The Suite Life Movie (2011)

The Suite Life Movie (2011)

I watched The Suite Life Movie shortly after Estelle Harris passed away. I have thought about how wonderful it would have been for Muriel to have continued on more of the Suite Life journey (she was only on the first season of the first show). With that, I wonder what it would have been like to see her pop up in this movie. More on that later.

The Suite Life Movie was directed by Sean McNamara and aired in March 2011, just a couple months before The Suite Life on Deck aired its final episode. So it followed the standard Disney Channel model in that respect — usually, series finale movies aired a little before the episodes themselves ran out. Additionally, the stories in these particular DCOMs aren’t often too dependent on what’s going on within individual episodes. The Suite Life Movie tells a story of its own, set during spring break of senior year for Zack, Cody, Bailey, Woody, and London. In the beginning of the film, Cody is agonizing over how to share some tough news with Bailey. Instead of spring-breaking with her, he is choosing to go do an internship that will prepare him for Yale. Zack wants to break the news to her on Cody’s behalf, provided that Cody gives Zack his car. Cody’s not on board with this plan, but Zack tells Bailey the news anyway. She is quite upset about it, understandably.

The Suite Life Movie - movie: watch streaming online

Cody, Zack, Moseby and London go check out Cody’s science internship. Zack sabotages everything, no surprise. He goes into a restricted area (it’s a trap!), illegally rides in a powerful submarine, drags Cody into it, and gets Cody terminated from his internship. The internship director, Dr. Spaulding, places Cody with someone else, Dr. Olsen. Olsen’s baby is Project Gemini, a huge experiment on twins. Ergo, Zack must be part of the deal. Cody isn’t pleased, but it’s the only way to get an internship. The boys quickly realize that something fishy is happening. They are forced to eat “Corsican fruit” and bond with one another. If you know anything about Zack and Cody, you know that they sometimes butt heads. Project Gemini is supposed to make them more agreeable, they’re told. But it’s gonna do a lot more than that! The twins discover that Dr. Olsen wants to merge them into one person and destroy Cody’s big brain. DUN DUN DUN. 

We Really Need To Talk About "The Suite Life Movie" — The Best DCOM Of All  Time

Naturally, they try to stop the evil plot, but the villain overhears them and reveals himself. Everything that makes them who they are is about to be taken away. The twins are desperate to preserve themselves, so the rest of the movie involves robot-like twins chasing Zack and Cody. Bailey, London, Woody, and Moseby have been scarce throughout this tale, but upon learning that danger is imminent, they try to help. It turns out that Dr. Olsen is Dr. Spaulding’s evil twin in disguise. Olsen presses his button to try to merge Zack and Cody, but the twins argue too much, so they override the procedure. 

And now, here’s what I would have done with this movie: brought back old series regulars! Imagine a Suite Life finale movie that tipped its hat to the fans with appearances from characters gone by, even if it was only Carey Martin and Arwin! That would have been fun! I’m not knocking the story of this movie (or its apparent setting of the Pacific Northwest), as it was kind of interesting to see Cody and Zack slowly grow closer together and fight to maintain their individuality. However, I think a madcap dash in some bright locale would have been very satisfying. There’s a lot of travel throughout the series when they’re On Deck, so maybe it didn’t make sense to go to yet another country for a zippy adventure. But it’s already a little disorienting to see multi-cam sitcom characters in a single-cam TV movie (for me, anyway). I think a lighter story that involved more characters could have been so fun. If you’ve seen this film, I’d love to hear your thoughts. This was the first time I ever watched the movie in full, and I’m glad I finally have!

Save the Dog! (1988) & Chips, the War Dog (1990)

Save the Dog! (1988) & Chips, the War Dog (1990)

There’s no way I could forget Save the Dog! This Disney Channel Premiere Film (directed by Paul Aaron) is a wild goose chase like none I’ve ever seen. The movie is all about this single woman named Becky (Cindy Williams) who wants to be an actress. She’s got a trusty agent (played by Katherine Helmond) but not a lot of job prospects. Becky’s best pal is her pooch, Petey. Tragically, Petey needs a life-saving operation that Becky truly can’t afford.

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Becky goes around collecting as much money as she can from friends, but she’s still coming up short, so she gets a job as a courier and begs for her supervisor to pay her in advance. If Becky can get a day’s worth of letters delivered, she can save the dog. But of course, it’s not that simple. Becky has gotten herself a real callback for a commercial she auditioned for — but she’s busy working her tail off all over town and can’t be reached, so she doesn’t even know she’s been selected!

It would be much more interesting for you to watch this movie than for me to tell you about every little mishap on Becky’s big day. But before checking this out, you should probably know that she unexpectedly spends some time in a dumpster with a felon. And in all seriousness, she does come up with the money to pay for her dog’s procedure. I can’t say this is my favorite Disney Channel Premiere Film so far, but it sure is unique.

Moving on now to Chips, the War Dog, directed by Ed Kaplan and based on a true story. This 1990s DCPF is exactly what it sounds like. In fact, it might be one of the most self-explanatory movies I’ve ever seen. German Shepherd Chips is a regular family dog at the beginning of the film, beloved by a mom, dad, and two cute kids. The thing is, Chip is a troublemaker, and because neighbors have complained so much, the canine is on his last chance before being taken away. But what would be better for straightening him out than some military training? When the opportunity arises, Chips leaves his family to become a war dog (in WWII).

Chips, the War Dog (TV Movie 1990) - IMDb

At training, a new recruit named Danny Stauffer is assigned to work with Chip. This is supposed to help him get over his fear of dogs. He and Chips don’t exactly hit it off, and the higher-ups are ready to send Chips away to focus on other dogs. Danny comes to believe that Chips can rise to the occasion, so he secretly keeps Chips on site and does not release him as he was ordered to. Every night, Danny stays up late helping Chips train. He even collects extra meat from lunch to help the dog keep up his strength.

Danny and Chips are a last resort for their team, so Chips is allowed to stay and get to work. Right away, the German Shepherd sniffs out a bomb. Sadly, Danny’s comrade Mitch has to watch his own training dog die in action. I won’t further detail these scenes, but Chips does just fine, and he gets the opportunity to live with his old family again. Chips is too attached to Danny, though, so the family kindly gives him back. In 2018, the real Chips was posthumously honored with the Dickin Medal. He had attacked an enemy and removed the soldier’s gun in 1943. Back then, Chips survived burns and wounds and went back to civilian life. He’ll always be remembered as a hero.

I thought I’d put these two movies together to illustrate how important dogs are in Disney Channel history. We’ve got a lot more dog movies to go between Premiere Films and DCOMs! 

The Old Curiosity Shop (1995), The Little Riders (1996)

The Old Curiosity Shop (1995), The Little Riders (1996)

I have two stories of grandparents and grandchildren that I thought would make sense in one post. They were both directed by Kevin Connor and debuted in the final couple of years of Disney Channel Premiere Films. The Old Curiosity Shop is the three-hour movie I admittedly feared on my March roster. Once I got into the Dickens adaptation, I found it suspenseful and moving. Young Nell (a pre-teen) lives with her grandfather, a sweet man who owns a curio shop and has a gambling addiction. His lender, Quilp, is angrily awaiting money back and threatens to take the grandfather to an insane asylum if he doesn’t pay. 

The Old Curiosity Shop (1995) - Where to Watch It Streaming Online |  Reelgood

Grandfather and Nell craft a plan and escape while Quilp is sleeping, leaving a note with Nell’s friend Kit. From there, they run all over London, narrowly missing a frightful capture along the way. Spurious carnival workers doing a Punch & Judy show persuade Nell and her grandpa to join them, but the shady characters do not have their new friends’ best interests at heart. Nell and her grandpa are on the run once again, meeting a kindly curate who gives them shelter. As they depart and continue their travels, Nell becomes progressively weaker. Quilp has informants on the lookout, and on advice from a spy, he finally begins chasing after Nell and her grandfather himself. But Grandfather and Nell eventually find their way back to the friendly curate at his new post. It is there that Nell dies, so her great-uncle is too late when he tries to come to the rescue. Per D23, the movie was shot in Ireland, mostly at Dublin’s Ardmore Studios. Also: “The streets of Dickensian London, as well as Quilp’s wharf and dockland, were built entirely for the production and then burned to the ground as part of the film’s dramatic conclusion.” After not catching Grandfather, Quilp burns down his own property. As I said, this is a three-hour film, so please watch it for yourself, as I’ve not mentioned all the characters or plot points in great detail.

Though the ending was terribly sad, I enjoyed the suspense in the rest of The Old Curiosity Shop, and I might even read the Dickens text before going on a trip to the UK this summer! Now, on to The Little Riders, which was based on a book by Margaretha Shemin and filmed in the Netherlands. We have Noley Thornton (who also played Heidi in 1993) as Joanne Hunter, an American living with her Dutch grandparents in Holland. In World War II time, Nazis are terrorizing everyone in the village. To make matters worse, Joanne has to live with one, as a soldier is sent to board in her grandparents’ home. 

Little Riders

The soldier, Lt. Braun, is clearly conflicted about his duties to kill and destroy human beings and their heritage. His captain instructs him to demolish the Dutch stained glass in the community church. Lt. Braun doesn’t understand why this is necessary. One line from the captain captures the crux of the Nazi mentality that is depicted in the film: “By killing the enemy’s soldiers, or by killing the enemy’s spirit, we play the same game, Lieutenant.” This horrid mantra translates to the captain’s orders demanding that Joanne’s grandfather destroy yet another piece of the Dutch spirit: the Little Riders. These are statuettes of men on horseback, built to ride at the chime of the town clock. Joanne and her grandparents decide to defy the orders and save the Little Riders by removing them from the clocktower until the Nazis depart. This is a dangerous plan, and Joanne is instrumental in hiding the statues in her grandparents’ home. Lt. Braun catches her in the act and decides to help her.

The captain retaliates by demanding that several men in the town be put to death, unless the thief of the Little Riders comes forward. Joanne’s grandfather volunteers to be shot, but Lt. Braun comes up with a plan to save the man’s life. He pretends to kill Joanne’s grandfather, then rides out of the town with his comrades and faces his own death.

What troubles me about this film is the act of sympathizing with a Nazi character. That is a complicated direction to go in, and since the Lieutenant dies and the movie ends, we don’t get to see what other choices he might have made down the road. I also would like to note that I watched three World War II era Disney Channel Premiere Films in the month of March alone. I wonder why this was such a popular historical subject for period pieces in the 1990s. If you decide to watch The Little Riders, let me know. Noley Thornton is a great actress, and I look forward to seeing her in Heidi.

Cow Belles (2006)

Cow Belles (2006)

Aly & AJ have been one of the most enduring groups to come out of 2000s Disney Channel. Today, they have tons of newer music, they’re touring, they’re creating art to reflect who they are now. But in 2006, they were fresh off their debut album, Into the Rush, and Aly’s show with Raviv Ullman, Phil of the Future, would come to an end. The sisters were a valued and beloved part of the Radio Disney/Disney Channel circle, so Cow Belles was a smart move on Disney’s part.

Cow Belles (TV Movie 2006) - IMDb

I could wax philosophic about the riches-to-rags trope (or compare this movie to the Duff sisters’ Material Girls, like I’ve done before), but what I’d like to highlight is the fact that this movie still rocks. In case you’ve never seen it, here’s a quick rundown: Wealthy older sister Taylor Callum (Aly) inadvertently drowns her hot driving teacher’s truck in a pond. She and younger sis Courtney (AJ) accidentally burn their kitchen when they hastily leave for a shopping trip. Their dad, the head of a dairy corporation, lowers the boom and forces them to work all summer while he goes on a butterfly expedition. Said expedition was arranged by dad’s begrudging business partner, who steals all the company’s money. Taylor and Courtney become working girls, out on the assembly line every day, and Taylor decides to step up and help the dairy pay its workers following the stolen money incident. This means that she must use the $25,000 set aside for her sister’s cotillion. Courtney is initially furious, but she decides that helping people is more important than a country club party. Taylor needs more money for the dairy workers’ paychecks, so she then sells her car (that belonged to her now-deceased mother).

I can’t relate to the thousands of dollars in cotillion money, but I’m honestly not sure I’d be willing to sell my car (especially if I didn’t live in a very walkable city). But the point is, these teenagers learn to become selfless and show kindness when it is most needed. Whatever you think about that, you can’t deny the adorable relationship blossoming between Taylor and Jackson, the guy whose truck she totaled. One of their kisses is interrupted by the Callums’ housekeeper, but I suppose the channel had to leave some room for Jesus. They still have their other moment out in the field after Taylor helps with the birthing of a calf.

We get so many golden, laugh-out-loud bits in this film, and I continually find joy in it. There’s this French exchange student, Philippe, that Courtney has the hots for. He’s supposed to be her cotillion date. In one scene, they’re talking on the phone while Philippe is doing bicep curls, and it just makes me giggle with glee. The two are meant to have a spotlight dance at the big party, but of course, Courtney’s money has gone to the dairy employees. They rally together to celebrate making it through tough times.

The Callum sisters’ generosity doesn’t solve everything… including a little spoilt milk. Luckily, their dad comes home from butterfly hunting and persuades the country club people to help the dairy remake all their products. A little far-fetched, maybe. But still a cute ending. I’d like to believe people would leave a party to help community members. I was in middle school when the movie debuted, and it made a big impression on me. My sister and I would watch it frequently, and we got to rewatch it together recently with our mom. This charming film includes the Aly & AJ classic “On the Ride,” from their first album. Cow Belles was directed by Francine McDougall and written by Stu Krieger and Matt Dearborn. Watch it for heartfelt delight!

Right on Track (2003)

Right on Track (2003)

Many of the DCOMs I’m rewatching are DCOMs that I’ve previously revisited since I’ve had Disney+. That wasn’t the case with Right on Track, and honestly, I forgot exactly how good this movie is! Like Double Teamed, the film is based on the real-life careers of sister athletes. The two movies came out about a year apart, proving the popular thought that girl power messaging was strong in the early 2000s (also, we got Motocrossed back in 2001).  Right on Track was written by Sally Nemeth and Bruce Graham, and directed by Duwayne Dunham (who also directed Double Teamed and many other DCOM greats). The movie stars Beverly Mitchell as Erica Enders and Brie Larson as Courtney Enders; both Enders sisters were junior drag racers. Per ESPN, the real siblings continued to excel in athletics, including racing and volleyball, which lines up with Erica’s high school story in the movie.

Right on Track (TV Movie 2003) - IMDb

Courtney and Erica stepped in to do stunts for Brie and Beverly in Right on Track, and you actually see Erica cameo as the racer girl all the guys are fawning over. This is moments after Courtney is seen laughing in a circle of other girls. Courtney told ESPN in 2015, “The characters are real, the sport was real, the competitiveness was real. The family aspect of it was real. But when it comes to the little things like the crash, the rivalries — we did have some rivalries — but the movie portrayed us to be absolutely hated, and that wasn’t true. The thing we struggled with most was they wanted a hardship in the script, and to be honest, we didn’t have one. We had a really great experience with it, a great childhood, and we had no hardship until (chuckles) we became adults.” Hey, you’ve gotta have a little drama in your DCOM.

It’s sweet that the film begins with the sisters in their younger years, then segueing to the teenage Courtney and Erica. While we see Brie shine as bubbly go-getter Courtney, the movie’s focus is more on Beverly’s Erica, who is trying to balance her love for racing with her desire to be a regular high school girl. These girls are fierce when they’re racing, and Erica is determined to beat competitor Jordy Knowlton and his rude father. Gregg Enders, her dad, is very supportive and never forces either girl to race — Erica even quits at one point (after she and Courtney get sponsorships from Pennzoil!), but she can’t stay away. Erica has some good conversations throughout the film with her dad’s right-hand, Randy, who is played by Movie Surfer Marcus Toji. Randy is Erica’s date to an ice skating gathering, but when he broaches the subject of dating, Erica says she views him more as a brother. It’s Todd from school that she really has eyes for. But the nice thing is, this isn’t one of those cases where the popular dude is totally superficial. Todd is actually a nice guy, helping Erica with her French studies (totally flirting) and stopping by her house with a large teddy bear.

Despite Jordy’s dad’s attempts to sabotage her, Erica finishes the movie with a big win that leaves a frustrated Jordy saying underneath his helmet, “I can’t believe this!” The cool thing is, Erica is still killing it as a drag racer (NHRA Pro Stock world champion — she was the first female titleholder). Courtney is the brand manager of Erica Enders Racing.

I have to finish with the obvious acknowledgement that we all knew Beverly Mitchell from 7th Heaven when she did this DCOM. She was first seen in the spiritual family drama in 1996, and Beverly was one of the only Camden siblings to see it through to the end in 2007. It’s cool that in the middle of her 11 seasons as Lucy Camden, she took on such an important Disney Channel role. I think she did a great job with it, and I’m so glad I had the chance to spend some time with Right on Track.

Going to the Mat (2004)

Going to the Mat (2004)

Chronologically, this is the last of the Andy Lawrence DCOMs to date. It is directed by Stuart Gillard and features a roster of writers including one of my favorites, Stu Krieger! Going to the Mat is also the only Disney Channel Original Movie to focus on blind characters. Lawrence plays Jace Newfield, a New York City kid who has to move to a small town in the Midwest with his family. (I forgot that this movie opens with the sound of a giant pipe organ.) Jace is a musician who loves to tear it up on the drumset, so of course he joins band class at his new school. His teacher Mr. Wyatt, played by Wayne Brady, is blind like Jace.

Jace and the popular guys don’t exactly hit it off. They ridicule him with awful jokes, and Jace makes fun of them for being country kids. He even calls John “John-Boy,” getting a nice reference to The Waltons in there. Ironically, Jace and John wind up having a symbiotic relationship. The wrestling coach’s daughter, Mary Beth, has been assigned to help Jace get acclimated at school. Mary Beth encourages Jace to join the wrestling team, and he decides to go for it. John helps Jace train, and Jace helps John pass Spanish class. The coach is not very nice about Jace’s interest in the team, even though it was his daughter’s idea. She’s one of the sweetest parts of the movie, even pitching in to help Jace with his coordination by giving him dancing lessons. After the dancing, there’s a pretty steamy (but again, sweet) scene where Jace touches her face in the midst of a romantic moment. They even have a full-on kiss later, and that does NOT happen in every DCOM.

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In the midst of Jace’s efforts to train for wrestling, he has a heart to heart with his music teacher, Mr. Wyatt. Jace explains that he “wanted to be part of one thing where [his] disability was totally irrelevant,” and that he doesn’t want to be a stereotype by leaning into his musical abilities. Mr. Wyatt levels with Jace and says that life does not get any easier, that he is different. “People listen to the music you make. Play it so that they can see you for who you really are,” the music teacher offers. Jace continues to learn from Mr. Wyatt, who encourages him to be brave in the face of growing up.

I’ll be honest that I am not your resident wrestling expert, but it’s evident that Jace gradually improves in the sport, finally securing a spot for his team in the state championship. And the final scene is the picture of DCOM goodness: Jace and Mary Beth slow-dancing in the gym. While Going to the Mat might not be in my top 10 — it has a lot of competition — I appreciate the film and Lawrence’s performance. From Horse Sense to this one, he’s a real DCOM MVP.

Buffalo Dreams (2005)

Buffalo Dreams (2005)

I like to think of 2005 as the calm before the storm in Disney Channel time. Sure, they were already quite successful, but as far as DCOMs go, High School Musical was about to make its mark in 2006. And on the series side, Hannah Montana was an instant hit, too. But before all that, there was Buffalo Dreams, directed by David Jackson and written by Marjorie Nielsen Schwartz.

Buffalo Dreams

Buffalo Dreams is the one and only DCOM with a Native American focus. One of the main characters, Thomas Blackhorse (Simon R. Baker), and his family are Navajo. Ever since Thomas’s parents died, his sister Scout will only communicate with sign language. She works with Thomas and his friend Moon every day preserving the buffalo. Meanwhile, city boy Josh Townsend (Reiley McClendon) moves to their New Mexico town with his parents (George Newbern from Father of the Bride and Jane Sibbett from Friends). The dad is a researcher, and Josh is supposed to go with him to the lab for a summer job, but Josh Xeroxes his face (classic 2000s prank) and decides to work on the buffalo preserve instead. 

Josh starts to become close to Thomas, Scout, and Moon. He earns their trust, swimming with them under a secret, sacred waterfall. Josh breaks that trust by showing the swimming spot to the local bullies, who mock Navajo customs. This is one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking examples of cool vs. uncool — Josh mistakenly thinks these bullies are cool, so he wants them to like him. After that backfires, Josh and Thomas are sent on a camping trip at Thomas’s grandfather’s behest, where they each have visions. Thomas is transported to a moment in Indigenous history, where his grandfather tells him “the land is a part of [him],” made of himself “and who [he’ll] become.” Meanwhile, Josh tells an eagle, “This place is too whack for me.” After he and the eagle chat about bird spirits, Josh starts to fly. Both kids feel out of place in different ways. Thomas isn’t so into Navajo traditions, and Josh is still finding his niche.

Josh decides to beat the bullies once and for all in a mountain bike race, but he makes himself sick by training too hard in the rain. When the day of the race comes, local radio personality Domino (Cheetah Girl Adrienne Bailon) announces every move, but Josh ultimately has to help his pals herd the buffalo. The only way to calm the creatures is to sing “Lean on Me,” and it always works. That’s when Scout sings for the first time in the movie.

We end with a celebration at Thomas’s grandparents’ home, showing Thomas and Josh to be true friends. I hope they stayed close in the Buffalo Dreams universe, preserving the land and livening up the community. I talked about this film with my friends Shane and Vicky on their podcast last year, so please check out DCOM Clubhouse if you want to hear more. Buffalo Dreams is streaming on Disney+!

Alley Cats Strike (2000)

Alley Cats Strike (2000)

What is it about a certain group that makes us call them “cool”? In both life and DCOMs, coolness seems kind of arbitrary. Unfortunately, “the cool kids” are often the ones that make fun of their peers and tear people down. That’s exactly what we see in a classic DCOM, Alley Cats Strike. Despite the coolness complex, I do enjoy this movie, and it’s one of the earliest DCOM memories I have.

Alley Cats Strike photo logo

Directed by Rod Daniel and written by Gregory Pincus, Alley Cats Strike is a bowling DCOM starring pre-Cheetah Girls Kyle Schmid and Cousin Skeeter’s Robert Ri’chard. Schmid plays “retro kid” Alex Thompson, whose friend group is made up of fellow bowlers Elisa (Kaley Cuoco), Delia (Mimi Paley), and Ken (Joey Wilcots). Ri’chard plays popular jock Todd McLemore, whose posse includes Laura Vandervoort as Lauren. Todd’s whole life is sports, and he’s encouraged by his mayor father (Tim Reid, who is married in real life to his movie wife, Daphne Maxwell-Reid). As explained in the beginning of the movie, Todd and his West Appleton High basketball buddies are out to win the Mighty Apple trophy. They have to beat East Appleton in a big game in order to take home the prize, but the basketball game ends in a tie. So, no trophy yet.

I’m not sure how junior high sports work, but it seems kind of strange that the tie-breaking procedure doesn’t even involve basketball… Instead of a rematch, the schools have to compete against each other in bowling, with the trophy finally going to the bowling champions. It turns out that Todd’s friends signed him up for the bowling club as a joke, so he has to join Alex, Elisa, Delia, and Ken in the fight for victory. The group is none too thrilled about having to spend extended amounts of time with Todd the “golden boy.” Alex starts to think he has a spot in the popular crowd, partying with Todd and his friends, appearing on the radio with Todd, and even ditching Ken, Delia, and Elisa. But in a very sad scene, Todd’s friends and girlfriend start saying mean things about Alex, wishing they didn’t have to hang out with him. Standing just around the corner, Alex hears every word.

This is a pretty small town, and it turns out that Todd and Alex’s dads once had a falling-out over sports. Two things ultimately bring things to a boil for Alex: not only is the Apple trophy at stake; a new school is being built, and the winning town will get to choose the name. Additionally, the team is given crappy t-shirts to compete in. Alex becomes so frustrated that he temporarily quits on his team. Eventually, he and Todd are able to patch things up, and with Delia’s genius slow-bowling technique, they win the game. The new school will be called “Appleton Central,” at the team’s request. Another bonus is that business at the bowling alley is booming just weeks after Alex’s dad was in danger of having to close the place down. It’s nice to see that the popular music of the day finally coexists with the Rat Pack style that Alex and his friends love. There’s nothing like a good DCOM party, whether you’re in the movie or watching at home!

The Luck of the Irish (2001)

The Luck of the Irish (2001)

The Luck of the Irish is one of those DCOMs that you probably think of quickly when scanning your mind for nostalgic Disney Channel films. Ryan Merriman had already charmed fans as Ben Cooper in Smart House, and he came to us as a slightly older basketball star, Kyle Johnson, in The Luck of the Irish. Kyle is desperate to discover his ancestry. That theme is rather relatable — I know I loved learning about family history and genealogy as a kid (still do!). But the difference is, Kyle’s parents have withheld every detail of their real past, simply telling their son that the family is “from Cleveland.”

DCOM-Luck-of-the-Irish

Kyle has a lucky coin that he wears around his neck. Because of this talisman, he is able to score in every game, ace every test without applying himself, and stay popular among his classmates. As you’ll often see in DCOMs, his best pals are one guy and one girl, teammate Russell and overachiever Bonnie, respectively. Bonnie sees Kyle at the library using some version of a search engine (this is 2001, so it had better be AskJeeves). She encourages Kyle to talk to his parents more about where he came from. That hasn’t been working, so he does some snooping through his dad’s old yearbook and finds out that his father went by a different name in school. 

Kyle and Russell also visit an Irish festival nearby because the poster shows a coin that looks just like Kyle’s. It’s at this festival that Kyle’s lucky coin is swapped for a dud. He brushes elbows with the culprit: stepdancer Seamus McTiernan. He also meets his maternal grandfather, Reilly O’Reilly, for the first time.

After losing his coin, Kyle starts to get shorter, and he becomes brutally unlucky at school. The ladies are no longer fawning over him, that’s for sure. Simultaneously, Kyle’s mom is transforming at home. She quits her “healthy” fad and starts making a hearty breakfast, while speaking with an Irish accent. The mom later appears as a leprechaun, and Kyle takes his investigation a step further by sneaking into his grandfather’s potato chip factory. After a big security chase, Kyle once again meets Reilly O’Reilly, and he explains his plight. The grandfather joins the family to help Kyle retrieve his coin from Seamus. It doesn’t go well, and Kyle and Seamus enter a bet that requires an epic sports duel. I have to say, I enjoyed the sports competition more on this rewatch than I ever have. It was fun to see Kyle try his hand at events he wasn’t familiar with, although I’m not sure how he got a point for breakdancing during the dance portion…

Kyle proves that he doesn’t need luck after all, winning the rematch against Seamus — the rematch being Kyle’s own high school basketball game. Seamus thinks he’s getting booted back to Ireland, but he misunderstood Kyle, who said that Seamus would live in Lake Erie if he lost (so finally, someone’s going to Cleveland for something). We then see what that school assembly scene at the beginning of the film was all about. It’s Heritage Day, and Kyle is ready to perform a stepdance and honor his ancestry. My favorite part of the whole movie is when he and Bonnie lead everyone in singing “This Land is Your Land.”

The Luck of the Irish (TV Movie 2001) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

While we know that there are stereotypes in this film, the script does acknowledge unfair treatment of Irish people in the U.S., and I like that importance is placed on understanding where we come from. It’s interesting to think about heritage as something we all have. I’m sure a few things would be different today, but I still view this as an important movie in the DCOM culture, and it brings back good childhood memories for a lot of us Disney Channel fans. The Luck of the Irish was directed by the great Paul Hoen, and the movie came into existence because the channel needed something to air for St. Patrick’s Day. I learned this from former Disney Channel scheduler Kimberly Luce, who shared that she had previously scheduled Darby O’Gill and the Little People for the holiday during March. It was time for a break from that 1959 film, so in a Disney Channel meeting, Luce shared an idea that ultimately became The Luck of the Irish.

If you rewatch it this year, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Spies (1993)

Spies (1993)

CW: This article includes discussions of war, death, bombing, and trauma.

Spies, directed by Kevin Connor, is one of the more obscure Disney Channel Premiere Films. I’m fortunate to have found it anywhere (even if it is YouTube) and think it is an interesting example of the historical fiction that landed somewhere between the true stories and the literary adaptations the channel made during this time.

The year is 1942. Shiloh Strong plays Harry Prescott, a 12-year-old who lives with his father and sister. Harry’s brother Tom was killed while in the service, specifically in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Prescott family is hosting a brother and sister, Ned and Flo, evacuees of the London air raids who lost their home in a bombing. Flo is nonverbal and will not eat until the Prescotts provide her with bangers and mash. Ned, however, is very talkative and is interested in his new surroundings.

Ned and Flo, Disney Channel Spies

Harry begins to believe that several locals are German spies, and he is right about two of his suspects. He and Ned initially fight but then become close and work together to solve their mystery. Radio frequencies, suspicious boot footprints on the beach, and peculiar behaviors betray some of the culprits. Harry’s math tutor and her husband (Mr. and Mrs. Mills) are up to something, so Harry and Ned sneak into their home, match the boots with the footprint on the beach, and set out to uncover the spies. But in a near-fatal final act, the boys discover that their housekeeper, Mrs. Beale (Cloris Leachman), is in cahoots with the Millses. All three of the adults are plotting to assassinate President Roosevelt.

Mrs. Beale sets the boys up, sending them to the Mills residence for Harry’s math lesson. He’s instructed to start working before Mrs. Mills arrives. Of course, Ned and Harry use the time to find the villains’ lair — complete with the most ominous organ, a radio transmitter, maps, and more. Flo sneaks into the house behind her brother and Harry, hiding in a closet as Mr. and Mrs. Mills return home. The couple and Mrs. Beale ascend to the lair, tie up Harry and Ned, and set a bomb to go off in ten minutes. It’s up to Flo to save the boys — she frees them with only moments to spare. But then, Harry and Ned must go save President Roosevelt, so Flo agrees to tell Harry’s family what has happened.

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The last action scene of the film takes place at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where Roosevelt is making a speech. The Millses and Mrs. Beale are high up in the crow’s nest with their gun. Mrs. Mills is ready to shoot, but Harry and Ned stop her in her tracks, with Harry’s family arriving just in time. (She actually almost shoots the president, but she loses her footing, falls, and drops her gun.) President Roosevelt is safe, and he makes a special phone call to Harry Prescott, to express his appreciation for the boys saving his life. 

After spending my entire childhood and teen years watching Rider Strong in Boy Meets World reruns, it was great to discover that Shiloh led a Disney Channel movie once upon a time. He later directed his brother in many episodes of Girl Meets World, bringing him back to the channel. Shiloh Strong and the other child actors gave great performances in this film, and it was also nice to see the older sister develop a relationship with a young man in the service, who is planning to transfer. I’ve found a couple of Disney Channel promo video for Spies, but the only poster art I can find is one advertising the film dubbed in Spanish. Anyway, let me know if you decide to watch this one (or if you need help finding it).

Spies (TV Movie 1993) - IMDb