Disney Channel Original Movie: Lemonade Mouth

Date of airing: April 15, 2011 (Disney Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 5.693 million viewers, 3.0/5 in Households, 1.0/3 with Adults 18-49, 4.8/20 with Teens 12-17, 6.9/24 with Kids 2-11, 2.3 million viewers with Kids 6-11, 2.1 million viewers with Tweens 9-14

In my travels through the Disney+ app, I found this little gem of a film that I didn’t even know existed, even though I was quite fond of Bridgit Mendler during my watch of GOOD LUCK CHARLIE, which may not be the best Disney Channel family sitcom the network has to offer, but certainly the most consistent and finest. But here is a television film that tries its absolute best to be very much unlike any other Disney Channel Original Movie, yet puts all the effort into being one anyway. It’s the film that takes its initial rebellious message to heart: Be heard, be strong, be proud. It’s the message that turns into the morale not just for the characters, who grow up from being nobodies in the American high school system to pop-rock superstars, but also for the film itself, which wants to be seen as something more unique among the Disney Channel crowd of family sitcoms, teenage relationships with the fewest on-screen kisses, and soundstage productions that never leave the walls of the studio and never risk anything. LEMONADE MOUTH could have been the beginning of the network risking something in the film and story department by being more honest with how America looks like. With an Indian-American and an Asian-American cast member among the five leads, LEMONADE MOUTH is already overrepresented compared to other Disney Channel productions, and with a story that involves parents who have died, are divorced, or are currently residing in prison, it’s almost like the network really tried hard to write “representation” with a capital R, but not without losing the sense of Disney commercialism and capitalism too much.

One coin throw later and they are a band.

LEMONADE MOUTH starts off like any other teenage high school comedy drama attempting to catch the spirit of THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Five teens who aren’t considered famous for high school standards find each other in detention, they realize they have a talent in common — making music — and decide, after getting over the hurdles of stage fright and panic of becoming someone else than the parental units would have hoped, to become a band first, then friends, and then make the metamorphosis into rebellious leaders with a record deal and a chart-topping hit, placing them straight into the world of capitalism that essentially kills the rebellious nature they were discovered with. In the meantime, the teens still have to go through the trials and tribulations and messes of being a teenager in a Disney Channel production: Some fall in love with the other, some have to deal with the parents and their inability to really see and accept their kids, and there are idiotic and obnoxious snobs on the other side of the school ground who think they are better than the members of the titular band and cannot wait to tell everyone that exact fact. Because the five leads of the story can’t just be famous band members after they decided to form a band — there still has to be conflict and character drama, and when you look at other Disney Channel productions, LEMONADE MOUTH may have enough drama to get a shot at being more than just a Disney Channel Original Movie. And that begs the question if the film, based on the novel by Mark Peter Hughes, was initially developed for a film studio, or if Disney even planned to theatrically release it before random production and budget issues turned it into a one-night television event with some of the hottest teen stars Hollywood had to offer in 2011.

LEMONADE MOUTH had a lot of elements working for me, and my thoughts of this film potentially being one of my favorites before I pressed the play button were vindicated. After considering features like HEARTS BEAT LOUD, BEGIN AGAIN, SING STREET and GOD HELP THE GIRL (yes, even the pretentious indie movie directed by Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch) as my go-to favorites when I am in need of an optimistic pick-me-up musical with character depth to it, as well as my general love for musicals, LEMONADE MOUTH seemed like the best film to watch on a cold December night when I needed some new music in my ear, in addition to Hollywood forcing myself back on Spotify to look for music I just listened to and watched (“Determinate” is instantly becoming my new favorite obsession for the next few days). The band musical comedy drama is close to becoming one of my favorite genres, making me just a little sad that there aren’t more of them out there and that they usually aren’t ready for sequels. The Disney Channel tried to monetize on the success of LEMONADE MOUTH, which according to Nielsen Media Research is a film that repeats incredibly well, even landing in the weekly Top 10 in the children’s target demos three years after its premiere airing (airings on August 5th and 6th in 2014 had 929k and 940k viewers respectively among kids between 6 and 11), but never figured outlaw to make a franchise out of it. A trilogy of films exists because PITCH PERFECT was an unexpected success, so the Disney Channel could have made something out of LEMONADE MOUTH. My heart would have thanked the studio eight years later for that.

Start the revolution with a little bit of pop-rock music!

But LEMONADE MOUTH also worked when it comes to the narrative. Characters are troubled and needed to find out where they are in life before turning into pop-rock superstars, and it was most evident in Olivia’s character arc — her mother has died, her father is in prison for an unspecified crime, and the Disney Channel suddenly has a teenage character with actual problems actual “heartland Americans” are probably dealing with. Almost the same can be said for Mohini’s experience with her strict parents of Indian heritage, who may have been portrayed in a stereotypical fashion, but then again, it’s something Lilly Singh repeatedly jokes about on her television show, so I’m going to assume that Indian parents of Indian-American teens trying to be Westerners are really this strict and walled-off from progressive ways of life. The studio may have problems bringing representation into their works — “Representation matters” is a term J.J. Abrams hoped to write big and colourful on every board visible with the release of STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, but it turns out that witnessing a two-second-long kiss between two women characters who have been nothing but minor players in the story, without an ounce of back story, is not what “representation matters” means and it’s something Disney has to be told over and over. LEMONADE MOUTH doesn’t move the wheel in that regard either, but at least the studio’s basic cable television channel is trying. Granted, there were no LGBTQ voices in these two hours, but as long as the cast is diverse and the characters don’t look like they come straight from the future world of white-collar riches, I can accept the other (many) faults of the studio’s fictional offerings.

All this does not mean that LEMONADE MOUTH should be heavily criticized for the shortcomings of one studio. The sound is still great, the character relations are wonderful, the fact that there wasn’t much of a romance novel in the story made it easier for someone like me, who does not know love, to follow the narrative and bite my teeth into one of the other premises. And yes, LEMONADE MOUTH is the fifth film on a very shortlist of films about folks who get together to make music and turn their life around for the better, which means there is an entire handful of films with the same premise that can fill a day of binge-watching when I’m sad about life.

Disney Channel Original Movie: Avalon High

Date of airing: November 12, 2010 (Disney Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 3.850 million viewers, 2.2/4 in Households, 0.7/2 with Adults 18-49, 3.5/15 with Teens 12-17, 4.4/16 with Kids 2-11

Imagine the Disney Channel taking one of the most favored British stories of heroism and knights and action and romantic betrayal, and then seeing it turned into a high school story for kids and teenagers that has the least amount of the original British story in it than you would have expected. AVALON HIGH is what the Arthur legend turns into when yet another writers decides to adapt it for a contemporary time, and because it happened to be for the audience of the Disney Channel, it kind of turned into a high school theater production that was allowed to have a few greenscreen effects, in addition to scenes on the football field, because this was 2010, when FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS was considered one of the best shows on television (and because maybe the Disney Channel had enough of lacrosse for the time being). AVALON HIGH is what happens when Americans get into the King Arthur franchise of literary history, and it’s what comes out of your idea of changing the story just a little bit to fit into your narrative needs.

AVALON HIGH is based on the novel by Meg Cabot, of which I have heard nothing before this film stumbled into my internet ways on a rainy weekend morning, looking for something to watch the following night, but that doesn’t mean the Disney Channel is innocent in turning the story of King Arthur and his knights of the roundtable into a story ready for kids and teenagers to get interested for a few days. It’s imaginable that this film exists partially, so the studio and network can tell itself that they sent kids and teens interested in the King Arthur story to the libraries to find out more about the story, let alone read it from the beginning. After all, the story of King Arthur isn’t just all about King Arthur — it’s a fable that can be spun off into each of the involved characters, as they all have a story the reader or the viewer are interested in. King Arthur stories aren’t just about knights and swords, it’s essentially a soap opera in its own right, which could be easily turned into a supernatural story with magic and witches and demons, if you care about that. AVALON HIGH didn’t have any of that, but because magic was involved, it means this program can be considered supernatural, right?

There is a love story in the making if it weren’t for the medieval stuff.

It didn’t help the film’s case that it was predictable as soon as the story made clear what it’s actually about and how Allie Pennington is going to find the revival person of King Arthur, with a little bit of her new friends, which she obviously had to make due to the premise of Allie being the new girl in school. There wasn’t much of a surprise twist ending in this show, when Allie put the plastic sword in her hand and it turned into the real thing, proving that King Arthur doesn’t necessarily have to be a man all the time, because diversity and inclusivity and gender-reversed twists and all that jazz. There also wasn’t a lot of character depth and development in the story, as the script rehashed all the necessary plot points of the Disney Channel Original Movie genre to bring the characters to the next act and towards the finale of the story, because AVALON HIGH isn’t a television show and needs to be finished within the time frame of two hours. The premise of the film would have been interesting enough for a limited series, but this being 2010, the Disney Channel did not yet know that the idea of a limited series event on primetime television is one to think about. But because AVALON HIGH has a length of 90 minutes, things had to happen quickly, and the journey from Allie being an uninterested teenager who does not believe in the King Arthur hype and is rather annoyed by her parents’ knowledge of the history to a person who is about to go to war to protect the one whom she believes was the reincarnation of King Arthur had to be the focus of the story. Forget the new friendships Allie struck with Miles, Lance and Jen, don’t bother with Allie’s dreams of being on the running track during Olympics. No, it’s all about Camelot, and don’t you dare focus on anything else.

That is why the characters came up short in this one, which is a shame, considering there was almost depth to be had with Allie, because she started off AVALON HIGH not as the future heroine, but as someone who just wants to put her running shoes on and try to fit into a world she knows she has to leave after six months again. But one would have thought that her world is changing when she finds out she will stay in Avalon for a lot longer, but because of the Camelot back story and because the high school’s very own superstar quarterback William Wagner is such a hot hunk that he is almost being dreamed about by every girl in school, Allie’s character arc falls flat and was then missing entirely during the confrontational parts of the film. There was also depth to be had when it comes to Will and Jen’s relationship and how it was being silently dismantled by her choice of cheating on the quarterback with the equally attractive playmate Lance, but Allie never seemed bothered by what was happening in that love triangle (in fact, the script had to force her into circumstances during which she had to deal with the fallout of a failing relationship), let alone did she take this opportunity to throw herself at the quarterback, because Allie is a high school student after all, and the treasure box of tropes demands for her to have a boyfriend, or at least an unrequited love.

The sword is mightier than the villain.

At the end of the day, it’s the Camelot story that carries AVALON HIGH, but with the exception of the — again, predictable — reveal of who really is the villain of the story, Camelot and the story of King Arthur can’t quite carry the film by itself, especially since the script never explained why Arthur needed to be reincarnated for today’s time and if the future of AVALON HIGH demands a cut-down of technology and science, just for the whole world to go back to medieval times. Now that Allie is King Arthur, what does it mean for her and her friends? Are they going to run for the keys to the Oval Office in 30 years or so? Does it mean they will save the world from the threat of reincarnated Nazis six, seven years later? Questions which remain unanswered, because AVALON HIGH never figured out what really to focus on. It still makes for a somewhat entertaining watch on the Disney Channel, since it’s not clogged down by things that make the network’s programs sometimes incredibly weird and eyesroll-inducing, and Britt Robertson makes for a good-enough lead to explain to yourself why she was given the opportunity to headline her own Netflix show half a dozen years later.

Disney Channel Original Movie: Cadet Kelly

Date of airing: March 8, 2002 (Disney Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 7.8 million viewers, 5.6 rating in Households

And on this first day, the ghost of Walt Disney created Disney+, on which I could finally take a look at a television movie I have seen some time in the early to mid 2000s on German television and never forgot about it, which means one thing: It was super good. CADET KELLY was probably the first-ever Disney Channel Original Movie I ever watched before I even knew what the Disney Channel was or that there was an American television network creating movies that aren’t even supposed to be screened in movie theaters. So, around a decade and a half after I watched CADET KELLY for the first and only time, the new streaming service came into existence and I got the chance to watch it again. Let’s just say that I am thankful for our holy overlords, the Disney Corporation, to give me an opportunity to watch a film international television only gave me once, and other than that the studio wasn’t interested putting it into the streaming world or making something of a push to put it out on DVD. I guess Disney+ is the reason for all this?

CADET KELLY has been the third program I watched off the new streaming service (the first being the LIZZIE MCGUIRE premiere, the second obviously THE MANDALORIAN), and it’s essentially the first DCOM I watched off the streaming network, in the hopes to have watched them all over the course of however long I will have shared access to the Disney+ account. And it turns out the film was as fun and weirdly positive as I had it in mind all these years, and there was a reason I fell just a little bit in love with Hilary Duff after this (although I never found LIZZIE MCGUIRE on German television, so I guess I never watched anything else with her). The film has lost nothing of its charm that has Kelly Collins constantly smiling around and about, even when the world is throwing her into mud or bringing her high into the sky (as in, about ten meters from the ground), and now I can even see how expertly written this television production is, beginning with how CADET KELLY is essentially the Disney Channel’s efforts to bring morale of uniformity and perfectionism to its young audience (which is not that bad an idea), but how there are pretty much two different premises working for each other, and both meet for the first time exactly halfway into the 100 minutes, when Kelly’s stepfather, weirdly credited as “Sir” instead of his actual name, which is Brigadier General Joe Maxwell, punishes his stepdaughter to the drill team. The first half of CADET KELLY is all about the eight-grade fashionista Kelly being transported into this new world of following rules and orders and uniformity, creating the “fish out of water” premise that leads to some interesting moments between rebel Kelly and the rule-following and future real-time platoon leader Jennifer Stone, who cannot stand each other because they stand on opposite sides of the military academy spectrum. But then the film changes for the second half — out goes there “fish out of water” premise, the conflict between Kelly and Captain Stone is cut down to its bare minimum, and it becomes something of a sports team film, in which a new member joins the troubled team and leads it to victory. It makes me wonder if CADET KELLY was actually conceived out of two different ideas for Disney Channel Original Movies, because LIZZIE MCGUIRE was such a huge success for the network and Hilary Duff needed to be given a starring role in a film they can repeat over and over.

She’s got it. But she still has to deal with the fashion of this place.

Both halves of the film are kind of the same, yet they work completely differently. The rebel nature of the first half is its own little comedy presentation, especially when paired with the “fish out of water” premise. You can believe that Kelly is a bit of a brat and a rich New York socialite who needs to be taught a lesson, and that means shipping her off to a military academy is the perfect idea for this constantly optimistic, yet annoying girl who thinks so little about her surroundings and takes everything for granted. But it turns out Kelly is not that kind of annoying character at all — when a rebel is needed to teach the superiors a lesson, consider her around and ready to serve her country, as she did not hesitate to take action against Captain Stone ruining Kelly’s favourite blanket (it’s a good thing that Kelly is only an artist who paints and does not use knives or scissors, or Jennifer would have woken up with a new hairstyle). Consider her ready to step up when some people in this academy need a little help and a friend, hence Kelly finding a liking towards the drill team and joining them more than halfway into this production. While her repeated “I have to do everything” became a little annoying after a while, what came out of it is a character who is responsible enough to heliport when trouble is afoot, who does not see the world through her eyes only. Kelly is a character who may have started the film as a bit of an egoistic brat with a limited view of the world, but at the end of the 100 minutes she learned the lessons the script gave her, she learned what patriotism means, she realized how to make friends and see them as part of a team, and she probably became a potential platoon leader in Afghanistan in a few years from now, which is why it’s such a shame the Disney Channel didn’t produce a sequel of their first real hit television movie in 2002.

Luckily they are the best in what they are about to do.

Despite the film having two different premises that fit wonderfully into the timeframe of an hour and 40 minutes, and despite the surprisingly working emotional aspect of the final act, in which Kelly and her stepfather look for her injured father, creating a “daughter and her two fathers” moment that is ripe for yet another Disney Channel Original Movie, the family aspect of the story could have deserved more attention. CADET KELLY is a film that deals with the separation and divorce of a central character’s parents, with the central character being a teenager — it’s something most teenagers have to deal with sooner or later, and while most, if not all, of the Disney Channel family sitcoms do not bother with the realism of divorce (I haven’t found such a show yet), this film decided to do it, impressing me even more, especially since I was one of those teenagers myself. One would be able to realize that the premise of the parents’ separation and the idea of a child having to get used to a step-parent in the household was intentionally cut down to its bare minimum, just to get some of the resulting drama out of the narrative and focus on the bright and charming and funny stuff of the story. That doesn’t mean CADET KELLY wasn’t a particularly funny film though. It didn’t have the punchlines for laughs, and when Kelly did something that made her part of the “fish out of water” premise, it became quickly annoying and eyesroll-worthy after a few more seconds.

The only thing you might be allowed to laugh about is the fact that Shawn Ashmore with a buzzcut is considered the hottest guy at the military academy. This bland white boy with artificial charm was most likely not the only one of his kind in the building, begging the question what the other guys were all like — something we will never get to find out, thanks to the fact that Ashmore was pretty much the second male lead of the film, and then there were no more male characters to be found. Plus points for Kelly, Jennifer Stone and Ashmore’s character Brad not being involved in their own love triangle though. Too focused this film was on its two premises. Too idealistic the third act of the movie became, after Kelly and Jennifer joined forces to win the drill exhibition. If the writers thought they needed to have a love triangle in this film, then another 40 minutes would have had to be added. And then you would have had a television show anyway.

Disney Channel Original Movie: Invisible Sister

Date of airing: October 9, 2015 (Disney Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.028 million viewers, 0.80 rating with Adults 18-49, 0.73 rating with Adults 18-34, 0.77 rating with Adults 25-54, 1.76 rating with Females 12-34

In which a Disney Channel Original Movie goes for symbolism and a different take of the body switch premise, because doing just another FREAKY FRIDAY story is boring, so let’s just have every character who is not Molly or Cleo be too dumb and short-sighted not to realize that Molly isn’t Molly, which means they didn’t know Molly good enough to recognize that the girl in the Mardigras-Dorothy costume was not their best friend. It’s a good thing though that this part of the premise was the worst thing about this DCOM, because the rest of it happened to be quite exciting. There was some great siblings rivalry in here during the beginning which turned to some excellent drama right before the climax, and the scientific aspect of turning invisible was turned into a parable of how a popular girl and her heavily ignored sister switch places and learn what it’s like to live in the shoes of the other. Using the fantastic invisibility premise to get to that premise of the show is actually super clever, and for a moment I was wishing for INVISIBLE SISTER to be more than just a 78-minute long DCOM, because I would have loved seeing more of that idea.

In hindsight, INVISIBLE SISTER isn’t even about invisibility, and the title could actually describe either Cleo or Molly, as they have both been dealing with being invisible (one of them in a metaphorical sense, the other literally). One sister learns what it’s like to live in the light of the spotlight and how it isn’t always a bad thing to be popular and under pressure to perform. The other sister learns what it’s like to not be recognized and always living in the shadow of more popular kids (especially when they happen to be your sibling), learning in the process to not let the pressure of being popular put them down. For sisters who were starting to alienate from each other, an accident like this forcing them to spend some time together and figuring things out is a perfect way to showcase that the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is an easy premise to write for a film and have two characters who are part of a family and have yet alienated away from each other come back together and discover the joy and happiness of being family. It’s kind of the perfect Disney Channel film, which also happens to have a great cast.

When you’re invisible, no one can see you run.

Okay, let’s not hype Rowen Blanchard just yet, because the question is what she will become as an actress when she steps out of the Disney bubble. She has already show during three seasons of GIRL MEETS WORLD that maybe a star is in the making, and one who doesn’t have to define herself through a music career as well (in fact, with the exception of the GIRL MEETS WORLD title song, I can’t even name a single number she may have collaborated on, or sang outright, and I can usually give you one or two songs of each Disney starlet with a music career on the side). The strongest points in INVISIBLE SISTER were carried by Blanchard’s delivery and her poignant voiceover comments that bookended the story — those were the elements that made the dramatic, yet hilarious premise of an invisible sister count without losing the sense of the whole thing being a family-friendly comedy for all ages. Cleo’s point of view of the morale of the story gave INVISIBLE SISTER the edge of being more than just a kid-friendly film for the Disney Channel, while the comedic aspect of Molly’s disappearing act most likely made the younger viewers happy. Of course, the film could not get away from the tropes of Disney Channel television by introducing love interests, but something has to be said about Molly already having her boyfriend during the opening minutes of this program, and Coug never going too far into the realm of the ridiculous to be considered a failure of the character. In fact, if he had gotten a little more nutty and made INVISIBLE SISTER look like a straight-up comedy at times, it may have made the story and film a little better in hindsight. The dumb-as-sliced-bread kinda character is always great for a show like this, especially when he happens to be the boyfriend of the titular character and cannot even distinguish his girlfriend from her sister when she is wearing a mask.

Spooky red cup is spooky.

And yes, when Cleo was wearing the mask and freaky friday’d her way through high school by impersonating her missing sister, the story had to battle against some of the more ludicrous elements of the premise, giving great concern for dizziness after a few too many eyerolls. Not only was nobody able to not recognize Molly, but apparently Cleo was able to do everything Molly could do, including playing a great game of (get your hand into the treasure box of tropes again and pull out a cliche high school sport for high school television or films) lacrosse and potentially bringing Molly that scholarship she has been dreaming about. If it’s that easy to impersonate a sister, then why couldn’t I have done that in my childhood? Maybe it would have made life easier for me and I could have stepped into the spotlight for a few minutes, instead of being lonely, alone and bullied into the next day. Also, it was quite convenient that the parents were out of the house for the whole adventure — I was glad that their departure has been at least acknowledged with a scene, but wouldn’t it have made for a better film if Cleo and Molly also had to hide their little fantastically scientific problem from the parental authorities as well? After all, the characters barely went through any conflicts, aside from the central premise, and with 78 minutes, INVISIBLE SISTER seemed ten minutes too short for a Disney Channel Original Movie.

Disney Channel Original Movie: Descendants

Date of airing: July 31, 2015 (Disney Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: 6.550 million viewers, 1.40 rating with Adults 18-49, 1.26 rating with Adults 18-34, 1.24 rating with Adults 25-54, 3.20 rating with Females 12-34

What comes out when you mix the Disney Channel with fairytales and a musical, desperate enough to emulate the success of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, but not desperate enough to confuse the outcome with an actual HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL copy by putting too many singalong songs in it? The result might be the first offering of the DESCENDANTS franchise, in which the children of popular and gruesome fairytale villains from previous Disney film fare make it out into the kingdom of goodness and happiness and shiny colorful people with a sense for fashion, where they face the heroes of said fairytale film fare, as well as their offspring. Because maybe there is an idea behind the premise of fairytale character having kids with one another, who will then continue to carry out their destiny of being good and heroic. After all, Snow White will want to retire from having to deal with poisoned apples and seven dwarves all day long, while Cinderella just wants to appreciate her Prince Charming in the bedroom at night, without the whole town whispering and waiting when the two finally turn their bond of love into a marriage. Focusing on the kids of fairytale characters could easily be considered a spin-off of said fairytales, but when they are part of a hip Disney Channel musical that wants to both focus on the romances of the story and the fashion of its characters, how much can the viewers get out of the story?

Turns out, not much really. And DESCENDANTS really had a lot of things going for itself to be a bombastic fairytale musical for kids and young adults, and in spite of the two sequels that followed (which would make DESCENDANTS a franchise success, ready for a television show adaptation on Disney+), the film had quote a few problems in the middle, when the story removed itself from the fantastic and magical and turned into a simple high school story about a small group of outsiders making it in a new town and twisting and twirling everyone around to become better persons in their own right. DESCENDANTS may be the first story I have ever seen that focuses on the offspring of fairytale characters, but the story they were being planted into was certainly not new to me. DESCENDANTS may be the first story I have ever seen that turned a fairytale into a high school romantic comedy though — but then again, aren’t all high school romance stories a fairytale in their own rights? After all, they are mostly about the unpopular kid getting the attention of the school’s star, and voila, Rachael Leigh Cook gets Freddie Prinze Jr., and Jennifer Love Hewitt turns into every high school boy’s girlfriend at the end of the film.

Life could be so much easier if people would like her.

The things that have DESCENDANTS going for itself are the cast, the colorful imagery and obviously the musical sequences, although the latter seems to be surprisingly cut small for a film that turns out to be a little too long. The producers decided to not concern themselves with complicated musical or dance numbers (with the exception of the opening number, which not only had to introduce the kids, but also the setting they were born into) and instead focus on the high school romance story at hand, which had all the elements making DESCENDANTS into a love story that involved fairytale characters. A romance between Mal and Ben was the focus, when the script could have instead chosen to spotlight Mal’s difficult transition from being a bad girl to a good high school student trying to step out of the shadow of her evil mother (portrayed by an always charming and stellar Kristin Chenoweth, turning her into the network’s biggest draw for the film). A coronation was the connecting plot device in the third act when the script could have seen to more of Ben’s decision to integrate the kids of evil villains into their community while also putting a definition of depth on Mal’s three co-conspirators to Maleficent’s evil takeover turned friends at the end of the very long 112 minutes. And instead of focusing on fashion for a few too many minutes by having Mal be the in-house hair stylist, as Evie makes up a new dress for the characters to wear during Ben’s coronation, maybe the community could have been put front and center in a few scenes when it comes to their displeasure of evil walking among them.

Maleficent is here to make you sing and dance.

At the end of the day, DESCENDANTS is exactly that what the Disney Channel wanted for their target audience: colorful fashionable imagery with a couple solid pop songs and a Dove Cameron who may or may not be the current starlet of the basic cable network and studio. If she were a few years younger, then maybe she could have broken into the Disney bubble from which there is no escape from, but her career took a different turn. She was the dead daughter of Patrick Jane first before co-starring in her first Disney Channel film that led to her dual role on LIV AND MADDIE, and after that Disney experience she decided to level up to the studio’s main television network for appearances in a superhero comic television drama, albeit in a role that really did not suit her at the end. The remainder of the cast, when you take Chenoweth out of it, is barely visible in the story and therefore hard to talk about. They would be great faces and characters in yet another high school teen comedy movies from the 1990s, but their appearances in DESCENDANTS did not help make the film part of the twenty-first century. The high school teen comedy is sort of stuck in the late 1990s, and even two decades later the writers cannot get the genre out of that era, let alone bring in a cast that could manage to kick said genre out of that era and into the new millennium. But then again, do we really want the high school teen comedies from the 1990s to change? Hasn’t that genre been one of the best parts of 1990s cinema?

Disney Channel Original Movie: Go Figure

Date of airing: June 10, 2005 (Disney Channel)
Nielsen ratings information: N/A

It is less than a month before I will be tipping all my toes into Disney+ to watch all the Disney Channel Original Movies that have missed the chance to be part of my life, but as the internet was throwing a few different DCOMs at me from the first decade of the current millennium, I figured I could not wait that long, so here I am, giving myself the opportunity to find out whether or not Jordan Hinson was a Disney star back in the day (IMDb says she was not) and if there is a television sitcom in existence with her name front and center (IMDb says all two of them were cancelled after one season). Consider the fact that Disney+ is launching my opportunity to learn more about the basic cable network turned over-the-top streaming service. And consider me watching at least one DCOM a week from this point forward, until I either tire of these films that have really nothing else to offer than the notion of escaping the crap-filled world we live in today and witness 90 minutes of happiness.

GO FIGURE is just the random first movie the internet has thrown at me one weekend morning, so here I am watching it, with a handful of other films already waiting (plus the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL film series, which I would love to have caught up on before I watch the television series). It turns out that the internet knows my taste pretty well, because as it stands, GO FIGURE was not such a shady Disney Channel offering at all, which I’m generally expecting from all of their movies I have never heard of before. But as it happened, the story of Katelin Kingsford and her road of becoming a junior ice hockey star while also granted access to the US national figure skating team for the Olympics was quite intriguing, even if the writing did not really make it seem this way. If GO FIGURE had been a film developed for one of the major networks, then it would have turned into a pressure drama about a young woman not keeping it up and eventually turning to booze or alcohol for pressure relief (at least in the 1980s or early nineties). If it had been an actual studio production for the movie theaters, it would have come close to being a gender-reversed THE MIGHTY DUCKS as possible. Both options would have made for an interesting film, but the Disney Channel version of it toned things down considerably, and so Katelin never has to deal with any bullying from the other students, she does not get into a heated competition with Pamela, who doesn’t even get enough of Katelin’s attention to ruin her days. Katelin does not deal with a complex and demanding ice hockey schedule and never in a million years was she ever threatened to be skinned by her teammates for being a twirler. It’s almost like the script was intended to be as easy as possible for the cast and viewers of this very production, because the Disney Channel can never deal with any actual problems a character must face in life.

It’s a colourful message of “I don’t like you.”

And because the DCOMs kidnap me into a world where everything is peachy and happy-go-lucky, character depth and meaningful storytelling suffers. The most hardest question of these 88 minutes were what Katelin is going to do after she found out that the hockey finals and the figure skating senior championships were happening at the exact same time. But that question shouldn’t even have been part of the narrative, because really, in a small town Katelin was stuck in following her forced-upon hockey scholarship and her figure skating lessons (talking about living two lives and having to keep the other one a secret to the people you’re with), you should not force the folks to choose one event and forego another. The hockey finals could have been done and over with for lunch, while the figure skating championships could have been the family event for dinner time. The fact that the script even forced both events at the same time is just one cheap way of forcing a conflict, because otherwise your character will never deal with actual conflicts. And really, Katelin never dealt with anything else during the film. Pamela was no issue, because the figure skating parts of film weren’t even front and center most of the time. Ronnie didn’t become an issue for Katelin, because the film was not allowed to have any bullying in it (and Ronnie would have been the perfect bully for such a story). Hollywood could have been a great friend to Katelin, but because of the missing character depth, everyone outside of Katelin’s storylines didn’t get enough attention and therefore went home without having exited me as a viewer. You could even talk about how little brother Bradley was a failure of imagination here, but then one must remember that on the Disney Channel, the characters who are the little brothers to the central female character are almost always annoying, and Bradley was not that. He was just without a goal in his own life, as it looked like he was defining his life by what his big sister was not doing. There was an opportunity for a character arc with depth, but then it was wasted for a battlebot sequence on the ice — which should have been an exciting scene, but like the rest of GO FIGURE, it was toned down to suit the young viewers of the program, and how none of them were allowed to see any kind of violence. No, not even battlebot versus ice ring machine on wheels.

Taking a nap on the ice before the big show number.

Still, GO FIGURE had the necessary charm to not be annoying all the way through. I was thankful that Spencer was as little of a love interest as the writers made him, because it didn’t clog down the story with a romance it didn’t need (nevertheless, Spencer clearly had a crush on the girl he wanted to kick out of the team and she gave him a smootcher on the car ride to the figure skating championships). And Katelin herself was always ready to face the music and work on the tiny problem the script let her face. She partially reminded me of Hilary Duff in CADET KELLY, who was also always giggly and excited about everything she was doing, even though the world was throwing rocks in front of her feet to make the journey a little more difficult (oh boy, I am so happy to rewatch CADET KELLY right as I log into my shared Disney+ account for the first time — that film stuck with me all these years after I saw it for the first time on German television). That Katelin would master her journey was of course predictable, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a journey for nothing. She won new friends, she developed a new family for herself, she realized a few life lessons on the way, and hell, she led her ice hockey team to the first finals ever, as well as getting a spot on the Olympics team. That almost screams a sequel, and that made me realizeI would love to know where the character would be heading after the happy end. After all, being on the Olympics team and on a junior ice hockey team that almost won the finals should spell big career moves for Katelin. Is she going to win gold medals as a figure skater, but then hammer home more awards as a prized ice hockey player in figure skating off-seasons?