As someone born and raised in Florida, Disney is something I grew up with. I had a giant Minnie Mouse head for my first birthday cake, and my adoration of the character – and the franchise as a whole – has only grown since (understandably, since I obviously had no choice in that cake – but shout out to my mom, solid choice!).
Disney World is my favorite place to be, and even when I’m not there, I love immersing myself in anything Disney-related – especially the movies, especially the older Disney Channel movies that make me nostalgic for being 12 again, singing along to “My Supernova Girl” in my bedroom with Proto-Zoa.
Recently, I had a conversation with one of my friends from work about our shared love of this specific little piece of nostalgia, and so I decided to put together a list of my favorite movies from the best TV movie era in Disney Channel history. These aren’t in any particular order, and I love them all for various reasons – whether they’ve held up through the years (or were ever even any good to begin with), or not! 😛
My Top 10 Favorite Disney Channel Originals
Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century
Despite this list not being in any particular order, Zenon is always my first go-to title when someone asks me which of the Disney Channel Originals I like best. Zenon is a girl that was born and grew up on a space station. As a punishment, she’s sent to Earth to live with her aunt. Obviously, Earth culture is quite a shock for Zenon, made into even more of an ordeal when she discovers that some creepy suitwearing guy is trying to crash the space station her parents are still living on! Raven Symone plays Zenon’s best friend Nebula (these names are awesome, I love them), and Gregory Smith (the kid from Small Soldiers!) plays her Earth boyfriend.
It’s got everything I love – bright colors, neon lights, space, a sassy and fierce main character, and a catchy theme song: Zoom, zoom, zoom / Make my heart go boom, boom / My supernova girl~
Brink! follows teenager Brink (Andy Brinker) and his group of inline skating pals as they navigate the treacherous waters of teenage drama, roller blades, helmets, and selling out to The Man (or something like that). I honestly don’t remember much about the plot besides that Brink decides to skate for a big sponsored company, and his friends become VERY salty about it – although they eventually find out the reason he does it is for the money (duh), and forgive him. It’s a good friendship movie! I’m not explaining it well. I was also totally into friendship & skating, and definitely didn’t just have a huge crush on Erik von Detton as an 11-year-old…
Alley Cats Strike
Baby Kaley Cuoco!! I loved this movie so much as a kid, and in retrospect, it’s really weird that it was even made. What group of fourteen-year-olds (or several groups, if this movie is to be believed) are this passionate about bowling? Exactly zero of them is how many. Did that stop me from watching this 14 times while on vacation (instead of going swimming with my family at the beach, which terrified me)? Not one bit.
Halloweentown is high up on my nostalgic seasonal classic movie list, along with Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Marnie’s sass as an almost-thirteen-year-old that “is practically a grown up” was something I related to so hard, and the way she took care of her younger siblings as a powerful little mini-witch was my jam. I love her, this, and everything about it.
And for the record, HOW DARE they replace Marnie’s Kimberly J. Brown from the first several movies with Sara Paxton, AS IF NOBODY WOULD NOTICE? We noticed. You have brought dishonor on your family. (Props to Sara though, she’s lovely! She just wasn’t the Marnie we loved for the first few movies!)
The Luck of the Irish
In addition to inline skating, I was also super into basketball! (And definitely not Ryan Merriman…) The Luck of the Irish is hilarious and I almost forgot about it until compiling this list. It’s about a boy named Kyle, and his family who swears they’re from Ohio when he asks about his family history for his high school’s special Heritage Day event. Some shenanigans with a gold coin ensue, and suddenly Ryan’s sprouting red hair and getting quite a bit shorter… And then we find out that his mother’s side of the family are actually all leprechauns and his fancy coin (which they entrust to the youngest member of the family, because that’s clearly the best idea) allows them to appear human!
Also, like… Basketball and stuff. It’s gold! No pun intended.
Wish Upon a Star
This is one of the movies on the list that actually has one of those nice messages at the end, where you’ve learned something (or are meant to have, whatever, look how cute little Izzie Stevens is!). 18-year-old Alexia and her 15-year-old sister Hayley are total opposites, with Alexia being popular and Hayley obviously needing to then be dorky and brainy. They do a funky Freaky Friday-esque swap thanks to a wish made on a shooting star, and suddenly the sisters are discovering what it’s really like being in the other one’s shoes. It’s really entertaining, and the sisterly bond and love between the girls – along with the overall message of accepting yourself for who you are – is super sweet.
Speaking of sisters! Another good Disney Original about sisters is Double Teamed, which I think came out a bit later than some of the rest of these. It’s about twins Heather and Heidi Burge, and is based on a the real life stories of the professional basketball players of the same names. I’m realizing now how many of these movies have sport themes – I’m not sporty at all, but they’re so entertaining. Heidi wants to branch out from her twin, who she views as better than she is at sports, so she tries out for the school play. Unfortunately, her father isn’t accepting of this deviation from his vision of twinning athlete daughters, and drama happens!
Get A Clue
Ahhh, LiLo at the height of her Disney Channel golden days! This movie about a bratty girl, and the trouble she causes for the people around her – and her subsequent attempts at unravelling the mystery to solve said trouble – is way more entertaining than it probably sounds. I mean, just look at this screenshot! How cool are these kids? I wanted an ill-fitting pleather jacket and sunglasses of my very own. And Simon & Milo being on the soundtrack! I still get their song stuck in my head to this day, and this movie came out over 15 years ago now. Earworm!
The Thirteenth Year
Mermaids! Boy mermaids! Disney is a rulebreaker, and I love it. Cody is an adopted teenager, and when he turns 13, he starts experiencing some… weird stuff. Like, really weird – not your typical puberty weird! Eventually, they discover that the mermaid Cody’s father swears exists really does – and she’s Cody’s birth mother! This movie is probably the first thing I ever saw that had to do with mermaids aside from The Little Mermaid, and may have something to do with my obsession now. They’re just so cool!
Peggy Bundy can do no wrong – unless she’s the crazy motherly AI of a computer controlled ‘smart house’ won in a contest, of course. This one is directed by LeVar Burton, which probably explains the very futuristic sci-fi feel the plot was going for – the man knows what he knows! 😛 Katey Sagal is awesome in it, and I also just realized the kid from this is also Kyle from the Luck of the Irish. Disney has a track record for recycling their actors and I guess kids just don’t notice – UNLESS YOU’RE MARNIE!!!
Did your favorite make the list? If not, which is it? I have so many other ones that I love that it was hard to narrow it down to just 10! I wish they’d release these all in a collection or something someday – I’d definitely pay for it!