Everyone I know secretly loves Disney Channel Original Movies (or DCOMs, for short!). Seriously, I don’t care if you’re a college professor who only drinks imported whiskey and exclusively reads The New Yorker —I would bet money that you still love a good DCOM.
And what’s not to love? DCOMs are riddled with over-the-top plots, plucky teens who always triumph and plenty of feel-good montages. From space creatures to improbable athletic competitions, this is where insane plots go to die—or live on forever in our hearts.
In honor of all the DCOMs I’ve watched in the past 20 years or so, here are my top five:
There’s nothing better than a low-budget show set in space. In this movie, the year is 2049 and Zenon is forced to leave her space station home and be “grounded” on Earth. But no one appreciates her crazy pink and purple wardrobe or her awesome space slang. (To nova = to freak out, by the way.) Nor do they worship her favorite band Microbe with lead singer Proto Zoa. But when her space station is threatened, Zenon is the only one who can save it—along with the hot guy she met on Earth, of course. This movie was so good, Disney ended up making a bunch of sequels. Though let’s be honest, most of us are only into it for the slang. I have no idea if we’ll end up saying “Zetus Lapetus,” in the future near, but I certainly hope so.
Megan’s mom is marrying a weird new guy, bringing along his equally weird daughter, named Ariel. Only it turns out Ariel is an alien. And not a green-skinned, long-faced alien either. No, Ariel is a gaseous bubble. Let me just repeat that: SHE’S A GASEOUS BUBBLE. Here’s how she describes her human form: “Every time I look at this horrid vehicle; the rubbery flesh, the flat face, the ghastly yellow hair that grows out of this hideous skull, I can only think I am grotesque.” Ha. Never change, DCOMS.
There’s a reason this DCOM became an international hit, and it’s not just the oozing charm of a 19-year-old Zac Efron. The story is familiarly predictable, the characters are likeable stereotypes, and the dancing and singing is on point. Seriously, check this out:
There are no specific effects, no CGI. It feels like you’re watching a, well, high school musical come to life. Plus there’s romance! And Troy realizes he doesn’t have to give up his love of singing just for basketball! No wonder this movie got two sequels, and launched the careers of several young stars.
Brink! is the classic DCOM sport movie: it focuses on a not-that-popular-sport and the tension between the cool rich kids and the ones who are just doing it for the love of the game. Of course it’s the latter group who wins out in the end—but not before the main character, Brink, almost switches sides. Love beats money in any good DCOM, and he’s able to say no to Team X-Bladz (these names just kill me) in order to keep skating for fun.
As a culture, we have a weird obsession with holiday-themed towns. It is a personal dream of mine to end up in a Christmas village where Santa is roaming the streets and every day is filled with presents and candy canes. Alas, I recognize that this will probably never happen. But Halloween Town makes it a reality for Marnie and her siblings, who discover their grandmother is a witch living in a town where it’s always Halloween. And not scary Halloween either—this is a DCOM for heaven’s sake. No, everyone is in obvious masks and cartoonish getups and the cab driver is a skeleton. The conflict is light, and the Halloween jokes are plenty and once you get through this one you can devour any of the three sequels.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt & Co.; September 29, 2015)
If you’re a fan of crazy plots, then check out Bardugo’s new fantasy novel. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven meets Lord of the Rings. It follows Kaz, a thief who’s given a chance to pull off a deadly heist, but he needs help to make it happen, which comes in the form of a sharpshooter, a convict, and a few others. This fantasy tale is epic, romantic and fun—exactly what you’d want out of a good book or a good DCOM.