One of the biggest perks of Disney+—some Millennials may even say the biggest perk of Disney+—is the newfound ability to watch every Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM, as we all were so quick to abbreviate) on-demand. Sure, you can probably just find all of these on YouTube or go back through your DVD collection (you know you own at least one DCOM on DVD, just admit it), but that’s not exactly the point. The point is, Disney+ has the DCOMs.* And Baby Yoda.
*Sadly though, Disney+ doesn’t have all those movies erroneously thought to be DCOMS, that were either aired as Disney Channel original movies before the “Original Movie” branding or were actually Wonderful World of Disney movies from ABC. That means no Susie Q (Disney Channel Premiere Film), no Model Behavior (The Wonderful World of Disney), no Wish Upon a Star (the next Disney Channel Premiere Film after Susie Q), and certainly no P.U.N.K.S. (wherever the hell that one came from). The first DCOM—unless you strangely count Northern Lights, starring Diane Keaton, which you shouldn’t—premiered on October 25, 1997, Under Wraps.
Under Wraps will also not be on this particular list, because you can’t trust anyone whose DCOM of choice for literally any mood is Under Wraps. So, now for the 12-ish DCOMS that did make the list:
Mood: For when you want to use your Adult Eyes to see things you never noticed before, because it makes the fact that you’re watching DCOMs as an adult feel like a Choice Based On Depth, not nostalgia.
As a kid watching Brink!, chances are you weren’t the biggest fan of Ralph Brinker (David Graff), Brink’s dad. He didn’t “get” Brink, he wouldn’t let him join Team X-Bladz (even though Brink did anyway), he was a parent who just didn’t understand. But now you’re obviously old enough to realize one fundamental fact: Brink’s dad is actually maybe the best character in Brink!? It’s between him and Gabriella (Christina Vidal), and Gabriella only kind of edges him out because the movie didn’t try to force in a love story between her and Brink (Erik von Detten), thank god. But Ralph Brinker, in hindsight, isn’t the stick in the mud dad he seemed; he’s stern but supportive, deeply in love with his wife, and his own struggle (being on disability from work) doesn’t ever devolve into an uncomfortable bitterness. Plus, Ralph Brinker had jokes! Better jokes than his son, honestly, which is hard to accept when you have your Erik von Detten crush blinders on.
The other major thing you probably didn’t notice or remember about Brink! was the very small (for some reason) subplot about Peter’s (Patrick Levis) abusive stepfather. Especially the part where all of his friends, including Brink, just ignore every single cry for help this sweet angel child makes. The first mention of his stepfather is when Peter is talking about how his mother actually hid in another room while his stepfather admonished him for getting suspended on the first day of school, and every subsequent mention and glimpse at Peter’s home life is… not good. It’s really not good, you guys.
Mood: When you no longer want any subtext, whatsoever.
Here’s something you’ll be surprised to read: When people talk about Cadet Kelly being the gayest DCOM, they’re honestly missing so many of the reasons why it is. Of course there’s the main story between Kelly (Hilary Duff) herself and Christy Carlson Romano’s (credited as just “Christy Romano”) Captain Jenny Stone. I mean, just watch this scene. But from that, there’s also the fact that the Shawn Ashmore role—no offense to Shawn, but it makes no sense why Disney wouldn’t have cast Aaron, the more muscular Ashmore twin, instead for this particular role—is clearly the result of a network note about there needing to be a love interest. Even though Kelly’s final scene is with Stone and she and Ashmore’s Brad never even kiss or have a moment that suggests they’ll be a couple in the future.
But if you’re not feeling the relationship between Kelly and Stone, there’s also the instant gal pal story between Kelly and Carla (Andrea Lewis), which hits a snag near the end when Kelly introduces everyone to her ex…best friend, and Carla is heartbroken. Or Aimee Garcia’s scene-stealing (despite the questionable accent she goes in and out of) turn as Gloria, Stone’s sidekick-turned-ally of Kelly: She and Kelly have an extremely emotional moment with each other, literally in the trenches, and then every moment after that is her giving looks during pretty much every situation that say, “Yes, this movie is a love story about Kelly and a girl. Take your pick of literally any girl Kelly interacts with.” It’s great.
Mood: For when you want a Twelfth Night riff but watching She’s The Man kind of makes you sad (you know, because of all the Amanda Bynes stuff).
Really, this mood kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
Mood: When you need to be reminded just how poorly we screwed up the whole “future” thing.
Modern-day life is already just one constant reminder that we’ve failed pretty much every futuristic vision imagined. The Jetsons, Back to the Future 2, Terminator—they were all just dead wrong about what life would be like now or even in a few years from now. (SkyNet, please just take us away.) But Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century is just a reminder that we’re not getting any closer to its vision for 2049… if we even make it to 2049 at all. (Again, SkyNet, take us away.)
No one is living on a space station, no one is making “Zetus Lapetus” (the “fetch” of its time) happen, no one is anyone’s “Supernova Girl.” Sure, we still have a little less than 30 years to get to this future, but if you truly think any of us are on the path to the 2049 of Zenon, then you must be more short-sighted than Disney Channel was when they cast Raven-Symoné as Zenon’s (Kirsten Storms) best friend in the first movie, only to have to recast her in the second (because she was making that Dr. Dolittle 2 money). (She showed back up in the third movie though, as at that point, she was fully in the Disney Channel system, with Kim Possible, That’s So Raven, and The Cheetah Girls.)
Yes, there is a third Zenon movie—Zenon: Z3—but that is not and never will be mandatory viewing. Especially with the criminal recasting in the form of the new Protozoa (originally played by Phillip Rhys).
Mood: When you need a classic parable about classic warfare in your DCOM viewing, for some reason.
Due to the fact that Disney does not even own the rights to it anymore, The Famous Jett Jackson is not available to stream on Disney+, even though its series-ending movie is. (Come on, Canada. Do the right thing. For Beyonce. And Rachel McAdams.) So if you want to want to see the late Lee Thompson Young on Disney+—which is a mood in and of itself—you’ve gotta watch Disney Channel’s take on the ‘80s ski movie genre, Johnny Tsunami. When you’re not thinking about the fact that poor Brandon Baker didn’t have the Disney star power that his co-stars Young and Kirsten Storms had coming into this, you can focus on the movie’s straight-up brutal tale of class warfare. I mean, they call the “poor” kids—public school kids, who snowboard, as though that’s not also expensive—“Urchins.” The skiers are the “Skies,” which definitely makes sense and captures how elite they are… while the snowboarders are bottomfeeders.
It’s basically the same plot as Brink!, only with a love interest and a mountain instead of the beach. And also misnamed because Johnny’s grandpa (played by Shang Tsung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is the actual “Johnny Tsunami.”
Mood: When you want to reminisce about how Zac Efron really just stole Jesse McCartney’s whole career out from under him.
Really, this choice works best if you do it as a double feature with the two-season WB series Summerland first—making High School Musical the chaser—but no one’s putting Lori Loughlin shows on their mood boards. Yet. However, if you do remember Summerland, you’ll remember that singer-actor Jesse McCartney was the young teen heartthrob of the cast, while little Zac Efron was a recurring guest star and the love interest of McCartney’s character’s little sister (played by the now-retired Kay Panabaker, a DCOM alum in her own right). In the second season, Efron was cast as a series regular… and then came High School Musical. Despite the bop that is “Beautiful Soul,” we all know how things went from there—at least for Efron.
And it wasn’t even Efron’s voice in the first movie! But still, he did what he had to do.
Mood: For when you get that feeling inside that compels you to Tweet, once again: “JUSTICE FOR BRENDA SONG”
Brenda Song currently stars in Hulu’s Dollface, alongside Kat Dennings, Shay Mitchell, and Esther Povitsky.
Mood: When you’ve had another bad Tinder date and are wondering why you feel such a void in your soul, only to later realize in therapy that you’re still not over your adolescent crush on Ryan Merriman.
Ryan Merriman was—surprisingly—only in three DCOMs, but with his presence and very early 2000s Cool Boy look, it was easy to think he was in more than one. In fact, a lot of DCOMs probably would’ve been even better if he’d been in them as the male love interest instead of other boys we’ve never seen since… but Ryan Merriman was never going to sign on to be just the love interest more than once, you know?
Also, if you want to get over your adolescent crush on Ryan Merriman as an adult, just watch the first season of Pretty Little Liars. He grew up to be quite the handsome man, but his character is such a sleazebag that you’ll finally be able to make peace with not ending up married to him and living in a smart house voiced by Katey Sagal.
Mood: For when you erroneously remember Ryan Merriman as the lead of this movie, probably because of A Ring of Endless Light and the fact that “Merriman” and “Merman” (a mermaid… but a boy) are kind of similar
It’s an easy mistake to make, especially since you would never expect that an actor named “Chez Starbuck” was the lead of this or any movie or was even real at all. Honestly, with that name alone, he should’ve been a bigger Disney Channel star, shouldn’t he? But considering the Cool Boy nature of the character in this movie, it’s an easy mistake to make.
Mood: When you don’t really want to keep watching The Thirteenth Year now that you’ve been reminded it wasn’t Ryan Merriman, but you always thought Courtnee Draper was cool, and The Jersey Isn’t On Disney+ for some reason
Plus, Stepsister From Planet Weird is simply a better DCOM than The Thirteenth Year and also vastly more quotable. “I fell in the sink.” and “I fear the wind!” are still surely stuck in the back of your mind—now in the front of your mind since they’ve been mentioned.
Mood: For when you’re really hoping that the ‘90s swing revival is the next thing from the ‘90s that comes back (even though you know in your heart that it really won’t be).
Look, we all get it: The ‘90s swing revival was a great time for a lot of people. But it’s never going to come back. Some say it was actually the 2000 DCOM about bowling, Alley Cats Strike, that killed it, as upon seeing talented child actors—by Kyle Schmid, Robert Ri’chard, and Kaley Cuoco, who all transitioned to being grown-up actors rather well, thankfully—partake in the swing revival (and again, bowling), people finally got sense and asked, “What have we done?!?”
Mood: When you just want to watch a musical with some decent jams.
First of all, it seemed wrong to suggest watching a Cheetah Girls movie without Raven-Symoné, so that’s why Cheetah Girls 3: One World is not part of the list.
Second of all, some of you might think that High School Musical is the DCOM musical to watch when you want some decent jams. … Oh, that’s it. There is no follow-up to that thought process. Some of you just think that, for some reason.
Mood: When you want to watch a DCOM that will make you cry, because it’s somehow even more relevant now than when you were in school and they made you watch it.
When you really look back at DCOMs, The Color of Friendship is probably the only actual objectively good—not clouded by nostalgia—movie of the bunch. A DCOM that handles race well (do yourself a favor and never rewatch Gotta Kick It Up!) and actually even talks about it and also isn’t filled with corny jokes throughout. There’s a reason there aren’t a bunch of DCOMs like this one, despite all the critical accolades it received.
Despite her mother’s wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB’s image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya’s your girl. Her writing has been featured in The A.V. Club, Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, Complex, Consequence of Sound, and Flavorwire, among other publications. You can find her tweets about TV shows, movies, and music you completely forgot about @lafergs;.
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