Rip Girls (00′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Ready for waves, shady land developers and making decisions that you’re probably too young to make? Then look no further than Rip Girls!

Aired: April 22, 2000
Directed by Joyce Chopra
Starring Camilla Belle
Run time: 1h 27m
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age
Synopsis: A 13-year-old girl discovers she’s inherited a large portion of land on her native homeland of Hawaii; a place she hasn’t visited since she was a child.

Following in the footsteps of Johnny Tsunami, this is the second DCOM that follows the trials and tribulations of a protagonist native to the island of Hawaii. However, unlike Johnny who had been surfing since he was a child, Sydney has never surfed a day in her life. Honestly, I would much rather try surfing than snowboarding. Although, I would be afraid of possibly encountering a shark and getting a limb bitten off. But that’s just me.

After traveling back to her native homeland of Hawaii for the first time since she was a child, 13-year-old Sydney Miller learns that she’s inherited a large portion of land. Despite her quick decision to sell to a big-wig land developer, Sydney soon discovers a deeper appreciation for her island home. And, of course, learns to surf.

Q: Whose idea was it to have voiceovers in so many movies?
A: An idiot. That’s who. Instead of Sydney telling us that she’s hasn’t been to Hawaii since she was born, you can literally use a throw away line to another character and be like “I haven’t been here since I was a kid…”. Thankfully it was only for a few minutes at the beginning of the film.

Q: Could Sydney’s dad be more uptight?
A: Sydney literally starts speaking in riddles while she’s trying to tell him the truth about going surfing. Something that he explicitly told her not to do.

Q: You know how when you’re young and you find a cool, yet spooky, abandoned house and decide to go explore it?
A: Yeah, that’s called breaking and entering.

Despite Camilla Belle’s young age in this film, this isn’t her first acting credit and she has quite the long list of filmography. She played a young Sally in Practical Magic, received a call coming from inside the house in the remake of When a Stranger Calls, and fought a shadowy government sect hunting people with special abilities alongside the future Captain America in Push.

Fun fact: this movie wasn’t actually filmed in Hawaii, but in Queensland, Australia.

This film has an unexpected eerie and supernatural tone to it. Everything that happens to Sydney is almost like a stroke of luck or fate. Like when she finds her mother’s picture or her mother’s old surf board. And the way in which her dad talks, it’s as if he’s hiding something at every turn. Like what happened to Sydney’s mother and why he decided to take Sydney away from Hawaii. It’s not as light and bright a film as one might think.

Although Sydney originally agrees to sell the land on the plantation, I have to admit that I was impressed by her initial apprehension when she saw the plans from the land developers. Not many kids are concerned about preserving history and keeping the beach open to everyone and not just paying hotel guests.

Sydney’s relationship with her dad becomes more and more strained the longer they’re on the island. Her dad never mentions Sydney’s mother and Sydney’s stepmom feels like she’s competing with a ghost. It’s called communication, bro.

Overall, this movie is super sweet and feels incredibly nostalgic without feeling childish. It’s one of the few films that truly reminds me of what it was like to be a kid. Discovering new things for the first time, making new friends and even having a first crush.

It’s a film all about facing your fears and making decisions for yourself. Discovering that you have power to make things happen and not just sitting idly by and letting things happen. Remember, being scared is half the fun. “Your heart pounding so fast that all you want to do is quit and then doing it anyway.”

Final rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Up next: Miracle in Lane 2!

Alley Cats Strike! (00′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Who’s ready to hit the lanes, borrow some shoes that a thousand other people have worn, and beat the competition with your superior bowling skills? Then get ready for none other than Alley Cats Strike!

Aired: March 18th, 2000
Directed by Rod Daniels
Starring Kyle Schmid, Robert Ri’chard & Kaley Cuoco
Run time: 1h 27m
Genre: Sports, Drama, Coming of Age
Synopsis: A group of teenage outcasts become involved in an inter-school bowling rivalry.

The fact that I can’t remember anything about this film is probably a testament to never having seen it. So that makes this 4/14 DCOMs so far that are new to me. Which is honestly surprising because, and my mother will attest to this, I was practically glued to the Disney Channel as a child.

After an annual inter-school competition for the Mighty Apple trophy between East Appleton and West Appleton ends in a draw, a bowling competition is used to break the tie. Four outcast teens, with a love of the lanes, are thrust into the spotlight along with the most popular and athletic kid in school — who has never bowled a day in his life.

Q: Does this movie take place in the 1950’s?
A: It has to be. I don’t think Elisa would wear a poodle skirt and bobby socks as a retro fashion statement. Oh wait, these kids literally dress in retro clothing on purpose.

Q: Have a mentioned previously how much I hate the use of voice overs?
A: Well, I’ll keep mentioning it until it stops getting used as a cheap tactic to tell a story. We all learned this in English class, kids. Show, don’t tell.

Like many teen actors in Disney Channel Original Movies, Kyle Schmid (Alex) is no stranger future DCOMs. He stars as Galleria’s love interest in The Cheetah Girls, and followed these roles up with several additional films and tv shows. A few of which include the short-lived ABC Family drama Beautiful People, the US version of Being Human (the original UK version is way better), and most recently starred in the Netflix Original series The I-Land.

Robert Ri’chard (Todd) has been acting since he was just a kid and has starred in many of my favorite tv shows including several episodes of Veronica Mars and The Vampire Diaries and most recently starred in the Soap The Rich & the Ruthless. But he’s probably best known for his role as Bobby on the Nickelodeon show Cousin Skeeter.

Now, I’ll always be surprised by some of the actors who appear in these DCOMs, especially when they become fairly well known actors later on. And Kaley Cuoco is no exception. She’s probably best know for her role as Penny on the long-running comedy The Big Bang Theory, but I first knew her as Bridget Hennessey on one of my favorite shows, 8 Simple Rules.

Honorable mention goes to Tim Reid (Mayor McLemore and Todd’s dad) who is well known to me as Ray Campbell on the iconic show Sister, Sister.

This has got to be one of the worst voice overs ever. Alex literally describes how different his life is to Todd’s and then says: “How will Todd’s life and mine ever collide? I just don’t see it.” It’s just an incredibly embarrassing use of foreshadowing. And the voice over doesn’t stop there, it’s throughout the entire movie.

So, how do Alex and Todd’s lives end up colliding, you might ask? As it turns out, Todd’s friend signed him up for Bowling Club as a joke at the beginning of the year and since a bowling tournament will be used to break the tie for the Mighty Apple, Todd and Alex are forced to work together. Although, I honestly don’t understand how signing Todd up for bowling club is actually a joke when Todd didn’t even know he was in the club. But I guess it just comes down to everyone thinking bowling is for dorks.

It’s no surprise that although Todd is a great athlete, he’s no bowler. And like many people who have no athletic ability, I, too, am a terrible bowler. The best way for me to be good at bowling is to use the bumpers and I’m not afraid to admit it. And Todd’s idea to save the bowling alley by turning it into a weekly party is a great idea. I always loved the nights when they had Midnight Bowling at our local alley.

Overall, this film wasn’t one of my favorites. It had many cringy moments including the over-excessive use of voice-over. But it’s not all bad. It’s about having integrity over ego. Todd learns how to let go of his ego and learns how to not only bowl but to also be an actual team player. Something he never knew how to do no matter how many teams he played on. It’s also a film about friendship and not taking the people who have always been there for you for granted.

Ultimately, if you don’t know how to have fun along the way, you’ll never truly win anything.

Final Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Up next: Rip Girls!

The Color of Friendship (00′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Who’s ready to break down racial barriers, realize our prejudices, recognize our privilege and learn from our mistakes, all the while creating life-long friendships along the way? Then look no further than The Color of Friendship!

Aired: February 5, 2000
Directed by Kevin Hooks
Starring: Shadia Simms & Lindsey Haun
Run time: 1h 22m
Genre: Drama, Biographical
Synopsis: Two girls from very different backgrounds are unexpectedly thrown together and end up changing each other’s lives.

As a mixed-race woman growing up in America, seeing a movie like this when I was young was nothing short of revelatory. As a kid, you don’t always think about things like race unless it’s literally thrown in your face. But as a person of color, you can never escape your race/ethnicity or the situations you find yourself in because of it. So, watching a film that didn’t shy away from those uncomfortable topics and encouraged the viewer to think about their own privilege and prejudices is, and continues to be, incredibly important.

13-year-old Piper Dellums, a black American teen, anxiously awaits the arrival of the South African Exchange Student coming to stay with her and her family. But when 14-year-old Mahree Bok arrives, they’re shocked to find that she’s not anything like they expected. In fact, she’s the complete opposite of what they expected: she’s white. And Mahree can’t believe that the family she has to spend the next few months with are Black. After realizing that their preconceived notions about each other were wrong, they must face their own prejudices and come to learn the true color of friendship.

Q: Did Mahree just meet Piper and her mother at the airport and assume they were the Congressman’s servants and not the family she was staying with?
A: Yes, yes she did. I guess that’s what happens when the only Black people you interact with in your own country are those who are servants. Welcome to America, honey.

Shadia Simmons (Piper), is no stranger to the Disney Channel. Following this film, she played a recasted Nebula Wade in Zenon: The Zequel and starred in many shows I was watching back then such as The Zack Files, Strange Days at Blake Holsey High and Life with Derek.

Lindsey Haun (Mahree), has a slightly smaller portfolio and found herself in many one-off episodes of several different shows. However, she did have a recurring role on the HBO vampire drama True Blood.

I love the fact that both Piper and Mahree are the ones pushing to be part of this foreign exchange program. You’d think in most cases that the parents would be the ones pushing for it to happen since it would be “such a good cultural experience” for their children. As a kid, I would definitely have been too afraid to leave home and live with a family I never met, in a country I’d never been to.

This film takes place in 1977, which just happens to be the same year the 37-time Emmy nominated TV mini-series Roots premiered; which tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an adolescent sold into slavery in America and follows the subsequent liberation of his descendants. The mini-series is based on the book Roots: The Saga of the American Family by Alex Haley. The book is, in fact, the telling of Haley’s own family history.

This film also takes place during a time when Apartheid (a system of institutionalized racial segregation) was still going strong in South Africa. It existed from 1948 until the early 1990s. In the film, Piper’s father is a congressman who speaks out against Apartheid and was actually one of the few politicians to bring the issue to the forefront in America. With Mahree living during Apartheid in her own country, many of her assumptions come from what she’s been taught by her family and her government about Black people and their roles in society.

Which makes the assumptions both families make about each other pretty jarring. The Dellums assumed “African” meant “Black African” and Mahree assumed “Congressman” meant “White Congressman”. When Mahree first arrives, she’s so surprised by how large the Dellums house was because she couldn’t imagine a Black family having that type of wealth or wealth of any kind. What would have happened if the Dellums weren’t so well off and were just middle class people living a normal white collar life? Or better yet, what if they were lower class working in the blue collar sector? As a the family of a Congressman, the Dellums are granted many more privileges than other Black families living in DC or around the country. The same goes for Mahree, whose father is a police officer and their family household is run by a maid.

One thing that’s moving about this film is that although Mahree initially treated the family horribly when she first arrives, Piper’s mother Roscoe is still willing to bring her into her home and wants to get to know her. She’s the voice of reason when the rest of the family are apprehensive about letting someone who let her prejudices dictate her behavior stay in their house. However, she doesn’t let Mahree treat her disrespectfully and doesn’t hesitate to put her in her place when necessary.

Overall, this film still remains one of cultural importance and one that I believe will continue to be. It’s all about opening your eyes to the cultural differences between us and discovering that we’re not so different after all. Throughout the film, Piper learns about the ways South Africa functions and Mahree learns how different America is. And by doing so, they come to learn that the assumptions they’ve been taught are entirely wrong and they have a lot more to learn about each other and about themselves.

We tend to focus on the differences that divide us, but there are so many similarities that can bring us together. For working together is the best way to accomplish any kind of real meaningful change. Listening to each other and being willing to learn is what will put us all on the path to freedom. And until we are all free, none of us will be free.

Final rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Up next: Alley Cats Strike!

Up, Up and Away (00′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Well, we’ve done it. We’ve made it to the turn of the century. That’s right, it’s the year 2000. And what better way to start off the new decade than with a family of superheroes! This is Up, Up and Away!

Aired: January 22, 2000
Directed by Robert Townsend
Starring Robert Townsend, Michael J. Pagan & Alex Datcher
Run time: 1h 17m
Genre: Coming of Age, Science Fiction, Comedy, Fantasy, Superhero
Synopsis: As the only normal member of a family of superheroes, 14-year-old Scott Marshall feels left out. But he soon finds that you don’t have to have superpowers in order to be a hero.

Not only does this Disney Channel Original Movie mark the first Superhero film in its arsenal, it also marks the first DCOM that tells the story of a Black American family. Although, Disney broke down barriers with Johnny Tsunami, the casting of which mainly comprised of Japanese and Filipino actors, most DCOMs that came before portrayed Black characters/actors as the best friend or sidekick to a White character/actor. Which in some films like Smart House or Genius, felt like straight tokenism since said Black character/actor was present but they didn’t have many lines or were only present for a scene or two. And in some cases, there isn’t a single line-speaking character of color present at all in films like Halloweentown, Can of Worms and The Thirteenth Year.

This, of course, is a historical problem throughout the movie industry and this lack of diversity and opportunity continues to plague the industry to this day. Unfortunately, not even the made-for-tv movie is immune to this issue. All in all, films like Up, Up and Away, and later films like The Color of Friendship, Gotta Kick It Up! and The Cheetah Girls are extremely important for viewers of all creeds and colors. But they’re especially important to those kids watching that are begging for representation and to see someone who looks like them learn that they, too, can reach for the stars.

Scott Marshall anxiously awaits his 14th birthday, which is traditionally the time when Superheroes attain full control over their powers. However, Scott doesn’t seem to possess any super powers at all and is left feeling like an outcast in his own family. Families can be tough contenders, but they’re even harder when your parents and older brother just happen to be the most famous Superheroes around. When a mind control software is released to the public, it’s up to our Supers to put an end to it and Scott may just be the only one who can save the day.

Q: Who’s the best character from this movie?
A: Scott’s little sister, Molly. She has laser vision and enough sass to put away bad guys. She’s a close second to Lucas’ sister Erica in Stranger Things.

Q: What’s the best household rule that Scott has in his house?
A: “If you want to fly, you have to maintain a B Average. Flying is a privilege, not a right.”

Q: Why does Scott’s nemesis and secret crush Amy look so familiar?
A: Oh wait, she looks just like my first American Girl doll, Samantha.

Q: What’s better than a gender reveal party?
A: A Superpower reveal party. Surrounded by tons of superheroes you don’t know and who have tons of expectations of you.

Q: How many superheroes exist in this world?
A: There are like 30 superheroes at Scott’s superpower reveal party alone. There’s got to be tons just flying around the world.

Q: Have you ever heard of a more ridiculous form of Kryptonite than what these superheroes have?
A: Aluminum foil is their Kryptonite. It quite literally messes with their molecular structure and if they come into contact with it, it diminishes their powers and can potentially kill them with too much exposure to it.

Scott Marshall is played by Michael J. Pagan, and although he’s the star of this film, his list of film credentials isn’t very long; his last acting credit being cited in 2014. However, I do know him from numerous high school sports films like Forever Strong and Gridiron Gang.

Robert Townsend not only plays Scott’s dad and The Bronze Eagle, but he also directed this film. He also directed and starred in the series The Parent ‘Hood and Black Lightning and directed several episodes of South of Nowhere and Unfabulous.

I can’t not point out that our villain is played by Kevin Connolly who is best known for his role as Eric Murphy on Entourage.

The reveal of the family as superheroes is hilarious. The Bronze Eagle is busy driving Scott and his friends home from soccer and he suddenly gets a call and has to attend to a crime scene. And I love that fact that while Bronze Eagle and Warrior Woman are at said crime scene, they can partake in a marital spat all the while taking down the bad guys.

In most teen films, the older sibling tends to be source of anxiety or angst for our main character, but this isn’t the case for Scott and his brother Adam. Adam is genuinely concerned that his little brother might not ever get powers and is incredibly supportive when he thinks that Scott finally got his powers.

Scott has so much pressure put on him that he feels like he has to lie to his family about having developed powers. Pressure can come from all kinds of place in life but its especially hard when it’s from your family. But the fact that his grandfather knew immediately that Scott was lying and is willing to keep his secret is especially sweet.

The fact that the villains in this film, the Earth Protectors, are trying to hypnotize people into helping the environment is hilarious. Like, they’re actually going to force people to become vegetarians, recycle and ya know, steal money from their parents. I mean, Malcolm is quite literally a self-proclaimed “Super Villain”.

Overall, I find this film to be fun and ultimately unique. From the fact that Superheroes are known to the public to the fact that they would die from too much aluminum foil exposure. And it’s always nice to see a supportive family unit.

In a world full of superheroes, you can still save the day even if you don’t have any superpowers. We all have a voice and we all have ambitions. We just have to learn when and how to use them. We all have more power than we realize.

Final Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Up next: The Color of Friendship!

Horse Sense (99′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Who’s ready for horses, a Beverly Hills wannabe turned ranch hand, and familial rivalry? Then look no further than Horse Sense!

Aired: November 20, 1999
Directed by Greg Beeman
Starring Joey Lawrence & Andrew Lawrence
Run time: 1h 32m
Genre: Drama, Coming of age
Synopsis: When 11-year-old Tommy goes to visit his hot shot cousin in LA, he feels totally out of place. But the tables are turned when Michael is forced to live and work on his cousins ranch for the summer.

Now Horse Sense has got to be one of the earlier introductions to the Lawrence brothers as an acting duo/trio. Although they each have their own long list of credentials, they’ve made a point to continue working together over the years. And that’s what makes this film a true gem. The only thing that could make this film better is by adding another Lawrence brother by the name of Matt. But it looks like we’re just going to have to wait until 2001 for that to happen.

When 11-year-old Tommy Biggs goes to Beverly Hills to visit his 20-year-old cousin Michael, he’s left feeling completely abandoned and disappointed due to his cousins selfish attitude. But the tables are turned when Michael is sentenced to Tommy’s Montana ranch for the summer. When the family learns they’re in danger of losing their ranch, and their livelihood, the two cousins must band together to save it.

Q: Why is Micheal’s Beverly Hills bedroom so futuristic?
A: It even looked like he had a Zap Pad for an alarm clock like Zenon Kar.

Q: Where did Michael get the most hideous sweater known to man?
A: And why is he wearing it?

Q: If your parents ever banished you in order to teach you a lesson about responsibility, where is the last place you’d want to be sent?
A: Easy. Florida.

Q: Why does it seem like in every movie, that in order to show wealth, the person always owns something Italian?
A: I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of things made in Italy that are inexpensive and yet still well made.

Joey Lawrence (Michael) is no stranger to television or the Made for TV movie. He starred in several series like Gimme a Break!, Blossom, Brotherly Love, and Melissa & Joey. With his most recent tv stint being Hawaii Five-O. And we can’t forget his return to Disney in the DCOM Jumpin’ Ship with both his brothers Andy and Matt starring along side him.

Like his older brother, Andy Lawrence (Tommy) has also starred in his fair share of tv movies and tv shows. He also starred alongside Joey in Brotherly Love, several episodes of Hawaii Five-O and even played a younger version of his brother Joey’s character on Blossom. He also snags the lead role in another DCOM The Other Me. But he’s probably best known for his voice work as T.J. Detweiler on Recess.

I also have to point out that Micheal’s dad is played by Robin Thomas who plays Kalabar in Halloweentown.

Michael is kind of the worst. He’s such a rich Hollywood wannabe type and Tommy is such a sweet genuine kid. I get that you’re in college and your cousin is a kid, but Tommy literally came to LA to spend time with Michael and Michael doesn’t even pay attention to him. He makes all these promises to Tommy and keeps breaking them.

Like in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, after his momentous screw up, Micheal is banished to the one place he never wanted to be: Montana. Also, Matt Lawrence’s 30-second guest appearance in this film is priceless.

I love that the first thing Tommy makes Michael do on the ranch is shovel manure. Moral of the story: don’t treat a kid like crap. He will get you back and you’ll end up face first in actual crap.

Although it takes Michael quite a while before he realizes his own selfish ways and works to change them, it just goes to show that even the most stubborn people are, in fact, able to change. Once he finds out that the ranch is in danger, he does everything in his power to help.

While on this road to change, we’re bound to make mistakes. But you don’t have to stay sharp or get sloppy as the person you were at a singular point in your life. You can work to make yourself better and you can learn to appreciate what’s right in front of you. It’s never too late to change.

Final rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Up next: Up, Up and Away!

Don’t Look Under the Bed (99′), A DCOM Challenge Review

BOO! Are you scared yet? Well, unless you’ve been on your best behavior, you’re about to be. Get ready for teen angst, pranksters and the Bogeyman! This is Don’t Look Under the Bed!

Aired: October 9, 1999
Directed: by Kenneth Johnson
Starring Erin Chambers & Ty Hodges
Run time: 1h 32m
Genre: Coming of Age, Fantasy
Synopsis: A teen enlists the help of an imaginary friend named Larry Houdini to deal with the prank-playing Bogeyman, who’s framing her for his crimes.

For those unfamiliar with the legend of the Bogeyman, it’s really quite simple. The tale of the Bogeyman was a story parents told their child to frighten them into good behavior. He’s typically depicted as having claws, talons and sharp teeth. So unsurprisingly, this film genuinely scared me as a child. The first appearance of the Bogeyman is pretty terrifying. The creatures in this film aren’t the fun loving creatures you’ll find in Halloweentown.

14-year-old Frances Bacon McCausland is a typical Midwestern teen from Middleburg (a middle-sized town in the middle of the country), with one exception. Strange occurrences seem to follow her everywhere she goes. Clocks going off 3 hours early, 3 dozen eggs missing from her fridge that mysteriously appear to fall onto her Science teacher’s car, even dogs on the roof. Much to her chagrin, Frances finds herself blamed for all the “pranks” happening around town. So in order to clear her name, she enlists the help of an imaginary friend, Larry Houdini, to help her combat the real culprit behind these pranks: The Bogeyman.

Q: Why would anyone want dolls living in their room?
A: That doll needs to be thrown into a fire.

Q: What would it really take to turn an entire swimming pool into gelatin? Especially since making gelatin includes boiling water, about a million packets of gelatin, cold water, a way to stir the water in the entire pool and then chilling the entire concoction so it actually become gelatin.
A: If it were actually possible, I’m be really impressed with whoever could pull off that prank.

Q: Did the McCausland’s really name their children Frances Bacon and Darwin? I’d assume Bert (full name Albert) is named after Einstein.
A: I guess that’s better than Apple or Saint. Those poor children.

Q: What is wrong with that Librarian? She puts on a video for the kids for story time and then gets annoyed when they start clapping and get excited.
A: She clearly hates children and should consider a different career choice.

Q: Anyone else getting major Labyrinth vibes from this movie?
A: Older sister who finds herself in a strange world in order to save her little brother from a scary monster. It’s got everything except for Bowie.

Our protagonist Frances is played by Erin Chambers. After her Disney days she took a turn into the Soapy. She was in Days of our Lives, General Hospital and The Young and the Restless.

Larry Houdini is played by Ty Hodges who any true Disney Channel fan will recognize as Ren Stevens’ arch nemesis Larry Beal in Even Stevens.

I’m not typically a fan of voiceovers in movies because this is a film and you should be able to show and not tell your story without the need of too much background (cough cough Twilight). If it’s needed, then you’re not really doing your job right as a writer. However, it seems to work well with this movie. Frances’ voiceover contributes to the story but isn’t flat out telling us what’s happening and it’s only for the first few mins of the film.

You ever have that feeling when you’re in bed that if you have your hands or your feet over the sides, something from under the bed is going to get you? Well, this movie really makes me think about that. And it doesn’t help to think that the Bogeyman lives under your bed.

What’s interesting is that although no one other than Frances can see Larry, like her parents or her High School classmates, children can see him. Having an imaginary friend is kind of like believing in Santa Clause (or the Bogeyman). We all end up growing out of believing in Santa Clause at some point, but there’s still plenty of children who will believe for years to come. And in that way, Santa will always exist. So if the story of The Bogeyman keeps getting told, then he will continue to live on. And as we all know, seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.

Overall, this film is one of the greats. Rewatching this as an adult, it’s definitely not as scary as I remember. But it’s still pretty creepy. The Bogeyman himself is no Prince Charming and the Bogey World is not a place I’d like to find myself. But all in all, it’s got an important message (and I’m glad that Frances didn’t tell us that message in a voiceover). It’s all about growing up and facing your fears. But remember, you don’t have to grow up too fast. You don’t have to stop believing in those things that once brought you comfort. Once you’ve put away those childish things, you may just find yourself wanting them back.

Final Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Up next: Horse Sense!

Genius (99′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Ever wish you could be someone else? Someone fearless and cool who was so unlike you? Then get ready for double lives and worlds colliding! I am pleased to present Genius!

Aired: August 21, 1999
Directed by Rod Daniel
Starring Trevor Morgan & Emmy Rossum
Run time: 1h 25m
Genre: Coming of age, Comedy
Synopsis: Charlie Boyle is a genius. But even his high I.Q. can’t solve all his problems. So he develops an alter ego in order to make friends his own age.

This film is another DCOM that is completely new to me. I was probably too busy watching Zenon over and over again to catch this one when it first came out. And I gotta tell ya, I wasn’t missing much.

14-year-old Charlie Boyle is a genius (and a huge hockey fan). He studies college level physics and makes discoveries the average person couldn’t even imagine. But not even his genius IQ can solve his biggest problem: feeling like an outcast. So Charlie decides to change things up. He enrolls in the local Junior High and takes on the persona of “Chaz Anthony” in order to accomplish his greatest scientific achievement yet: finding friends his own age. But things aren’t easy for this genius and he soon finds his worlds colliding.

Q: Why is it Charlie’s job to use the Zamboni on the ice at the hockey rink?
A: He’s a child. He shouldn’t be using a giant piece of machinery. His dad should be doing that job.

Q: You know what’s sad?
A: The fact that we try to win the approval of people who will never take us seriously or even truly appreciate who we are. And it’s not even something we just do as kids. We do it as adults too. I find myself doing it way more often than I would like to admit.

Q: If you could go to college as a 14-year-old, would you go?
A: Charlie is trying to become a well adjusted kid but I don’t think having to live with people 5 years older than you or having to teach those same kids is really going to help. I guess that’s why he enrolls in the middle school.

Q: Did we just witness a self transformation montage?
A: Oh god. I’m embarrassed for this movie.

Our protagonist is played by Trevor Morgan, who’s acting resume outside of this film is fairly unknown to me. He’s been in several movies that I’ve either never heard of or never seen. But his list of acting credentials is fairly long.

Emmy Rossum (Claire), however, is a pretty well known star in her own right. You may know her as Fiona Gallagher from the Emmy Award winning Showtime family drama Shameless from seasons 1-9.

Charlie’s dad is incredibly supportive but at the same time is kind of the worst. He’s always telling Charlie to “speak English” whenever Charlie tries explaining something that a little too scientific for him to understand. I get that you’re not on the same level as your child, but how about trying to be a little less condescending. The kid’s a genius. What do you expect?

Charlie is going to college 5 years early and he chooses to go to Northern University of Wisconsin (which isn’t actually a real college). But I love that he chooses to go to a Wisconsin school since that’s where I went to college. However, they really make it seem like Wisconsin is a Midwestern shit hole. Which is honestly a bit offensive. He was told that he’d be working in a state of the art research lab and in actuality it’s just an underfunded basement underneath an ice rink.

Charlie’s alter ego Chaz Anthony is a total douche. He talks back to the teachers, ditches class and basically brags about bullying other students. And of course, he immediately becomes popular.

There are so many moments of second hand embarrassment in this movie. There’s an entire scene where Charlie is practicing what to say when he sees Claire again and he comes up with the line: “Love to love you, Claire and I mean that”. I just can’t. Also, the fact that he gets all of Chaz’s behavior from his douchey dorm suite mate, Mike McGregor, is really telling. Mike is a huge jerk and he doesn’t even know it.

Overall, this film is not going to make the top ten but it’s not all bad. It’s all about accepting who we really are and how we shouldn’t be ashamed of who that person is. Instead, we need to embrace it because we all have something to important to contribute. We all having something to say. And you will find people who also embrace everything you have to offer. All in all you can’t keep performing the same experiment hoping to get different results. You have to change it up a bit.

Final rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Up next: Don’t Look Under the Bed!

Johnny Tsunami (99′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Ready to go from surfing killer waves on the beaches of Hawaii to shredding the snow covered mountains of Vermont and wondering which one is more dangerous and could possible result in serious injury? I know I am! Here’s Johnny Tsunami!

Aired: July 24, 1999
Directed by Steve Boyum
Starring Brandon Baker, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa & Lee Thompson Young
Run Time: 1h 31m
Genre: Sports, Drama, Coming of Age
Synopsis: When teenage surfer Johnny Kapahala finds himself relocated to Vermont, he must learn to navigate the uncharted slopes of snowboarding and prep school bullies.

Can I first start out by laughing at the fact that for a very long time I thought Johnny’s last name was actually Tsunami. Seriously, it was a really long time. In fact, it wasn’t until the sequel (Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board) aired eight years later that I realized his last name was actually Kapahala. And even then I thought they changed his last name to Kapahala from Tsunmai. Kids, amirite? (To be fair, I was only 8-years-old when this movie came out and I had a very short attention span).

13-year-old Johnny Kapahala is an up and coming teen surfing sensation. He’s the grandson of the legendary Johnny Tsunami, the greatest surfer the waves of Hawaii has ever seen. Although his father, the son of Johnny Tsunami, thinks Johnny should do something more practical with his life, the young surfer will not be deterred from becoming the best and being just like his grandfather. But Johnny’s world is turned upside down when his parents announce they’re leaving Hawaii and moving to Vermont. Soon, Johnny must learn to navigate not only being the new kid at a New England prep school, but must also learn to adapt to completely new terrain: snowboarding.

Q: How come his parents didn’t tell Johnny they were moving sooner?
A: They literally moved a week after they told him. I’m so glad I never moved as a kid. Thanks mom and dad.

Q: How much baggage is Johnny’s father Pete carrying around with him about his father?
A: It seems like it’s enough to fill up that nice new house in Vermont and carrying something that heavy can’t be good for the back.

Q: Why do these kids act like Hawaii is a foreign country?
A: I get that you haven’t been out of New England before, but have you never seen anyone who doesn’t look like you? Oh wait…

Q: Is that high school the same high school they use in every Disney tv show?
A: In fact, that looks like the high school from Boy Meets World.

Q: Is snowboarding really easier than skiing?
A: I’m never going to find out. I know too many people who have gone skiing or snowboarding and have seriously injured themselves. Broken legs, broken teeth, bruised egos. You name it.

Q: What is that accent the headmaster is sporting?
A: Is that his idea of a New England accent? I can’t even tell what accent that is.

Johnny Kapahala is played by Brandon Baker. He also starred in the sequel Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board and in several episodes of iconic Disney show Even Stevens. He retired from acting a few years back and currently works for the company Simply Eloped officiating Colorado weddings.

Lee Thompson Young plays Sam and he’s probably best known to the Disney fandom as the teen super star Jett Jackson from the show The Famous Jett Jackson and Jett Jackson: The Movie. He also starred in several other tv shows after his Disney days including 4 seasons of the USA police procedural Rizzoli & Isles. He sadly passed away in 2013 at age 29.

The actor most notable in this movie is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who is a major film and tv actor in his own right. He’s known for Mortal Kombat, Memoirs of a Geisha, and one of my favorite tv shows The Man in the High Castle as Nobusuke Tagomi.

Lastly, I have to note that Emily is played by Kirsten Storms who is best known for her interstellar role as Zenon Kar in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.

I’m from the Midwest and live on the East Coast, so I know all too well how brutal the winters can be. But I can’t even imagine the culture shock of moving from a place that’s warm year round.

Like Johnny, I would be really sad about leaving my grandma back in Hawaii. Especially when he’s been such a role model to Johnny.

You know, this may be the first DCOM that stars a person of color. Plenty of these movies have POCs in them, but they’re usually cast as the best friend or an additional side character. Sam is a perfect example of the black best friend. And I have to say, most of the comments that his classmates make feel pretty targeted. I understand not knowing a lot about Hawaii, but I mean come on. Johnny said one slang word and they told him to speak English.

Aside from the light racism, I have to say that the funniest thing about this movie is the fact that prep school kids ski and public school kids snowboard. Johnny asked Emily about snowboarding and she acted as if he had thrown out a swear word in a PG movie. Blasphemy, I tell you!

I honestly don’t know how I didn’t know what Johnny’s last name actually was. They say it like 15 times. But to be fair, they do keep mentioning Johnny Tsunami and that just happens to be Johnny’s grandfather’s nickname from his early surfing days. But again, I’m going to blame this on my small child attention span.

Even though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie, I can easily remember why I used to love it. Family is hard and can come with a lot of butting heads and disagreements. But they can also be your greatest strength. Even when life gets hard, when it seems like the waves keep crashing in on you, the most difficult thing you can do is to find a way to fight through it. But you might just find that you have more strength than you know.

Final Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Up next: Genius!

Smart House (99′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Ready for a high tech house, an annoying little sister and computers that start to think for themselves, take over your entire life and try to be your mom? Then look no further than Smart House!

Aired: June 26, 1999
Directed by LeVar Burton
Starring Ryan Merriman, Kevin Kilner & Katey Segal
Run time: 1h 22m
Genre: Drama, Coming of Age, Science Fiction, Comedy
Synopsis: When computer whiz kid, Ben Cooper, wins a “Smart House; a house designed to make his life easier, he quickly discovers the house has a mind of its own.

Smart House is one of those Sci-Fi movies that feels entirely plausible and all together really appealing. I mean, aside from the computer becoming cognizant and trying to take over. Besides that huge flaw in the code, I’d totally want a Smart House. Mostly because I’d love to watch a movie that covered an entire wall. Real home entertainment.

13-year-old Ben Cooper isn’t just your typical teenager. He’s one of the smartest kids in school, is a computer whiz and is essentially a father figure/house keeper for his sister and father. When Ben enters a contest to win a “Smart House”, he thinks all his problems are solved. Life is about to become sweet, simple, cool, calm and collected. Or so he thought. Before he can even fully appreciate everything the “Smart House” has to offer, he discovers there’s more to P.A.T than meets the eye.

Q: What’s the most 90’s sentence you can think of?
A: “Are you still on the internet? How am I supposed to get phone calls if you’re always tying up the line?”

Q: When the floor absorbers are activated, where does everything go? Does the trash just accumulate under the house?
A: Watch, there’s just a huge trash pile under the house that grows larger by the day.

Q: Was the most popular girl in your school known as “The Goddess of the Eighth Grade” too?
A: I can’t even remember half the people I went to Middle School (or High School) with. There’s probably a really good reason for that.

Ryan Merriman (Ben) is no stranger to the Disney Channel Original Movie. Following Smart House, he appears in The Luck of the Irish (01′) and A Ring of Endless Light (02′). The former of which is in my DCOM Top 10. And in making a huge departure from his days on Disney, he starred on Pretty Little Liars from 2010-2014.

Katey Segal, ladies and gentlemen. Katey Segal played one of my favorite characters on one of my favorite shows, Sons of Anarchy from 2008-2014. But if you’re unfamiliar with the drama revolving around a gun-running motorcycle club, you may know her from either Married…with Children, as the voice of Lela on Futurama, or the matriarch on 8 Simple Rules.

Ben makes dinner, walks the dog, picks up his little sister and runs her spelling words with her. He’s essentially the father of the house. So it’s not surprising that Ben isn’t a fan of his father dating again. He even points out that the reason he does all that he does for his family is to make sure their lives run so smooth that their dad won’t ever need a new wife. (Which if you think about it is super messed up because it makes it seem like all a woman is good for is keeping the house in order, but whatever).

That being said, Ben is the ultimate cock block. I get it, you don’t want anyone coming in and trying to replace your mom. It would especially hurt to know that your little sister hardly even remembers her. But dude, you have to learn to let go eventually. Let the man be happy. However, Ben watching home videos of his mom is so sad. Poor kid.

The fact that Pat sends out party invites for Ben is so funny. No actual mother would invite their 13-year-old’s classmates over for a party where they would inevitably destroy the house and partake in embarrassing dance routines. However, Pat did only invite them over so she could teach Ben’s bully Ryan a lesson in front of all of his classmates. That’s cold, robot lady. Ice cold.

The special affects in this movie are priceless. So obvious and so 90’s. And let’s not forget the obligatory dance routine to Five’s Slam Dunk (Da Funk) by Ben and his friends. So incredibly 90’s.

I mean, come on. I am speechless. I am without speech.

Overall this movie is super silly without intending to be. I find myself laughing at many ridiculous things that happen. But it’s still a really enjoyable movie. One about family and about growing up and letting go. Letting go of the past doesn’t mean forgetting about it completely. It will always be there and it will always shape who we are. But it’s up to us to decide what shape that will be.

Final Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Up next: Johnny Tsunami!

The Thirteenth Year (99′), A DCOM Challenge Review

Alright, here we go. Who’s ready for teen angst, first love, and sprouting fins? Puberty isn’t what it used to be. This is The Thirteenth Year!

Aired: May 15, 1999
Directed by Duwayne Dunham
Starring Chez Starbuck, Justin Jon Ross & Courtnee Draper
Run time: 1h 28m
Genre: Coming of Age, Fantasy
Synopsis: On his 13th birthday, Cody Griffin grows fins, leading him to an unbelievable discovery about who he really is.

Can I start by saying that I love The Thirteenth Year? This film is one of my favorite Disney Channel Original movies. And after the intergalactic adventures of Can of Worms and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, it’s nice to find your feet back on good ole’ planet earth. Or better yet, take yourself for a nice cool dip in the ocean. You never know what you’ll find.

For most 13-year-olds, puberty is about to rear its ugly head, if it hasn’t already. And for Cody Griffin, there’s no exception. However, Cody doesn’t experience the appearance of body hair or his voice dropping. Instead, he starts sprouting fins. That’s right. Fins. Which leads him to a shocking discovery about who he really is and where he comes from.

Q: What’s the appeal of fishing? Is it the solitude? Is it the catching your own dinner?
A: Honestly, I’d rather be chilling on the boat with a drink in my hand.

Q: I wonder what the adoption process was like for Cody. Like what happens when you quite literally find a baby in a bucket?
A: An insanely chubby and cute baby at that. Did they even adopt the baby or just pull a The Light Between Oceans and claim the baby as their own? (Spoiler, they adopted Cody)

Q: Why does Cody hang out with Sean? They’re competitors on the swim team, he makes fun of other kids like Jess and is trying to steal Cody’s girlfriend.
A: Keep your enemies close, I guess.

Q: According to a theory discovered by Big John, on a mermaid’s 13th year their mermaid side starts to manifest. So what do you do with a child who’s essentially human if you’re a merperson? Do you keep them in the water? Do you keep them on land?
A: What do you do with them? Ariel couldn’t go on land unless she gave up her voice and could therefore grow legs.

Chez Starbuck plays our finsprouting hero and The Thirteenth Year was actually his first acting role.

Justin Jon Ross plays Jess, and although he hasn’t done much acting since this film, he did do some voice over work on Recess and Lloyd in Space (A show that I used to love and had completely forgotten about until now).

Courtnee Draper, who plays Sam, also stars in another Disney Channel Original Movie, Stepsister from Planet Weird. Which is by far one of the weirdest DCOMs.

I also can’t not point out that Cody’s dad is played by David Coulier who played Joey on Full House.

This is a really intense swim team for being in Middle School. Do Middle Schools actually have swim teams? I definitely don’t think mine did.

Big John is one of the most intense people ever. He sticks to his guns even when people don’t believe him or think that he’s out of his mind. You’ve got to admire that. Even if his lifelong goal is to prove that mermaids exist.

Sean looks like someone I went to high school with. Although I can’t put my finger on who. I’m pretty sure, like Sean, this dude was also a jerk. And he also has no follow through. Remember when Sean threatened to find out Cody’s secret after Cody’ won that swim meet? Yeah, nothing ever came of that. It seemed like just an idle threat that the writers forgot about.

Like Zenon Kar, Cody Griffin is one of the most popular kids in school. His parents throw him elaborate birthday parties, his has a cool girlfriend, and all the kids want to be his friend. He just needs to learn to bring a water bottle to school and not create a huge line for the drinking fountain.

Speaking of Cody’s parents, they sure put a lot of pressure on him now that he’s become a teenager. When I turned 13, I refused to have a birthday party because I thought the whole idea of becoming a teenager was overrated. Or wait, was that 16? I also refused to have a 16th birthday party. The whole idea of A Sweet Sixteen still grosses me out. I was a stubborn child.

Overall, this movie is truly unique and fun and it never seems to get old. It’s all about discovering who we are and finding the support system we all need. If we’re unable to share our problems/losses with the people closest to us, then we’re also unable to truly share our victories.

Final Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Up Next: Smart House!