and can’t recover from a drought without help. There’s a scene early on at a general store indicating that the family’s hardships won’t afford them much of a Christmas celebration.

Ned is wandering in the outback and spots a man with a Santa-like beard, so he automatically assumes he’s found Mr. Claus. When Santa whips out his gun, Ned says, “It’s just me, Father Christmas. Ned O’Day!” This dude is not Santa. As D23 notes, he is depicted as “an old vagrant.” He’s financially entangled with a rich fellow who has the only source of water but will not spare any of it. There’s also a nice side story between Sarah O’Day and Angus, a boy who works for the miser. As you might imagine, the rich man decides to help the poor O’Days with the water, and they all sit down to a lovely Christmas feast in the end. Cutely, the “Visitor” mistaken for Father Christmas decides to play Santa and deliver gifts.

I hope to rewatch this film next year to dig a little deeper into its themes, as I had a little trouble keeping track of all the intimate conversations and developments throughout. Unfortunately, this one is not on Disney+, but if you happen to have seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Merry Christmas!