There’s so much to watch lately that the smorgasbord of options can start to feel almost smothering. Should you check out what’s playing in theaters, or stay home and take in the latest scam-turned-limited series? Do you prefer old favourites or something completely new?
Fortunately, there’s an option that captures the comfort of nostalgia, while also offering a wealth of new stories to discover: the veritable treasure trove of Disney Channel Original Movies. Since the 1990s, DCOMs have been premiering on Disney Channel Original Movies. These classic films anchored decades of sleepovers and promised generations of 12-year-olds that by their next birthday, they’d discover everything from first love to latent magic powers. Of course, not a single one is without flaws (nor is the company that made them)—but many are gems nonetheless, full of whimsically ridiculous storylines and surprising star cameos.
Are you unsure where to begin your DCOM journey. These are the 10 best DCOM journeys you should start right away. These 10 videos can be viewed on Disney+.
It Halloweentown movies introduced viewers to a rich magical universe where it’s everyone’s favorite spooky holiday all year round (think Spirit Halloween, but a kids’ film series). On her 13th birthday (of course), Marnie Piper learns that she’s descended from a long line of witches. Her mother wants her to live a “normal” life in honor of her deceased mortal dad, but her grandmother (the delightfully mischievous Debbie Reynolds, gamely giving her all) is determined to teach Marnie how to harness her magic. The series will be filmed over the span of (Halloweentown, Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge, Halloweentown High, Halloweentown: ReturnMarnie, her sisters and their magical powers allow them to protect Halloweentown from any magic threats. You can find all the Halloweentown movies are worth a watch—although the last one’s casting switch-up is a bit disheartening. Sarah Paxton deserves our respect (Aquamarine Kimberly J. Brown will always be the fans’ Marnie.
The Thirteenth year (1999)
The words “Disney” and “mermaid” together probably conjure underwater orchestrals and seashell bras, but Ariel isn’t the only merperson in the Disney Extended Cinematic Universe. In The Thirteenth year, a young couple has just moved to a charming coastal town to run a tour business and “start a new life free from the constraints of a bourgeois capitalist existence”—don’t believe this is a direct quote? Watch for yourself—when they find a baby abandoned on their boat. The baby becomes Cody Griffith, a well-known, talented, and seemingly normal kid, who begins to grow scales and breathe underwater at the age of 13. As Cody navigates his puberty allegory, he must also avoid detection by the local mermaid-hunter (every charming coastal town’s got to have one). Come for the unlikely jock-nerd friendship and daring commentary on toxic middle-school masculinity, and stay for Best Actress nominee Kristen Stewart’s debut as “Girl in Fountain Line!”
Smart House (1999)
Smart HouseI walked that way Black Mirror Could run. When 13-year-old computer nerd Ben Cooper wins his family the chance to live in a fully automated “smart house,” he hopes the move will be the fresh start they need to recover from his mother’s recent death. PAT is a virtual assistant who manages the house. Ben becomes increasingly Stepfordesque and eats a diet of 1950s television to satisfy his need for maternal support. (Why does this kid presumably born in 1986 draw his ideas about motherhood from ‘50s sitcoms? Don’t worry about it.) PAT quickly becomes aggressive and controlling. The family will need to fight for control and help each other through their grief. Smart House is a chance to enjoy the simultaneously hokey and prescient takes on technology the late ‘90s had to offer—and think twice before installing that omniscient security system you keep seeing ads for.
Luck of the Irish (2001)
Only possible explanation is The Luck of the Irish Disney was able to see its success through The Thirteenth year, decided the teenage-boy-becomes-fairy-tale-creature gimmick was the special sauce, and doubled down—and frankly, they were right. It’s not until his 15th birthday that basketball player Kyle Johnson (a late bloomer by Disney standards) discovers that he and his family are leprechauns in disguise, but the trouble he faces makes up for lost time. His lucky coin, an heirloom that allows Kyle and his family to pass as human, is stolen by an evil leprechaun/professional Irish stepdancer named Seamus. His mother and Kyle shrink immediately to 2 feet tall, and both his hair and ears grow pointy. Kyle learns important lessons from his Irish heritage as he fights for the talisman. He also learns the value of not letting luck get in the way of hard work and keeping your eyes on your money. This is absurd. 10/10.
Cadet Kelly (2002)
Kelly Collins, played by Hillary Duff, is a free spirit who’s forced to attend a military boarding school after her mother’s new husband becomes the school’s commandant (like a principal, but with more saluting). Infuriated, she refuses to slip into the military industry complex. Instead, she brings color and levity to the school’s stifling, dreary atmosphere by accessorizing her uniform and pulling pranks on her cadet captain/arch-nemisis/partner-in-romantic-tension Jennifer Stone (Christy Carlson Romano). Kelly is forced by her stepfather to join the drill team, where she and Captain Stone get under one another’s skin even more. Brad, a man who is actually Brad, is Brad’s true love interest. But everyone who went to DCOMs graduated. L WordKelly and Captain Stone is the love story, but everyone knows it. It’s especially fun to watch now that Duff is starring in How I Met Your Father.
The Cheetah Girls (2003)
The Cheetah Girls was the first DCOMM (that’s Disney Channel Original Movie Musical, a key sub-genre), and was based upon an award-winning book series by author Deborah Gregory. It follows the four members of the eponymous band—Galleria (Raven-Symoné), Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan), Aqua (Kiely Williams), and Chanel (Adrienne Bailon)—as they navigate their friendships and burgeoning fame. Whitney Houston co-produced the movie, which features Whitney Houston as Whitney. CinderellaIn fact, the entire soundtrack has been certified twice platinum and has spawned 2 sequels. The Cheetah Girls 2. Cheetah Girls: One World. All three are worthy additions to your DCOM watch list, although the third falls a bit flat without Raven-Symoné. If you know a kid who wanted to be a pop star in 2003 (or an adult who still does today), there’s a solid chance that The Cheetah Girls It is this reason.
Alex and Camryn, played by Tamera Mowry and Tia Mowry, are twins. They were born in different magical realms and separated when their magic world, Coventry was destroyed by The Darkness. The twins were raised in very different environments, which allows for more discussion about classes than what one would expect from DCOMs. The twins come into their powers and are reunited on their 21st birthday (gone are the days of letting 13-year-olds run around with magic powers, now Disney waits until they’re old enough to drink!). The sisters are being stalked by The Darkness, and must return to Coventry, where their birth mother has married their deceased father’s brother (and you thought The Lion King The only Hamlet-esque Disney property). She’s only barely staving off the realm’s complete destruction. Everyone who loved Sisters, sistersSo, everybody will be happy Twitches, And its sequel Twitches Too. Plus, who doesn’t love a good portmanteau?
Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior (2006)
Wendy Wu is cool, popular, and laser-focused on her campaign to become homecoming queen—until a handsome Buddhist monk named Shen appears at her door and informs her that she is the reincarnation of a powerful warrior, and must prepare to defeat a great evil. She overcomes her initial, understandable resistance and becomes determined as she hears from her grandmother about the tradition of ancient villains being reincarnated. Wendy Wu It has everything that makes a great DCOM. There are makeover and training scenes, fight scenes, fight scenes, (many of them featuring Brenda Song performing her own stunts), romance, and consulting from Yunxiang Yan, an anthropology professor at UCLA Center for Chinese Studies.
High School Musical (2006)
Before you turn your nose up at the most notorious of the DCOMs—successful enough that the third one wasn’t even a DCOM, but simply a DOM, with a theatrical release and everything—remember that this is the franchise that gave us Olivia Rodrigo (in High School Musical: The Musical Series). HSMMovies like “The Sound of Music” were the first to take off with the movie-musical craze. Camp RockJonas Brothers, welcome! Lemonade Mouth Hayley Kiyoko, welcome to the team! Descendants Hello, all-new generation of triple threat child stars! There are High School Musical For theatre-goers, movies was a powerful gateway drug. The way Troy Bolton learns to unite the arts with athletics—and his friends Chad Danforth and Ryan Evans learn to enjoy both music and baseball together and also somehow switch outfits with each other—sends a powerful message: it’s OK to go both ways.
Get in! (2007)
Simply put, Corbin Bleu should’ve gotten more attention for Get in!—and not just because he manages to make jumping rope look dreamy (but partly because of that). While it doesn’t turn its teenaged boy protagonist into a fairytale creature, this film is enchanting all the same. Bleu portrays Izzy Daniels who, after losing her boxer friend to the flu at the last moment, is persuaded by Mary, his scene stealer Keke Palmer to join him in Double Dutch. Izzy is initially embarrassed, but soon comes to realize how much he likes the sport, and how long it’s been since he’s enjoyed boxing. Afraid to reveal this to his father, a former prize-winning boxer who’s still mourning the loss of his wife, Izzy does what any reasonable DCOM protagonist would and tries to juggle both in secret. Only way to do it is by secret. Get in! could have been more fun is if it had taken full advantage of Bleu’s fabulous singing voice.
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