• Sharon To

Catching up on the latest musical DCOMs

With all the time I've been spending stuck indoors (thank you, Covid-19) I've had a lot of time to dive into Disney+ and explore the latest Disney Channel Original Movies, and there sure is a lot to catch up on!

As a kid, DCOMs were my thing. No Disney Channel movie came out that I didn't find a way to see, but I basically checked out of Disney Channel after 2008, the last movie I remember seeing being Camp Rock (this was not by choice, we stopped getting cable). The characters were so relatable and funny, and while yes, most of these movies are really corny, sometimes that's just what the day calls for. So I recently found myself wondering, "what are DCOMs like nowadays?" These movies are very much a product of their time, so what is this generation's Disney Channel fanatic like, what do they care about? How much has changed and how much has remained the same?

Well first of all, I can say I'm an absolute sucker for Disney Channel's musical movies. Cheetah Girls was pretty much the first musical movie I remember seeing from Disney Channel, followed by High School Musical (which I totally obsessed over) then Camp Rock. In the last decade, though, I missed out on the likes of Lemonade Mouth, Let It Shine, Teen Beach Movie (1&2), Descendants (1-3), and Zombies (1&2)! There are a lot more DCOMs that came out (and I will definitely get to them eventually), but my musical-loving self knew I just had to put these at the top of the list! So here are my thoughts and observations on these musicals and the development of DCOMs in general.

First, my general observations:

DCOMs are as corny as ever

I never expected this part to change, and I'm actually very happy to see that they haven't. There's just something very endearing and innocent about continuing to spread the idea that love wins the day and that we should embrace our true selves. We get so much cynicism in our everyday lives and even kids are exposed to so much darkness and negativity because of their unlimited access to the internet that I'm just happy that hasn't pervaded the classic DCOM.

The music style has definitely changed

Just compare a song from High School Musical to a song from Descendants. And this is actually very much tied to pop culture. Descendants was the first DCOM musical to showcase this musical transformation and it's really no wonder it did, because it came out during the rise of EDM music, the explosive popularity of Hamilton, and the rise of BTS in the US. Not only do DCOMs now have the very EDM-like synthetic backtracks, but there's a lot more rapping embedded in the songs, and the dance numbers have gotten remarkably more complex. The same can be said for Zombies. This has a very stark contrast with the likes of High School Musical and Cheetah Girls. While I'm biased towards my classic musical movies, I think this progression is cool to see, and it's very clear that DCOM creators are very "with the times" and know how to cater to their demographic really well!

Let It Shine came out in 2012 and its soundtrack was exclusively rap and hip hop, but the central essence of the movie itself was about rap and hip hop music so you wouldn't exactly expect the showtunes-y feel from this movie to begin with. This new infusion of rap that we see starting from Descendants and carrying on into the other movies as well is incorporated more so in songs we didn't previously expect to contain rap refrains.

Now onto my movie-specific thoughts (spoiler alert in case you haven’t seen these movies yet and don’t want to know what happens):



Lemonade Mouth

Lemonade Mouth promo image - courtesy of Disney

The plot

The misunderstood teens with widely differing backgrounds meeting in detention and finding something that bonds them is very evocative of The Breakfast Club. And the shy girl needing to overcome her stage fright to show the world how amazing she is is very akin to Gabriella Montez from High School Musical and Mitchie Torres from Camp Rock. The battle-of-the-bands vibe is also something we've seen many times before as well. Not to say that any of these plotline decisions are bad, but they do have a strong similarity to previous movies. I did think the movie's messages of empowerment and "standing up to the man" were solid and very motivational (albeit very corny, of course).


The characters

Seeing characters like Gabriella and Mitchie who are ridiculously talented but too shy to show their true potential, then when they do, they suddenly burst with confidence is a little bit of a tired character trait for me, and Olivia fits this description to the tee. While I love both of those characters and honestly saw them a bit as role models when I was younger, I think it sets up an unrealistic expectation then when you do commit to something everything will fall into place, which won't always be the result.

From the perspective of being an Asian American female, I’m really happy to see Hayley Kiyoko as one of the central characters and even more so as a driving force in this movie. I didn’t see many characters like this growing up, but I really would have liked to, so I’m happy that girls now have these types of characters to draw inspiration from.

Naomi Scott’s character was also a welcome change, but I think the oppressed high-performing daughter breaking out on her own and ultimately being supported by her parents is another misleading storyline. Not all strict parents are as welcome to change even when they do see how happy it makes their kids.


The soundtrack

You can bet I was singing Determinate in my head for days after I watched this movie. And She’s So Gone is such a liberating song, I can’t not feel energized after hearing it. I really liked the Lemonade Mouth soundtrack with the exception of Mudslide Crush’s songs. I get they’re the villains, but villains can have really catchy songs too, just ask any Disney animation villain.


My overall thoughts

Lemonade Mouth is such a fun movie! I really enjoyed the music and both the humorous and frustrating obstacles the characters had to overcome. I loved how the characters bonded over the lemonade machine and how that all brought the whole movie together. I took some issue with the dynamic between Scott and Mo and how Scott had the freedom to just switch allegiances from his previous band that he was so proud of to Lemonade Mouth because the opportunity presented itself, but it was a clean way to tie up the story, and that’s kind of what we’re looking for with our DCOMs!


Let It Shine

Let It Shine promo image - courtesy of Disney

The plot

The plot of Let It Shine follows the parent v. child conflict that’s borne out of a generational difference that is overcome when the parent decides to try to understand where their child is coming from. It also follows the shy boy falling for the popular girl who he tries to help his best friend get in good graces with trope. Ultimately this story is about a shy boy with a passion for rap and hip hop who goes through multiple parental, friendship, and romantic obstacles culminating in a final competition with the story’s antagonist where he wins the competition and the girl. A lot of the plotline here also pulls from common traits we’ve seen in previous movies. While not entirely original, it was a comforting and fun family movie to watch!


The characters

Cyrus is your typical shy boy who lets everyone trample on him because he doesn’t have enough confidence to stand up for himself. Cyrus is definitely a likeable sweet character you would want to root for, BUT when he chooses to partake in a rap battle after Roxie runs out on their Rap Grand Slam performance instead of going after her, it feels like he was basically just using her to gain fame. I get that we needed to see him take down Lord of da Bling and win the championship, but if I were Roxie I wouldn’t be too happy to see him choose the competition over me.

I was not a fan of Kris. He played the ditsy friend, but he was also super inconsiderate and full of himself, and his line about “feeling all the girls in Atlanta” made me really uncomfortable.

Roxie’s a sweet girl who I wish they gave more character development to.


The soundtrack

The songs were great! They’re very upbeat and have very artful lyrics! I’m a big fan of the creative way rap lyrics are crafted in general, and I really enjoyed the modern renditions of the gospel songs.


My overall thoughts

While I’m happy that Cyrus and his dad made amends by the end of the movie, their resolution felt really rushed. His dad showed almost no willingness to compromise literally until a couple minutes before the major event of the movie. I already mentioned this, but I took big issue with Roxie running out on the performance when she learned about Cyrus’s betrayal. Instead of Cyrus chasing after her and feeling like she was more important, he decides to not just present the champion with their trophy, but to challenge the champion and win the trophy! Not only is it strange to me that he would choose presenting a trophy over clearing things up with Roxie who he has supposedly fallen for, but the finalists in the championship had to beat other rappers to get here, so it’s not really fair that he just gets to come in at the end and come out the winner. It’s also strange that everyone thought Kris was Truth literally up until the championship and no one took issue with suddenly seeing Cyrus.

None of these issues detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie. It’s still a fun and heartening film to watch with the family!



Teen Beach Movie

Teen Beach Movie promo image - courtesy of Disney

The plot

A super fun plot! I love the idea of magically being transported into a movie and being able to interact with the characters as real people (and then vice versa!) It’s a bit Jumanji-esque, but much less intense and frightening and much more fun and cute! Plus Wet Side Story? How cute is that??

The thought of interfering with the way things are supposed to go (as Mack and Brady do when they’re transported into Wet Side Story and start messing with the plotline, then when Lela and Tanner end up in the real world and Lela doesn’t want to return) is very reminiscent of time travel-type movies where one thing you do can change the entire chain of events that follow. This problem in itself is a philosophical fallacy, so I don’t think any story handles the recovery from this super well, but for the fun movie that it is, I think they did a great job!


The characters

Mack and Brady are your typical sweethearts who you are rooting for to stay together. Their personality differences are more apparent in Teen Beach Movie 2 rather than Teen Beach Movie because it’s more clear how serious Mack is compared to Brady’s laid back attitude. I generally shake my head at characters who can’t understand why their significant other is focused on school as opposed to spending time with them because I think that’s a silly conflict; you should be proud that someone is working so hard for soemthing they want and support them instead of trying seeing it as a competition between their future and you, but maybe that’s just me.

I absolutely love Lela, she is such a bubbly and funny characters, and overall just a joy to watch. I especially loved seeing her development in Teen Beach Movie 2 as an autonomous person as opposed to just a fictional character, suggesting really strong female empowerment tones which I think they incorporated really well.


The soundtrack

I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really remember what any of the songs sounded like after the movie ended. In terms of the soundtrack, I think it played well with the movie and was really enjoyable, but not something I’d play on repeat outside of the context of the movie itself.


My overall thoughts

I loved the concept of this movie and the execution! I have to say I found Teen Beach Movie 2 more enjoyable than Teen Beach Movie. I think it has a lot to do with the way the fictional characters experienced our “real world” and just all of the funny hi-jinks that came with that. I also really appreciated and enjoyed the direction the movie went in in terms of acknowledging that movies like Wet Side Story (and their real counterparts) are a bit outdated for the values we hold today. It was a nice nod to the classic movies we still can and still do love while also tweaking their messages to be more supportive and progressive.



Descendants

Descendants promo image - courtesy of Disney

The plot

I found this movie so refreshing, and the plot line really so inventive and creative! Obviously ignoring the issue where all the princesses/princes and villains had children at the same time so that all their kids could go to school together (also Hades and Maleficent??? Weird!). This also ignores the fact that in most of our fairy tales the villain gets defeated in the end and that usually ends in their death. Enjoying this movie requires a lot of forgiveness and flexibility with the fairy tales we know and love, but I’m all for it! I also love it when our favorite stories are intertwined as if all the characters existed in the same universe (when Once Upon a Time came out, I ate it all up!).


The characters

I loved all the Isle of the Lost kids, they each have their redeemable qualities but are just misunderstood because they were raised differently, and I really liked the message here.

Evie was definitely my favorite character because she was so humble and so supportive, and even her relationship with her mother was my favorite because Evil Queen was always genuinely rooting for Evie’s success, not just for her own benefit.

I still find it weird that Ben had some internal “beast mode” even though his dad was cursed, so I’m not sure how that’s hereditary...


The soundtrack

The songs in this soundtrack are filled with synthesized beats, rap, and general “dubstep” style, and the performance aspects of these songs have large synchronized dance moves. The songs are great and they’re fun to listen to, but I was caught so off guard by its style because it was very unexpected compared to typical musical songs.


My overall thoughts

I love this series. It’s such a fun twist on the classic stories, I feel like it’s the fresh perspective that we need. I think the cusp of the problem in Descendents 2, though, too closely mimics Descendants since Uma magically spells Ben into falling in love with her the same way Mal did, except the resolution with Uma occurred in a matter of minutes. I did think Descendants 3 was fun since they introduced yet another twist where the good princess Audrey turns into a villain. The general moral that pervades all of the movies about giving a chance to those in less than fortunate circumstances and trying to relate to those with different backgrounds from us is such a powerful message that I’m glad kids get to be exposed to.

Would I watch this again? I definitely would! (in fact, I already have!)

But also, did anyone else find Under the Sea to be SUPER weird??



Zombies

Zombies promo image - courtesy of Disney

The plot

The plot of Zombies has a very similar vibe to West Side Story (or Wet Side Story) and general love stories between two people from warring family (or...types of people) This is such a fun and light twist on zombie stories, since we don’t always see zombies in the context of romance. Though this isn’t the first of its kind, Warm Bodies beat them to the punch.


The characters

Addison is the “perfect” girl who comes from the perfect regular human world, but has one thing that makes her imperfect: her hair. It was a bit odd that Addison’s one imperfection is that her hair is platinum blonde as opposed to regular(?) blonde, but she’s otherwise a nice and sweet character!

As far as characters go, I think Zed is a very cute and innocent character! All he wants is acceptance at Seabrook and for him and his zombie friends to be treated equally. Of course he doesn’t go about it the right way (by messing with his Z-band), but he has the best intentions and I love him for that! Also his little sister is THE CUTEST.

Bucky is your typical sassy, self-involved, snooty character who stands in the way of our protagonists being together.

While I liked Eliza, a part of me is bothered by how often female supporting characters are now either coders or robotics engineers. I get that this is meant to show diversity, but as a software engineer myself, this feels like a reverse pigeonhole to me.


The soundtrack

The songs remind me so much of Descendants, the scenes of the zombies singing through Zombieland drawing a close parallel to the kids in the Isle of the Lost during Rotten to the Core. BAMM is a really fun and upbeat song and the performance is top notch. And who could not love Someday?


My overall thoughts

I haven’t been able to see Zombies 2 yet (but I will when it gets on Disney+!) but I really liked Zombies! The characters are lovable and wholesome and the story is lighthearted while also touching on the importance, again, of accepting those who are different from us and taking the opportunity to understand them better. I think the message would have been stronger if Addison had a problem other than that her hair was more blonde than what’s considered normal to them, but I get the idea. I have to say, I also couldn't help but notice that the primary cast here was starkly of Caucasian descent and many of the diverse ethnic minority actors/actresses were relegated to sidekick roles (think Eliza, Bree, and Tracey). I get that we can't fix all the world's problems in a day, but this is still worth noting. Aside from that this is such a lovable, funny, and sweet movie that has you cheering (get it?) for the characters and reveling in their success!

In case it wasn't apparent, I loved all of these movies! They brought me so much joy as I watched them and I had such a great time investing in these characters’ stories. From the recent DCOMs I’ve seen so far, I’m happy to say they are still as fun, innocent, corny, and cute as I remember them being! I can’t wait to catch up on the rest of the them!



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