The Ultimate Christmas Present (2000)

The Ultimate Christmas Present (2000)

The Ultimate Christmas Present. Baby’s first Christmas DCOM. The incomparable BRENDA SONG’S first DCOM!! She plays best friend Samantha to Hallee Hirsch’s Allie. If you want to hear from Hallee Hirsch, she was on A.J. Trauth and Christopher Marquette’s podcast The Coogan Chronicles this year. Brenda Song continues to act, recently co-starring in Dollface and headlining a rom-com called Love Accidentally.

These two played middle school girls on the brink of their Christmas break in 2000. Samantha is more of a rule-follower, but Allie is a bad influence and is naturally mischievous. A cute kid named Blake is having a Christmas party, and Allie is focused on what she’ll be wearing for the event. As any Christmas DCOM fan knows, Allie and Samantha find their way to Santa’s Los Angeles headquarters (that’s a new one!), where Allie steals St. Nick’s weather machine. By bringing snow to sunny LA, she can get out of school earlier and avoid writing an essay.

Ultimate Christmas Present movie poster

I love the cast of this film. In addition to Brenda Song and Hallee Hirsch — who won Young Artist Awards for their work — we’ve got Hallie Todd as the mom, Spencer Breslin as little brother Joey, the late Peter Scolari as the greedy weatherman, and two all-star elves: former NBA champion John Salley, and the Patrick Star voice actor Bill Fagerbakke (who was also Harold the mummy in the original Under Wraps). Greg Beeman directed this DCOM after Under Wraps and Brink!

Though this film got mixed reviews, The Ultimate Christmas Present is a holiday tradition I value. Aside from the nostalgic charm, I’ve come to appreciate what makes this movie unique: It’s not everyday that a DCOM protagonist is a troublemaker — Allie is on Santa’s naughty list until she has a change of heart. When her wacky weather fiasco turns into a full-blown blizzard and her father might not have a way to get home for Christmas, Allie realizes that family is more important than breaking rules to miss school. Hallie Todd perfectly comforts the kids on Christmas morning. Santa and the elves help bring Dad home for a Christmas family snowball fight, and Edwin the weatherman has a new lease on life. He follows his dream all the way to the South Pole.

Mark Twain and Me (1991)

Mark Twain and Me (1991)

Inexplicably, Mark Twain and Me is the only Disney Channel Premiere Film available on Disney+. My only theory is that some executive really likes this movie and wanted it on there. Per The Baltimore Sun, this movie first aired on Disney Channel during one of their preview weekends, which were meant to attract new subscribers, and it was based on Dorothy Quick’s true story, Enchantment: A Little Girl’s Friendship with Mark Twain. The book was adapted by Cynthia Whitcomb, and Daniel Petrie directed the film, which won two Primetime Emmys.

Disney Mark Twain and Me: Mark and Dorothy

Dorothy (Amy Stewart) and Jason Robards (a darn-good Mark Twain) meet aboard the S.S. Minnetonka (supposedly, this picture here shows the real Dorothy and Samuel Clemens). Mark Twain and Dorothy Quick have a sort of mutual admiration for one another — she reveres his writings, and he loves having a little fan who looks up to him. Twain begins inviting the girl to his residences. Though it’s not shown in this movie, since he lived there much earlier in his life, I have been to Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Connecticut. It was fascinating to tour the house and see the rich decor in his living and dining areas, bedroom suites, and workspace. I saw similarities between that home and the ones depicted in the film, which are supposed to be in Redding, CT, and Bermuda. Robards captures the quiet emotion of Twain as he spends holidays with Dorothy. Two of those holidays are Christmases!

The first year she spends Christmas there, Twain’s daughter Jean tells Dorothy’s mother that the girl must not speak of Christmas, because Twain’s wife died during the holiday. I learned that this is an embellishment. Olivia Langdon Clemens died in June, not December. However, it is true that Jean died the following Christmas Eve. In the film, this takes place after her father has embraced the holiday and put up a tree and called carolers to come by and everything. Shortly before Jean’s death, Twain and Dorothy are walking in the woods, and he tells her, “Happiness is a strange thing. Grief can take care of itself. But to get the full value out of joy, you must have somebody to share it with.” Dorothy matches the sensitivity of her older friend, and the two enjoy their talks and their billiards. They even share a scene where they read Twain’s fan mail.

I won’t spoil the ending of this film, since it is readily available for you to watch on Disney+, and you may not have seen it yet! But I’ll tell you that the Christmas carolers still come. They sing “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” a song with “tidings of comfort and joy.”

Mark Twain and carolers in his window
Back Home (1990)

Back Home (1990)

Hayley Mills graced us with her talent in a second DCOM. Her first was The Parent Trap II in 1986, written by Stu Krieger. Then, after her role in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, she portrayed Peggy Dickinson in Back Home. Per the Tampa Bay Times, this Disney Channel Premiere film debuted on a four-day free preview window. That’s how the channel used to attract new subscribers when it was a pay cable service. Back Home was directed by Piers Haggard and based on a book by Michelle Magorian. David Wood adapted the text into a screenplay and was nominated for an Emmy. The film was produced by Disney Channel and the Verronmead production company.

This is the fourth World War II-era film I’ve watched from the Disney Channel Premiere Film catalogue, but this one quickly gets to the end of the war. Peggy’s daughter Virginia (Hayley Carr) has been living in the United States during wartime, but she’s now “back home” in England. She meets her brother Charlie for the first time and doesn’t recognize her father, a soldier, when he returns. While in America, Virginia picked up the nickname “Rusty,” which certainly doesn’t stick in England. British people in this movie are definitely stereotyped as being overly stuffy and strict. Rusty’s boarding school for girls is the worst. Her peers chide her for simply using the word “okay,” and only a boy at a nearby school will befriend her. He and Rusty discover an abandoned mansion, and she starts to decorate it to make it her retreat from school.

If I had adhered to my original plan, I would have watched this film on its anniversary date in June. I am glad I waited, since it’s now Christmastime and there’s a little Christmas celebration in the film. The tree is humble, but Rusty is so happy by the light of the fire as she opens up a pack of stencils — she uses these to paint the walls of her secret mansion. Unfortunately, the Christmas scene gives way to a brutal attempt of corporal punishment from Rusty’s uptight father toward her brother. One unusual aspect of this movie (for Disney Channel) is that the story implies that Mills’ character Peggy might have had a flirtation with an American soldier while her husband was away. We learn by the end of the film that he was just a friend, but still interesting to see the suggestion that it could have been something more.

The schoolgirls continue to treat Rusty horribly for having lived in the U.S., and she takes every weekend she can to go to her hideout. Rusty becomes sicker and sicker, ultimately running away. She is found and embraced by her mother. By the closing of the film, Hayley no longer has to attend boarding school, the dad has left his family (but comes to visit them), and Peggy and Rusty are getting along better than ever.

Though Hayley Mills herself came to America to act, not to evacuate, she had insightful things to say about her experience in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “As far as my own life was concerned, going over to America was a most wonderful holiday. It was like going to Disneyland. There was never very much difference in my mind between the two. America was a playground and everything was larger than life. The sun was always shining and the cars were always clean and shiny and everyone said, ‘You’re welcome.'” The star said that when she went back to her English boarding school, she was only allowed to wash her hair once a week.

I love Hayley Mills’ relationship with the Disney Channel in this era. They showed off her talent in new projects at the time, but they also celebrated her classic Disney films. I look forward to rewatching those in the new year! Hayley Carr was just right for her role and brought such energy to the screen, even as her character was downtrodden. It looks like there are two notable Hayley Carrs out there — a life coach, and this actress, who wrote a 2022 holiday movie called B&B Merry.

Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas (2011)

Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas (2011)

Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas was directed by Arlene Sanford, who has numerous credits in film and television (including Disney’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas movie and the courtroom dramedy Ally McBeal). Credited writers are the show’s creators, Drew Vaupen and Phil Baker, as well as Geoff Rodkey. This was such a fun Christmas movie to revisit, and it’s interesting that it was released toward the middle of the series’ run, rather than at the end. Because of this chronological placement, the film actually informs the trajectory of the show. Spoiler alert: Amy Duncan is pregnant with Toby, the youngest of the five Duncan kids.

Duncan family posing for poster, Christmas presents everywhere

I love the comedy of Good Luck Charlie overall and appreciate the humor of this DCOM. The Duncans are off to Palm Springs to visit Amy’s parents for the holidays, but Teddy is already thinking about spring break. Her parents don’t want to let her go on a Florida trip with her friend Ivy. Once at the airport, Gabe and PJ set off a high alert as they go through security with gaming contraband Gabe has taped to their skin. To make their flight, the Duncans pay homage to the McCallisters in a Home Alone-style running scene — “Run Rudolph Run” is even playing. Bob Duncan (the dad) has told Teddy that if she can pay for her ticket, she can go on the spring break vacay.

Big mistake. The family boards their plane, and a flight attendant announces that the aircraft is overbooked, so a volunteer who agrees to fly out later will get complimentary airfare for a future flight. Teddy springs up from her seat to take the deal, and Amy follows her. If you’ve seen this movie, you know that the entire thing is basically a mother-daughter buddy comedy as Amy and Teddy try to find their way to Palm Springs — no flights until December 26th, so they try a bus, a Yugo, a ride with alien abduction conspiracy theorists, and a tandem bike. Along the way, Teddy and her mom have heart-to-heart talks and help a young woman who ran away from home. They manage to have compassion for her, even after she stole their luggage in Las Vegas. Teddy and Amy’s song-and-dance act to make a few bucks for dinner is pretty clever. They start out by trying to steal each other’s spotlight; when everyone starts laughing, Amy and Teddy turn their little routine into a slapstick comedy show.

Though it’s a little far-fetched that Bob, PJ, and Gabe get stuck in a real-life video game reenactment while out looking for Amy and Teddy, their B-story in Palm Springs is light and fun. PJ gets sunburned under the Florida rays, Bob chases after Charlie so she doesn’t crush her grandmother’s decorations (she does anyway), and Gabe and his grandpa get sucked into their gaming. In the end, the whole family is reunited at a roadside diner, and Amy tells the boys that she is expecting. It’s a Christmas miracle! Sometimes, it takes an involuntary road trip gone horribly wrong to really appreciate your family. Now I’m totally ready to rewatch all of Good Luck Charlie!

Full-Court Miracle (2003)

Full-Court Miracle (2003)

Full-Court Miracle is the only Disney Channel Original Movie to focus on Hanukkah or Judaism. The film was written by Joel Kauffman and Donald C. Yost, who also wrote Miracle in Lane 2, and it was directed by Stuart Gillard. Alex D. Linz plays Alex Schlotsky, a middle schooler who goes to a yeshiva in Philadelphia. Alex knows what he wants to be when he grows up: an NBA basketball player. His mother (played by Linda Kash from Cadet Kelly) is a doctor, and she expects her son to follow in her footsteps. It’s normally the DCOM dad who tries to dictate his son’s future (which tends to involve sports), but mom is very against basketball in this movie. She’s unhappy when Alex and his teammates find a new coach out in their community: Lamont Carr, the University of Virginia’s first Black basketball player to graduate (true story). Carr passed away in 2017. He had a multi-faceted career after graduating from law school, including coaching Jewish basketball players and championing the sport of darts.

Full-Court Miracle poster with Alex and Lamont

I read one Full-Court Miracle review suggesting that the film should have been more about Lamont Carr. That’s a fair criticism. However, he has an important role in the DCOM. After a fantasy flashback sequence in which Alex (holding a basketball) and Israelites face Antiochus’ army, the boy tells his rabbi, “Our team needs a Judah Maccabee.” The rabbi asks Alex during their conversation, “Will you recognize this Judah when you see him?” And so, Lamont Carr, an athlete with a knee injury who’s living out of his van while waiting for pro basketball opportunities, is the Judah Maccabee of Philadelphia Hebrew Academy Lions. The boys pay Lamont out of pocket for basketball coaching sessions, and he becomes more invested in their success and their lives, eventually having a Shabbat dinner with the Schlotskys and Rabbi Lewis.

Coach Carr is offered a job at the school so that players can practice on-site, and the nosy school principal reminds him that his place of residence is required information for his paperwork. Lamont gives a sham address, since his van is his home, but Alex’s realtor father helps the coach out by letting him stay in a rental unit in exchange for some labor.

Alex Schlotsky lighting menorah by his parents

I love seeing depictions of holidays in film and television, and the Schlotskys’ celebration of Hannukah is peaceful and very warm. They sing by the light of the menorah and then open their presents. Not surprisingly, Alex’s mother gives him a new encyclopedia CD-ROM, but his dad gives him a basketball card Alex had sold to pay for Lamont Carr’s first coaching sessions. Carr can’t stay on with the Lions, as the Philadelphia 76ers have a spot for him. The boys do their best to prepare for the big tournament that takes place during the last third of the movie. Hanukkah symbolism is at a high during the tournament, as the players complete their game with just enough oil to keep the generator running. Alex’s mom bumps into NBA player Jerome Williams while she’s out looking for Lamont. “What would you say to someone who’s 14 years old, five feet tall, and wants to be in the NBA?” she asks Williams. He answers, “I’d say sign that boy up. He’s a big dreamer.” She then takes Coach Carr to the tournament, where he helps the Lions secure their victory. All the while, Alex’s friend is holding up a “Miracles Happen” sign in the stands. Lamont is reunited with his family after the game and expresses interest in staying on to be a full-time coach for the yeshiva, at Alex’s mother’s request.

In the lovely closing montage, Alex lights the whole menorah, and he and his parents are seen playing basketball outside with Lamont Carr and his family. Happy Hanukkah; here’s to Disney Channel’s Full-Court Miracle!

Den Brother (2010)

Den Brother (2010)

Den Brother is a great pick-me-up of a DCOM, and a nice choice for the winter season. This is yet another hockey movie, but the game is secondary to the girl scouts, or Bumble Bees, as they’re called here. Hutch Dano from Zeke & Luther stars as Alex, a lazy high schooler. His sister Emily is played by G (Genevieve) Hannelius, the darling of late 2000s/early 2010s Disney Channel. You can see her in every episode of Dog with a Blog, but she also appeared on Hannah Montana and Jessie and had guest arcs on Good Luck Charlie and Sonny with a Chance.

Den Brother poster

In 2022, Genevieve (most recently seen in Netflix’s Along for the Ride) is now an actual adult with her own nail polish line. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College last year. Hutch Dano is an artist specializing in abstract pieces. But in 2010, they were adorable DCOM stars. When the Bumble Bees’ troop mom moves away, there seems to be no one else who can step in. Alex feels enough sympathy for his sister to take over as Den Mother. He’s also somewhat motivated to work towards fixing up his used car. But despite prompting from his father, Alex doesn’t like to work too hard. 

Because he’s so lazy, Alex doesn’t encourage the Bumble Bee girls to pursue real badges. Instead, he makes fake badges to get them to do all his chores. He has to create a coverup so the woman in charge of all the troops doesn’t realize he’s not an actual mom. Whenever necessary, he transforms into the boisterous Mrs. Zamboni, inspired by his time on the ice. 

Alex shows signs of genuinely caring about his sister, but he also wants to impress a troop volunteer named Matisse. It’s pretty cute to see this hockey bro running around with his little troop members. The cuteness makes it even sadder when they realize Alex’s badges were a sham, and that he lied to them. It gets worse. The girls are selling cupcakes at a hockey game Alex should be playing (following a suspension), but he’s masquerading as Mrs. Zamboni. Unable to resist stealing the spotlight, Alex blows his cover and skates into the game while dressed in his Mrs. Zamboni garb. Again, these girls are rightfully disappointed in him. He has to seek help from his neighbor, Mrs. Jacklitz. In a touching moment, Alex realizes that she was the troop leader of his deceased mother. Mrs. Jacklitz temporarily leads the Bumble Bees and helps them earn legitimate badges.

Things turn out okay in the DCOM way that they always do. There’s a “reading of the rules” scene at the end where the Bumble Bees and Alex prove that he’s allowed to lead the troop; reminds me a little bit of Motocrossed when the female racing director officially states that Andrea can race with the guys. Even though he was careless for much of this movie, Alex impresses the coach of the local All-Star hockey team. He agrees to fill a spot as long as he can still lead the troop. Super cool fact: DCOM dad (The Other Me, Eddie’s Million-Dollar Cookoff) Mark L. Taylor directed this film. He was also Mr. Fulton in HSM 2. I’ve always liked Den Brother, and I hope you’ll give it a try!

Horse Sense (1999) & Ready to Run (2000)

Horse Sense (1999) & Ready to Run (2000)

Disney Channel debuted two horse movies within one year’s time. One of them, Horse Sense, is a longtime favorite of mine. The other, Ready to Run, is one I don’t remember airing on Disney Channel once. To be honest, I didn’t think this movie was one of my favorites at first. But after watching Ready to Run near the end of this DCOM journey, I really appreciate this film and what it offers the Disney Channel Original Movie canon:

Corrie Ortiz’s father died years ago while racing his horse. For that reason, Corrie’s mom doesn’t want her to be a jockey. Instead, Corrie works as an exercise rider for Mr. Machado, whose horses have a reputation for losing. Machado’s archenemy, Mr. Garris, bullies him over his losses. Because Garris is so obsessed with winning, he is trying to sell a lackluster horse named Thunderjam (TJ). When Corrie hears him say he’d trade the horse for a bag of peanuts, she makes this offer in earnest and gets to take the horse home. Moody, the jockey Machado has hired to race him, saves Thunderjam’s life during a barn fire (set by Garris). Moody burns his hands in the process and cannot race TJ. Corrie’s mom finally allows her to become a jockey, and she wins. You get all the elements of an early DCOM, particularly a driven young woman following her dreams. Corrie’s mom and Mr. Machado also get together, and their romance overall is very sweet. Krystle Po, whom I can’t seem to find anywhere, brought such spirit, determination, and wide-eyed wonder to the role of Corrie. Fitting for a DCOM that debuted during “Get in the Game Week” on Zoog Disney. How’s that for some High School Musical foreshadowing?

Ready to Run poster

Horse Sense is another special equine DCOM, and I love it for the Lawrence brothers, first and foremost. Joey is Michael Woods, a rich Beverly Hills college student who lives in his parents’ palatial residence. Michael’s cousin Tommy Biggs (Andy) resides in Montana on a ranch, and like Corrie, lost his father. I know many of my readers are familiar with the story: Michael treats Tommy like garbage on the boy’s first visit to Los Angeles. Tommy has never seen the ocean. He has never been to Disneyland. Michael fails at taking him to do these things, always distracted by his girlfriend, who is also rich and well-connected. The horse part comes into play when Michael must pay for his actions and lend his aunt (Tommy’s mom) some labor on the ranch. He learns that his family there will lose their home if he doesn’t come up with a solution, and Michael finally starts to care about people other than himself.

Michael and Tommy in Horse Sense

Both films approach horses in different ways, but the main characters have strong bonds with them. The horses in Ready to Run communicate with Corrie because she has a special family gift, which helps TJ a lot in his race. One horse is voiced by Sinbad! Tommy in Horse Sense hates horse racing and believes in letting the animals run free. He and his late father named all the horses on their ranch. TJ needs good music to win his race; Tommy’s horses need affection and gentleness, especially Tommy Boy, the horse that gets stuck in the mud and might die. (Don’t worry; he was okay.) There were numerous children/family horse movies in the 2000s, and I enjoy both of Disney Channel’s entries in this category. Horse Sense was written by Chad and Carey Hayes, directed by Greg Beeman of Brink! (and many other greats). Ready to Run was directed by Duwayne Dunham and written by John Wierick — both of them worked on Double Teamed, too. If you grew up riding horses, or simply loved them when these movies came out, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Avalon High (2010), The Four Diamonds (1995)

Avalon High (2010), The Four Diamonds (1995)

Throughout the fall, I’ve been thinking about two Disney Channel movies that each offer a dose of Arthurian legend. Avalon High and The Four Diamonds are 15 years apart and represent two very different eras of Disney Channel. The Four Diamonds is one of the last “Disney Channel Premiere Films,” and it was written by a boy named Christopher Millard. Sadly, Christopher died due to cancer at age 14. This story was a school assignment, but it also seemed to help him cope with his diagnosis. Per the Four Diamonds Organization (which offers support and financial resources to families facing pediatric cancer diagnoses), the story “was Christopher’s symbolic description of his fight against the evil and unpredictable cancer.” The diamonds each represent honesty, wisdom, courage, and strength. You can read the original short story, in Christopher’s handwriting, here.

The Disney Channel adaptation moves back and forth from Christopher’s time in and out of a pediatric cancer ward, to his imagined Arthurian tale. The movie takes liberties by putting individuals from Christopher’s real life into his story. His cancer doctor transforms into an evil sorceress named Raptenahad (Christine Lahti). Christopher becomes Sir Millard. His own mother becomes a helper to him in this medieval world. As the boy notes in his original tale, Raptenahad keeps the titular four diamonds. Sir Millard may only be freed from her if he completes a task for every diamond. One of the most memorable is when he has to capture a swan for the diamond of wisdom. He builds an elaborate faux swan outfit and wears that to lure the creature to himself.

Chris as Sir Millard in The Four Diamonds

When Christopher isn’t escaping into the creation of his short story assignment, he is trying to live a normal life with his family in Pennsylvania, but he suffers from several complications and often has to return to the cancer doctor. Another boy befriends him during this difficult time. At home, Chris’s little sister (Sarah Rose Karr from Beethoven) struggles with the demands of his cancer and doesn’t fully understand it. His father seems to be in denial much of the time, thinking Chris is doing a lot better than he really is. The film closes with a victorious Sir Millard riding around his kingdom, after Chris has one last Thanksgiving with his family. A narrator concludes, “Chris Millard and his legacy of courage, wisdom, honesty, and strength will not be forgotten.”

In 2010, Disney Channel made another knightly film, albeit a very different one. The DCOM Avalon High was based on Meg Cabot’s novel of the same name. I was so into this film in high school that I read the book after I saw it. I’m sure that at 16 years old, I was glad to see characters around my age. I also loved literature and couldn’t resist a good teen romance story. The film was directed by Stuart Gillard and has a couple of Disney Channel staples — Gregg Sulkin from Wizards and Steve Valentine from the Wizards movie, Don’t Look Under the Bed, and Teen Beach Movie. This is a gender-flipped take on Arthurian legend. As the movie unfolds, the following characters and their medieval counterparts are made clear:

Jen is Guinevere
Lance is Lancelot
Mr. Moore is Mordred (the villain)
Miles Is Merlin
Allie (Britt Robertson) is Arthur
Will is kind of like a first gentleman, in lieu of the Lady of the Lake
School mascot “knights” = actual medieval knights

Avalon High Knights of the Roundtable

Britt Robertson is a refreshing DCOM protagonist and easy to watch. Allie’s parents are professors and scholars of King Arthur, and they move around a lot for their work. This time, they’re planning to stay put long enough for Allie to finish high school in one place. She really likes the big man on campus, Will Wagner, but he has a girlfriend named Jen. Jen is cheating on Will with Lance (just like in the legend, apparently). Mr. Moore, the history teacher, is plotting to defeat and destroy a reincarnated King Arthur. Will’s evil stepbrother is a suspect, but it turns out that he’s actually a protector for Arthur.

Allie thinks Will is Arthur. An eclipse and meteor shower must occur simultaneously for Arthur to be reincarnated. Conveniently, “the night of the big game” is the evening of this once-every-thousand-years phenomenon. Leading up to the legend’s fulfillment, Allie and Will become rather close. They go running together, have “friend burgers” at her house, and talk about their future careers. Before Allie can tell Will his BFF and his GF are making out, he sees that for himself. Sometimes the Arthurian theme is a little too obvious, especially with a line like this one: “We’re like the knights of the round table. We’re brothers,” Lance tells Will after being caught cheating. The last 15 minutes of the movie are dedicated to a big duel, where “any sword in the hands of Arthur becomes Excalibur.” And our girl Arthur rocks, of course.

Give this movie a chance; I’d like to hear what you think. Sadly, Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield” didn’t make the Disney+ cut, so just imagine it playing when Allie is running.

Genius (1999)

Genius (1999)

Genius is part of a long line of great Disney movies on the ice. I don’t know why this company is so good with hockey and skating, but they are. The DCOM was directed by Rod Daniel, who also directed Alley Cats Strike. Credited writers are Jon Rieck, Jim Lincoln, and Dan Studney. Trevor Morgan plays Charlie Boyle, a boy genius who is accepted into Ivy League universities for physics. He turns down Harvard to go to “Northern University” so that he can discover gravitons and manipulate gravity with Dr. Krickstein in a lab, where ice from the hockey rink cools the particle accelerator. “Science and hockey, my two favorite things in the world are in the same building!” Charlie cutely says. His dad drives a zamboni.

Genius movie poster

I struggle with the setup of this movie because there’s just no way a 13-year-old is rolling up to a dormitory with a duffle bag and no help moving in from his parents. They never come visit him and don’t seem to have anyone supervising him. This is college, not boarding school! The kid is supposed to stay with these extras who look like they’re 30?? And they’re not nice to him for most of the movie… Rant over. Now, here’s what I like about the film.

Disney Channel shows us kids trying to figure out who they are. That is the epitome of Charlie’s life. He knows he’s smart and has great potential, but he sees a pretty girl named Claire (Emmy Rossum) and questions everything. Charlie thinks he’s not enough for her as he is, so he invents a second persona, Chaz Anthony. While Charlie studies and even teaches at the university, Chaz enrolls in middle school and makes “class clown” his biggest personality trait. Claire is noticing him for all the wrong reasons. He builds a fancy remote control to make a skeleton dance in class (with hilarious ’99 CGI), he smarts off to his teachers, he has all the guys thinking he’s the big man on campus. But then Chaz has to rush back to college to be genius Charlie. I like this interesting manifestation of the struggle many tweens face, trying to find themselves and their voice around others (often while discovering romantic feelings for the first time). Charlie here is buying his new girl a Backstreet Boys CD, but he has another life to deal with academically.

Charlie and Claire floating, about to kiss

As Charlie navigates his complicated facts of life, the two worlds are dangerously close together. Though he disguises himself when his school pals come to hear him speak at the university, Charlie can’t hide forever. Claire discovers his lie during a big hockey game at the college — her dad is the coach, and Charlie’s lab is right under the rink. Coincidentally, his experiments burst through the ice and ruin a game that Northern probably would have won. Claire is upset and says she never wants to see him again. Alas, all DCOMs must reach a happy end. The tween lovebirds get back together and kind of help the hockey team win another big game by cheating. Charlie and Claire use their gravitons to create some kind of a magnetic field that will make the opponents float above the ice and mirror their every action. After the big win, Claire and Charlie end the movie kissing while levitating. Honestly, this is a nice hint of the sci-fi flair the channel had going on back then. Cute movie, sweet moments, especially that part when Claire is talking about her mom figure-skating. Check this one out on Disney+ for a fun winter afternoon.

Geek Charming (2011)

Geek Charming (2011)

In fall 2011, when Geek Charming premiered, I was a senior in high school. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t watching quite as much Disney Channel during that time. I do remember Geek Charming, though. Directed by Jeffrey Hornaday (who was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award) and based on Robin Palmer’s book, the film stars Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland and High School Musical 3’s Matt Prokop.

Geek Charming Sarah Hyland and other populars

It’s important to address the upsetting real-life circumstances that cast a shadow over this DCOM. In 2014, Sarah Hyland was granted a restraining order against Matt Prokop after he abused her physically and verbally. This is horrible, and I am not aiming to magnify Prokop’s work or presence in any way. But I do want to celebrate Sarah Hyland and the incredible career she has had. I think Geek Charming showcases her acting abilities, particularly because she is playing an over-the-top popular girl in a sea of other populars. Disney Channel leads are the underdog more often than they’re the popular kid. In fact, the cool kids are usually the antagonists. It’s unique that Hyland’s Dylan Schoenfield starts out as a sort of anti-hero. She’s bubbly and cute and has her eyes set on the Blossom Queen crown. (I love that I just watched Wish Upon a Star, where Katherine Heigl was on the ballot for Winter Festival Queen.)

Josh Rosen is the titular “geek” in this equation, and Dylan is the “charming.” He sizes her up as an appropriate subject for a documentary he hopes to enter in a student film festival. Dylan considers the film an opportunity to bolster her chances for Blossom Queen. Josh captures her in her natural habit with the other populars, including her douchebag boyfriend Asher and her fiercest queenly competitor, Nicole. In the footage, Dylan shows superiority over her friends (what “popular” Disney Channel girl doesn’t?), and she comes off as the shallow girl she presumably is. However, Josh slowly captures her losing her layers. The queen-bee look is partly an act. Dylan truly loves fashion and posh things, but the whole Blossom Queen obsession is actually her way of connecting with her deceased mother, who once held the title. Dylan shows herself to be a more laid-back person when she makes a giant ice cream sundae, and definitely when she belches loudly in front of Josh and her dad.

There are a couple of likely developments in this story. We get a standard “give the geek a makeover” scene, and Dylan becomes upset with Josh before they can be together. Both of those aspects of the plot are reminding me of Lizzie McGuire. Remember when Larry Tudgeman got a makeover so Miranda would like him? Same with Dylan dressing up Josh — she needs him to fit in with her crowd, and this new look is supposed to make him more attractive to his crush Amy (Sasha Pieterse). As for the part where Dylan becomes upset, that is because Josh’s documentary embarrasses her. Going back to Lizzie, remember when Gordo made a documentary that embarrassed practically everyone at school?

This 2010s DCOM might make an interesting study if you watch a lot of these movies. It stands out in its casting, even if a few of its threads feel familiar. Like I said, making the popular chick the protagonist is an unusual move for Disney Channel. She’s not mean in a Kate Sanders way, at least, and she does win Blossom Queen. If you check this out, as always, let me know!