Heidi (1993)

Heidi (1993)

Heidi was a literary work I was familiar with, but never quite enthralled with as a child. I had a kids’ version of Johanna Spyri’s classic and knew that it had been adapted into a Shirley Temple film (I probably saw that film at least once…the details are fuzzy). Unfortunately, I came into the world one year too late to see Heidi premiere on the Disney Channel. But thanks to YouTube, I have viewed this beloved miniseries at the grand age of 28. Although it’s over three hours long, Heidi is considered a Disney Channel Premiere Film. It was directed by Michael Ray Rhodes and adapted as a screenplay by Jeanne Rosenberg, who also has a writing credit on Rip Girls!

Heidi poster, featuring Jane Seymour and Jason Robards

Spyri’s Heidi book was published in the 1880s, and the story is set in the Alps, as well as Frankfurt, Germany. The cast of Disney Channel’s version is impressive: Jason Robards as the grandfather who accidentally drives his son and daughter-in-law to their deaths (baby Heidi survives); the adorable Noley Thornton as Heidi; Jane Seymour as  Fräulein Rottenmeier (Heidi’s boss in Frankfurt); Siân Phillips as Frau Sesemann; and Patricia Neal as Heidi’s grandmother.

We learn early in the film that Heidi has been cared for by a cousin, but now the cousin has to leave for a job — I believe this is an aunt in the book. So up the mountain Heidi goes, to live with her grumpy grandpa. And talk about mountains! This was filmed in Austria, and the scenery is gorgeous. However, the beauty is initially clouded by the grandfather’s resistance toward taking in Heidi. Eventually, this kindhearted little girl softens his heart, but then she has to leave. The cousin returns to usher Heidi away to Frankfurt, where she’s meant to be the companion of a young wheelchair user named Clara Sesemann. There are some very sweet Frankfurt scenes, as Heidi and Clara bond and try not to upset their overseer, Fräulein Rottenmeier. I was struck by the fact that Heidi really misses the mountains. Clara tells her it might be possible to see them from the church, so Heidi hikes all the way up to the bell tower and is dismayed to find no mountains. At least she finds kittens. The older I get, the more I can relate to the gift of connecting with nature. Heidi grasps this at a young age.

Frankfurt becomes sadder and sadder. Even though Heidi’s accommodations are excellent, and she’s staying with a well-off family, she desperately misses her grandfather. Clara has panic attacks and can’t fathom Heidi leaving her, so Clara’s father forces Heidi to stay in Frankfurt to the point where Heidi becomes very sick. Finally, Heidi is granted a one-month recess to the mountains, provided that she return to the Sesemanns’ home afterwards. It takes her grandfather a little while to warm up to Heidi again — and they were doing so well before she left the Alps! He had given her a handmade blanket and a wood carving of the mystical woman on the mountain. Heidi’s grandmother is overjoyed to see her again, even though the woman is in her last days. The Sesemanns come to visit Heidi and breathe in the clean mountain air, intending to take her back to Frankfurt.

Heidi hugging her grandfather, mountains in the background

The hardest thing to watch for me, right up there with Heidi’s parents dying, is when a local boy named Peter angrily pushes Clara’s wheelchair and accidentally throws it down the mountain, destroying the chair. I’m not sure if this plays out the same way in the book, but by using her strength to venture back up the mountain on a homemade sled with Heidi and Peter, Clara can miraculously walk again. This plot point might be approached differently today. Thankfully, Heidi gets to stay in the Alps with her family. You can see that she’s torn; she loves Clara, but she knows she belongs with her grandfather. This is such a human reaction — to want to be in more than one place at once, especially because of the people we love.

After poking around on Disney Channel corners of the Internet and hearing word about Heidi for a while, I’m glad to have finally watched it. I honestly can’t picture something like this on Disney Channel nowadays, but I think people would really love to have it on Disney+.

Teen Beach Movie & Teen Beach 2

Teen Beach Movie & Teen Beach 2

Here’s something I had forgotten: Teen Beach Movie and Teen Beach 2 take place in the same year. Technically, the second film starts the exact same summer as the first film. So, what was going on in the world of Disney Channel in 2013? Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Sonny with a Chance/So Random were over, but Jessie, ANT Farm, Shake It Up, and Good Luck Charlie were still on. Liv & Maddie appeared as a special preview right after the Teen Beach premiere. Most importantly, music-driven sitcom Austin & Ally, starring Laura Marano and Ross Lynch, was right in the middle of its run. Ross stars in Teen Beach as Brady, and Maia Mitchell (The Fosters, Good Trouble) stars as Mack.

Still on beach, choreography from Teen Beach Movie

I had just finished my freshman year of college in 2013, when Teen Beach Movie came out. I remember watching that one and being excited about the ’60s references, especially Grease (there are a lot of biker characters in Teen Beach) and the beach-blanket genre — my sister and I would watch Gidget with my mom sometimes. The first Teen Beach opens with Mack and Brady surfing, and the scene gives me some Rip Girl (2000) vibes. Mack is supposed to move away to go to a prep school, and she and Brady are spending all their summer days together. But when they get caught out in the ocean in a storm, they are transported into a 1960s beach flick, cleverly titled Wet Side Story. They spend most of Teen Beach within Wet Side Story, getting to know its characters and accidentally causing the leads, Tanner and Lela, to fall in love with Mack and Brady, respectively. So Brady and Mack try to get Lela and Tanner back with each other so that order can be restored, and so Mack and Brady can get home. The second movie flips this around, sending the Wet Side Story leads into the future — the 2010s — to see Brady and Mack. Teen Beach 2 shows Lela grappling with her 1960s life, wanting more independence and desiring to stay in the future, where she presumably can achieve whatever she wants. Kind of like the first film, the second winds down with a mission to restore normalcy. This time, Tanner and Lela must return to their movie before all its other characters disappear. But the Internet was pretty angry when Mack gave Lela permission to take charge and alter the film, thereby changing Wet Side Story to Lela: Queen of the Beach, thereby rendering former lovers Mack and Brady total strangers.

Teen Beach 2 logo featuring full cast

As confusing as those details can be, I do think both Teen Beach Movies are creative and fun to watch, especially the music. I didn’t realize how strong a showing the first had on its premiere night: 8.4 million viewers. Not bad for 2013. The cast even performed “Cruisin’ For a Bruisin'” on Good Morning America as the soundtrack debuted. My favorite song from the first movie is “Like Me,” since it reminds me of “Tell Me More” from Grease. In the second movie, I really like the reprise of “Meant to Be,” but I also enjoy anytime Ross sings. I think it’s refreshing that he commits so much to his performances.

While we’re here, a word on “Twist Your Frown Upside Down.” This feels like it’s kind of trying to be “Stick to the Status Quo” from HSM… We get the high school “anthropology shot” where cliques are siloed off during lunch. Tanner and Lela bring their perfect ’60s charm and try to get everyone to smile, but with all the close-ups, it’s clear that some of these extras at the school are way older than teenage. I would have liked to have seen Mack and Brady’s relationship at school explored a bit more, as that’s where their tension lies: Mack is Type-A to a fault, constantly running off to do calculus or organize an oceanography initiative, and Brady is a chill surfer bro. To his credit, he creates a motorized surfboard that saves Lela and Tanner at the end… (Although, saving Lela and Tanner means he can’t remember his entire romance with Mack. What an ending!) Finally, I’ll say that Garrett Clayton, who plays Tanner, is my favorite part of these movies. He’s so talented and hilarious as a walking Ken doll, and I think he should have been in more DCOMs.

Do you like the Teen Beach Movies?

Johnny Tsunami (1999) & Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board (2007)

Johnny Tsunami (1999) & Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board (2007)

DCOMs don’t get more classic than Johnny Tsunami. I was going into kindergarten and don’t remember the premiere of this one, but I watched it whenever it was on as I grew up. In case you’ve never seen it, Johnny Kapahala (Brandon Baker) is a native of Hawaii who loves surfing with his grandfather (played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the one who’s actually called “Johnny Tsunami”). Young Johnny is crushed to move to the mainland when his dad gets a job in Vermont. He has to wear a uniform and contend with the snobby rich kids, known as the Skies, at his new private school. These students go skiing, while the teens who snowboard are called the Urchins. As you might guess, the Skies and the Urchins don’t get along. Johnny’s new best friend Sam (Lee Thompson Young) is an Urchin, and his love interest Emily (Kirsten Storms) is a Sky.

Johnny Tsunami and Johnny Kapahala

This movie rightfully has a place in the hearts of many millennials. Most great DCOMs tackle themes of fitting in and finding real friends in life. Johnny Tsunami hits those marks in so many ways. Johnny feels like an outsider culturally and athletically, as he’s pulled between skiing and snowboarding, but really misses surfing. To make matters worse, his only real friend, Sam, will be moving away since his dad’s in the military. The guys try to solve this by running away to Hawaii together, where Johnny’s grandfather greets them with compassion and calmness. His dad and grandpa have a difficult relationship, which also affects the dad’s parenting.

Director Steve Boyum, a supreme athlete himself, expertly handled the fiercely competitive Vermont snow scenes that were filmed in Utah. Hawaiian portions of the film were actually shot in Hawaii, unlike Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board.

Johnny Kapahala smiling with his boards

It’s highly unusual for DCOM sequels to occur so long after an original film’s release. But eight years after Johnny Tsunami, Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board debuted. By 2007, Disney Channel was a pretty different place. DCOMs increasingly featured musical components with the talents of rising pop stars. There are no pop stars here, though. Directed by Eric Bross, this movie is just as intense on the sports front. This time, dirtboarding is the competition of choice. Johnny Tsunami is getting married and inheriting a stepson named Chris (Jake T. Austin). The tween gets pulled into the wrong dirtboarding crowd and is influenced by a greedy manager.

In order to help the family prepare for his grandfather’s wedding, Johnny Kapahala agrees to mentor Chris and help steer him in the right direction — not an easy job. The Honolulu Star Bulletin accentuated the facts that Johnny Kapahala was filmed in New Zealand, that Johnny didn’t surf much, and that young Uncle Chris was inconsolable. As much as I like Jonathan “Lil J” McDaniel, I do miss Lee Thompson Young in the role of Sam. And Kirsten Storms’ character is replaced by a dirtboarder named Valerie, played by Rose McIver. Even so, Johnny Kapahala was a sweet callback to the early years of DCOMs, and I was happy to see it premiere 15 years ago. Fun detail: Johnny’s new step-grandmother is played by Robyn Lively, who is actually married to Bart Johnson, Coach Bolton from High School Musical.

Johnny and Valerie surfing in Back on Board

Ahead of the sequel’s premiere in ’07, Entertainment Weekly interviewed Brandon Baker about reprising his beloved role. “It’s fun to come back and play Johnny for a second time because he was definitely my favorite character — at least the closest to me as a kid. I’m a surfer, a snowboarder…more of a sports guy. I just like being active. We definitely share that,” Baker said. He added, “Being a multi-ethnic actor, it’s difficult to get roles that are close to the person you are. I would always play the funny best friend, or the orphan.” He enjoyed authentically playing a Hawaiian character who excels in board sports. Brandon Baker is one of my favorite DCOM stars, and I’d be thrilled to see another Johnny Kapahala movie!

Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off (2003)

Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off (2003)

Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off is a Paul Hoen-directed classic, written by Dan Berendsen, Jack Jason, and Rick Bitzelberger. It’s one of my favorite sports DCOMs and one of those movies I think easily inspired the High School Musical premise. Eddie Ogden loves to cook, but his father is the coach of Eddie’s baseball team and prioritizes his son’s involvement in the sport.

Eddie's Million Dollar Cook-off, Taylor Ball and Orlando Brown in poster

Eddie’s best friends (Orlando Brown, Reiley McClendon) are all about baseball, but they won’t turn down their buddy’s famous “Eddie dogs,” hot dogs covered in chili and all the fixings. Off the field and in the school hallway, Eddie makes a big decision for himself and his friends: instead of signing them up for computer class, he puts them all in home economics. He claims he made a mistake, so as not to reveal his passion for cooking right away. The good news is, in home ec, Eddie gets to practice his cooking skills every single day.

I noticed that composer David Kitay scored a wonderfully funky theme for every time Eddie starts cooking. This reflects Eddie’s creativity and journey to finally doing what he loves. His mom is happy with Eddie’s culinary pursuits, but his dad is so discouraging – not unlike Coach Bolton in HSM with Troy’s interest in singing. Both Eddie and Troy feel that they must keep their passions hidden from their fathers. Eddie’s dad and brothers specifically think that cooking is girly.

On the flip side, Eddie’s female teammate pretends to be a cheerleader so that her mother won’t discover she’s on the baseball team. Turns out her mom doesn’t mind she’s a baseball player, but Eddie’s dad is super upset to discover that Eddie is pursuing his dreams of cooking. It’s not until the combined cook-off/tournament day (much like the Wildcats’ big basketball game/decathlon mix-up) that dad can accept his son’s dreams.

While a few other sports DCOMs have a similar basic story, Eddie’s cooking interests are so unique to this movie. I don’t recall seeing similar food aspirations until much later DCOMs in the 2010s (there’s a character who likes cooking in 2016’s Adventures in Babysitting). I remember loving Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off when it premiered almost 20 years ago, and I still love to watch it for comfort now. The Bobby Flay cameo at the end (during the cook-off) is also fun to look back on, as I was watching a lot of Food Network with my mom during this time, too. That channel has a story of its own, but like Disney Channel, Food Network was building a cast of memorable stars in the 2000s.

Gotta Kick It Up! (2002)

Gotta Kick It Up! (2002)

Gotta Kick It Up! has always been one of my favorite Disney Channel Original Movies. I grew up taking dance classes of all kinds and loved seeing the dance team in action throughout the film. Writers include Meghan Cole, Nancy De Los Santos-Reza, Tom Musca, Stu Krieger, and director Ramón Menéndez. Set in Southern California, the DCOM features a predominantly Latin American cast, with Camille Guaty as Daisy and America Ferrera as Yolanda leading the group. The girls and their classmates don’t gel with their new teacher, Ms. Bartlett (Disney Broadway legend Susan Egan). She has entered the field of education because her dot-com job went under (such a 2000s detail!).

Gotta Kick It Up! poster with girls jumping.

This storyline was inspired by writer and co-producer Meghan Cole’s experiences working for Teach for America. Cole began a dance team at her Huntington Park, California, middle school. She noticed a lack of representation in the programming her students were watching on TV at the time. “I was very aware that all the characters were white kids; no one looked like them,” she explained to The New York Times. Cole was eager to avoid stereotypes and shine a positive light on Latina kids; the characters in Gotta Kick It Up! were based on her students. The Times noted that writer Nancy De Los Santos-Reza added the iconic sí se puede line, which the character Marisol shares with the whole dance team. I learned from writer Alicia Ramírez that the phrase came from civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who advocated for farmworkers’ conditions and rights. She worked closely with Cesar Chavez, but per NPR, was hardly his sidekick. In the face of no se puede (no you can’t) in Arizona — where simply saying the words strike or boycott could land someone in prison — Huerta led the rallying cry of sí se puede (yes I can), which became an immigrant rights slogan.

Of course, this movie takes on a life of its own beyond its inspirations. Daisy Salinas matures considerably in that she discovers her passion for dance and is visibly moved by the opportunities she earns with her art. She has the chance to apply for a performing arts academy scholarship and bonds with Ms. Bartlett over the weight of life decisions. It should be acknowledged that Ms. Bartlett might have had more opportunities and resources as a young woman in the past than Daisy does in the present of the film. Ms. Bartlett had secured her spot at Julliard, and her own insecurities and unsupportive parents contributed to her not completing a degree there. However, the emotionally complicated dance teacher gradually learns the importance of lifting up her group and humbling herself. She really feels like a part of the team as the film progresses.

I spoke about this movie on the incredible Pop Capsule Podcast and discussed the dance auditions montage with co-hosts Evan and Mallory. Disney Channel is great at audition scenes, and this one was a slam dunk four years before High School Musical. Daisy doesn’t get to audition since she misbehaved and danced in class, but the other main girls display their flair and show lots of room for improvement when they try out. These auditions take place in the school’s auto shop garage, since the basketball team and coach/principal Zavala took up the gymnasium. With their music playing from a car stereo, Marisol performs a traditional dance with a lovely flowing skirt, Esmeralda pours out her heart in a lyrical number, Yolanda boogies with a few strategic movements, and Alyssa goes full-on ’50s with all the personality to match.

As the dancing improves, the girls naturally place higher in their competitions, and they build a confidence and respect for one another that truly inspires me. I have a core collection of DCOMs that fill me up with the best memories and lessons, and I hope this movie does that for you.

The Parent Trap II (1986)

The Parent Trap II (1986)

In a summer 1986 issue of The Disney Channel Magazine, a full feature on Hayley Mills revealed that subscribers couldn’t get enough of the iconic Disney star. After the channel aired one of her classics, “Pollyanna,” the fan mail kept pouring in. Hayley agreed to star in a Disney Channel Premiere Film, but not just any Disney Channel Premiere Film. Twenty-five years after her twinning performance in 1961’s The Parent Trap, she reprised her roles as Susan and Sharon for The Parent Trap II. Hayley told The Disney Channel Magazine, “The twins have grown up quite nicely, I think. Twenty-five years is a big gap and an awful lot happens to a person, but the girls are basically the same. We all stay the same inside. I think they’re quite fun.” In the 1986 sequel, the film opens with a sentimental montage of memories from the first film, reminding us of Sharon and Susan’s journey to sisterhood.

Parent Trap II movie poster with full cast

With its plot, The Parent Trap II is lovably reminiscent of the original Parent Trap format. Sharon and her daughter, Nikki Ferris, are preparing to move from Florida to New York. Nikki meets her new best friend, Mary, at summer school. These girls bond like sisters and quickly plot a scheme so that Nikki doesn’t have to move away. They call on her Aunt Susan in California to help set Sharon up with Mary’s father, Bill. Susan (who is married in this film) flies to Florida and pretends to be Sharon on dates with Bill. Of course, this leads to comical confusion when it seems like two Sharons are running around. Sharon quickly realizes what Nikki and Mary are trying to do — let’s not forget that she and Susan were clever enough to bring their own parents back together in the ’60s — so Sharon decides to outsmart the others. While Susan is masquerading as her sister on a nice date with Bill, Sharon keeps watch in the same restaurant, disguised in a large wig of black hair. The stunt is cutely revealed, leaving the characters with a lot of laughs; Bill also has a chance to get to know the real Sharon. She’s not sure about starting a new relationship until Mary and Nikki try one last plan: they get their parents on a boat together for a romantic evening. The 1998 Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan totally stole this idea, I’d say. Sailing seals the deal, and Sharon and Bill marry.

This delightful Disney Channel movie was written by Stu Krieger and directed by Ron Maxwell. I enjoyed speaking with Stu about his work on the film. He has always been a huge fan of Hayley Mills and remains close with her today. In the ’80s, Stu saw an industry announcement about The Parent Trap II and was determined to write the film. If you’ve ever seen any of Stu’s work (including some of my favorite DCOMs), it should come as no surprise that his talent was recognized and he was hired for this film. He replaced the first writer and had a tight deadline of just six weeks to complete the script. Stu also had to leave a Hawaiian vacation early to take the job! When the writing was finished, his work was an immediate hit with Disney CEO Michael Eisner, and Stu was soon headed to the set. “I’m on the plane flying to Florida, and the entire time I’m kind of chanting to myself, ‘Oh my god. I’m finally going to meet Hayley Mills. My childhood crush since I was 10 years old,'” he shared. Of course, Stu hoped meeting his hero would be a good thing. Hayley did not disappoint him, as he recalls: “The first meeting, she just could not have been more adorable and charming.” She even told Stu how much she loved his script! The director also contributed to a great environment on set and helped everyone bond.

Hayley Mills as Susan and Sharon

More than 30 years ago, movies on the Disney Channel were cross-generational, so parents and children might watch some of them together. Part of the Parent Trap II audience would have grown up with the first film and with Hayley’s other movies, so Stu left Easter eggs by creatively naming his characters. For example, Hayley’s TV daughter in this film is “Nikki Ferris,” and Hayley herself played “Nikky Ferris” in the 1964 film “The Moon-Spinners.” “Mary Grand” is the daughter of Hayley’s date in The Parent Trap II, while Hayley had played “Mary Grant” for 1962’s “In Search of the Castaways.” There are even characters named Walter and Lillian Elias, which is apropos considering Hayley’s long career with Disney and professional relationship with Walt. Even though Hayley said in a news appearance that two Parent Traps were enough for her, she ended up starring in two more! I hope they all are added to Disney+. Cheers to this sweet film from a fascinating era of the Disney Channel!

Introducing Grain, My New Favorite Transcription Tool!

Introducing Grain, My New Favorite Transcription Tool!

Since I started Past Foot Forward in 2020 as a nostalgia blog, I’ve featured about ten unique interview-based articles, and I can’t wait to publish more. It’s so important to share our words with clarity and accuracy, which is why a fantastic transcription service is a must. I used to transcribe hours of interviews by hand. I also tried several transcription services that just didn’t cut it – not easy to use, not very accurate, or too costly.

I’m so glad to have found Grain, a transcription platform that is intuitive, accurate, and affordable. I’m able to upload Zoom recordings quickly and wait just seconds for Grain to produce a transcript. My audio m4a files needed to be converted to mp3 for compatibility, so Katie from Grain showed me a fast and easy way to convert my files. In just a few minutes, I safely uploaded the audio and let Grain work its magic on the transcript.

Grain helps me “turn video meetings into a library of knowledge.”

With Grain, you get to upload recordings in the best way for you. By sending Zoom meetings to the Cloud (with a Zoom license), you’ll import directly from Zoom. If you save to your computer instead, just upload the recordings from your files. It’s quick and convenient to make highlights of clips to post on social media, with captions available. Per their website, English is not the only language supported on Grain. Transcribe in Spanish, French, Russian, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, or Italian, too!

My opinion is that any transcription service will miss a few words here and there. Fortunately, it’s easy to correct discrepancies when you use Grain. Put the transcript in edit mode and select individual words to tweak as needed. The best part is, the transcribed words are on the same page as the original video recording, so no need to have a ton of windows open while working. You will need Internet access to use Grain, but transcriptions can be downloaded for offline use.

Maybe you’re a fellow journalist looking for a more efficient transcription of quotes. Perhaps you’re a podcast host aiming to offer transcripts as an accessible content option. You might be in search of a service to keep up with meetings from work. If you frequently record interviews, meetings, or other audio, I’d highly recommend Grain. They offer a generous trial period of their business tier, which allows for unlimited recordings and transcripts. Having a few weeks to test everything was so helpful. If you commit to annual billing, you’ll save 20% at a rate that comes down to $19 per month for business tier. Monthly billing is $24 a month. Not sure how often you’ll be transcribing? You might start out with the free tier, which holds ten recordings and transcripts (you then need to delete a recording in order to upload another).

Sharing spoken words in written form is an art that I appreciate, and I’m excited for a new chapter of this journey. I used my very first transcription with Grain when I published an interview featuring actor Clayton Snyder. As a writer and researcher, there are many more projects filling up my unlimited library. Learn more about this wonderful transcription service by visiting Grain.com!

The Even Stevens Movie (2003)

The Even Stevens Movie (2003)

In 2003, Ren Stevens and Lizzie McGuire both graduated from junior high school. Lizzie tripped and fell. Ren was covered in Beans’ spaghetti. It was the end of an era. The Lizzie McGuire Movie hit theaters in May 2003, Even Stevens finished its final season that June, and The Even Stevens Movie aired on Disney Channel later in the month. The adventure was written by Marc Warren and Dennis Rinsler, directed by Sean McNamara. While it would have been fun to see the Stevens family on the big screen for their last hoorah, they will always have the distinction of being in the Disney Channel Original Movie canon, something that the McGuires don’t have. As I rewatched The Even Stevens Movie, I enjoyed the subtle familiarity between the series and the DCOM. Not just the characters and their personalities, but also the comical sound effects and musical cues, and the zaniness of the story.

After Ren’s graduation ceremony, her boyfriend Gil dumps her at a pancake house. She’s so sad and out of sorts that she agrees to babysit Beans. Naturally, he’s packed a suitcase full of bacon and is planning to spend a few weeks with the Stevens family while his parents are in Finland. Louis is planning to sit on his butt all summer in a lawn chair that serves him food and drinks. This is consistent — remember that time in Season 1 when he signed up to lay in a bed for days on end?

The relationship has developed a bit between him and Tawny, and it’s good to see her in the Stevens’ backyard with Twitty and Tom. Eileen is still a senator, but Steve is “between prominent law firms,” in keeping with the end of the series. In the midst of these family updates, we cut to a mysterious fellow crossing names off a list. This is Miles McDermott (Tim Meadows), the host of a reality series called Family Fakeout. He goes after the Stevens family and gets them to agree to a free vacation on the island of Mandolino. They have no idea that Miles is taking them just off the California coast to exploit them on a reality show with hidden cameras. What’s supposed to be a luxurious getaway quickly turns into a nightmare. Louis enters a forbidden room and pulls a lever (he thinks it’s a footrest) that destroys the group’s entire lodging. No food, no clothes, no shower… it’s going to be a long week.

One of the best parts of this film is when Twitty and Tawny are sailing out to help the Stevens crew. Tom takes them on his boat but reaches a stopping point on the water and tells his friends, “Oh, you can just hop on my dinghy.” They take the dinghy to shore. Twitty sold out Louis and his family in the first place, so he feels obligated to make things right.

I’ll admit that I’ve asked myself what else the Stevenses would have done for their DCOM if they hadn’t gone on this faux vacation and gotten stranded. But I don’t think there’s a better TV family to go on a trip like this and lose their marbles. The Brady Bunch Hawaii saga comes to mind, but that was a real, planned vacation (well, Mike’s business trip) within the context of the show. I wonder what the Bradys would think of Beans passing gas on the duration of the flight.

Rena and Mootai; Tawny, Donnie, Eileen, Twitty, Beans, Steve

Even though it’s part of the “fakeout,” Ren’s budding romance with “Mootai” is very sweet. Here’s one other thing I love: the Stevens family may be silly, but they’re not stupid. After being driven apart by Miles’ reality TV schemes, Steve and Eileen figure out that they’ve been duped. The parents are able to fight back, help Ren and Louis reconcile, and make Miles the center of his own joke. That’s where Dave Coulier comes in. He plays Miles’ rival, Lance LeBow, the host of a prank show called “Gotcha” that Louis was watching at the beginning of the film. Ren pretends to throw Louis into the ocean with her spear, bringing Miles to his knees in despair. No one’s faking out this family! We end with normalcy restored to the Stevens household, including Donnie’s college football career, more shenanigans for Louis, and a new boyfriend for Ren (Mootai, “whose real name is Jason,” Beans says).

I’ll add that I appreciate watching a true ensemble DCOM. The entire family was always included on Even Stevens, but obviously, Ren and Louis took center stage in the series. We get to see everyone work together in the feature film because they must join forces to survive. Pitting Steve, Ren, and Beans against Eileen, Donnie, and Louis brings out everyone’s individual personalities in a fun way. And to end with Ren singing “Dream Vacation?” I want that Even Stevens soundtrack! Almost 20 years later, it was fun to jet off into the kooky world of The Even Stevens Movie. Revisit it on Disney+ and tell us what you think.

Smart House (1999)

Smart House (1999)

Smart House (written by Stu Krieger and William Hudson, directed by LeVar Burton, produced by Alan Sacks) is one DCOM that truly defines the legacy of the brand. I believe I’ve read most articles analyzing the technology of the movie. They all discuss how much of the film’s artificial intelligence has become our reality 15 or 20 years after Smart House premiered. There’s a reason we talk about this movie so much. I think it’s because we were so intrigued by the wonders of the house and its virtual mother, PAT (Personal Applied Technology). We immediately loved Ryan Merriman in his first DCOM outing. As Ben Cooper, Merriman nails the stoicism but also reveals emotional depth. Ben and his sister Angie (Katie Volding) live with their father, Nick (Kevin Kilner), as their mother has passed away. Ben is a 13-year-old Mr. Mom, constantly taking care of his dad and sister so that their family unit doesn’t change anymore. He specifically doesn’t want his dad to date or remarry. Ben thinks his dream is coming true when he wins a smart home for his family.

Smart House poster with PAT, Nick, Ben, and Angie

PAT seems so cool at first, providing endless smoothies, information, and entertainment to the Coopers. The living room walls transform to offer safari atmospheres and ocean views. Similarly, Ben and Angie can relax in their rooms with music videos or basketball games playing on the walls (Angie jumping on the bed to the tune of “C’est La Vie” is the best). But Ben becomes increasingly upset when Nick is interested in Sara Barnes, the Smart House creator. Sara is delightfully quirky and knows everything about the home’s artificial intelligence that she programmed. Well, almost everything.

In the most poignant scene, Ben watches an old home video of his mother in the kitchen with him and Angie when they were young, singing “Hush Little Baby.” As he relives this moment, Ben begins to cry, and even a machine like PAT understands that he is sad. The action of the movie builds with interconnected emotional complexities for Ben, and technological complications for PAT. Becoming more severe about his father’s dating life, Ben sneaks into the control center and programs PAT to be more like sitcom moms of the 1950s and ’60s. As nostalgic as this movie is for millennials, it’s fun to remember that a dose of nostalgia was slipped in for the parents in ’99. The titles Ben instructs PAT to review are smart parodies of real sitcoms: Mother Knows Best instead of Father Knows Best (1954-1960); My Three Moms instead of My Three Sons (1960-1972); Make Room for Momma instead of Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show (1953-1965); and Noah’s MatriARK instead of Noah’s Ark (1956-1957). “These ladies will teach you everything a virtual mother needs to know,” Ben tells PAT.

PAT listens a little too closely. She transforms into an extreme caricature of an old-fashioned housewife, giving Ben a cold steak to nurse his wound after a bully hurts him. PAT imposes stricter rules on the entire family, too. Angie has to take a sweater to school when it’s not cold, Ben must pull up his shorts, Nick can’t place a personal call until he has finished his work for the day. Thankfully, in the midst of tightening her regime, PAT recognizes that the Cooper family could use some good clean fun. She learns from the Music Party Channel (stylized to look like MTV) that “young people” like to dance and let loose. This is why we get Ben’s iconic party scene where he and his friends pull out their boy band moves for “Slam Dunk (Da Funk)” by Five. The girls are invited, including Ben’s adorable crush, Gwen. These dance moves continue to impress me. PAT also schools Ben’s’ bully and sends him running for the hills.

As my fellow DCOM enthusiasts certainly remember, PAT gets out of hand with her mothering and reaches a crescendo at the end of Smart House. She’s been merely a voice for the majority of the film, but Katey Sagal finally brings PAT to life as a frightening June Cleaver-esque hologram gone wrong. She swirls like a tornado, multiplies herself, and creates a dangerous environment for the Coopers. Ben and Sara team up to restore order to the household, and PAT returns to her role as a manageable technological feature in the closing scene. What I love about Smart House is its oddly comforting quality. PAT should have terrified me growing up — and she certainly became scary — but more than anything, I quickly knew that I had found a movie I loved. My whole family loved watching this one with me. It inspired imagination about the future, all while becoming such a core part of my past. Hearing the song “Jump, jump, the house is jumpin'” just makes me happy, no matter how many times I’ve heard it.

Zapped (2014)

Zapped (2014)

I remembered very little about this DCOM, so I don’t think I actually saw it in 2014. The second Zendaya DCOM after Frenemies, Zapped is all about a high school girl named Zoey who gains three stepbrothers after her mother remarries. Come to think of it, I really need to rewatch Life with Derek (blended family where two sisters gain three step-siblings). Though Zapped was co-produced with MarVista Entertainment, it is still classified as a Disney Channel Original Movie. (For example, 16 Wishes was also produced in conjunction with MarVista but was not considered a DCOM.) Zapped was inspired by the novel Boys are Dogs by Leslie Margolis, and the film was directed by Peter DeLuise, who also directed 16 Wishes. You’d recognize his brothers, too — David was the dad on Wizards of Waverly Place, and Michael was T.J. on Gilmore Girls.

Zendaya brings the right energy to her role. Zoey is supposed to be upset that her perfect life is being disrupted by three loud, messy brothers and their father. Living with them and their hungry dog is a huge adjustment for her, so she often loses patience. To be fair, her new family could be a lot more considerate and should make more of an effort to clean up after themselves. The film opens as Zoey is making a toast at her mom’s wedding. In their clumsiness, the brothers and their dog set off a domino effect of spills and trips that leave Zoey drenched in chocolate. Things aren’t much better at home, and when Zoey arrives at her new school, she can’t stand the boys there, either.

Zapped movie poster with Zendaya and Spencer Boldman

Zoey doesn’t fit in with the persnickety girls on the dance team, even though dance is her passion. She makes a friend named Rachel who is stereotypically “boy-crazy,” for lack of a better term. It’s kind of absurd. Even when they pass gas intentionally, fail to shower, or never wear shirts, Rachel is all about the boys. In another mishap with one of her stepbros, Zoey’s phone gets wet and lands in a bowl of dog food. It’s time for a DCOM Suspension of Disbelief. The smartphone is chemically altered to give Zoey special powers when she downloads a dog obedience app. Instead of giving commands to dogs, Zoey can command any male to obey her every wish. She takes full advantage of the app at home, instructing her stepdad to be quieter (he’s a boisterous basketball coach) and bringing out the gentler, cleaner, more careful side of each stepbrother.

Zoey then takes her powers to school, using the phone to control all the boys, except for the one she has a huge crush on, Jackson. Over a few days, Zoey has a school full of thoughtful guys who do yoga and practice chivalry. She goes too far when she digitally transforms a group of uncoordinated dancers before using them to try out for the dance team. The dance team villain, played by ZOMBIES’ Emilia McCarthy, tries to take Zoey’s powers for herself, but Zoey and her family help break the spell of obedience at the end, during a big game. We see them going for a run together as family after that.

Obviously, there’s a message here about men. If you look at the description of the original book the film was lightly based on, author Leslie Margolis’ characters are elementary schoolers. After the main character turns the guys into dogs, it seems that she turns the mean girls into cats (that one is called Girls Acting Catty). As a standalone movie, though, Zapped basically declares that boys are terrible. 2014 was almost a decade ago, but even then, it’s a little odd to place such old-fashioned “boys will be boys” expectations on an entire high school of males. Thankfully, we do start to see nuances in specific characters, even while they are under Zoey’s influence. I love Zendaya and enjoyed her performance, especially the dance team scenes (ironically, she had just come off her dance-themed show, Shake It Up). I think it would be interesting to see how this movie would change if filmed today, to offer a broader spectrum of gender expressions and personalities.