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    15 Disney Channel Original Movies That Actually Aged Well

    Nope star Keke Palmer plays a competitive Double Dutch player in one of the most fun sports movies I've ever seen.

    collage of different scenes from Disney movies
    Brooke Greenberg / BuzzFeed, Everett Collection / Disney Channel

    Before anyone gets mad at me: This list is unranked and only contains exclusive titles that aired straight to Disney Channel (sorry to The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Sky High, and Hannah Montana: The Movie). It also treats holiday-centered films equally, because I'm tired of some of the greats being pigeonholed. 

    1. Cadet Kelly (2002)

    characters standing in front of each other in military uniform
    Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Yes, I’m bisexual, and yes this was one of my favorite Disney Channel movies growing up, why do you ask? Cadet Kelly is a lot of things. It’s one of Hilary Duff’s best films, it’s an exploration of female friendship, gender performance and family structures, and yes, it’s absolutely thick with (likely unintentional) sexual tension. So much so that Christy Carlson Romano, who stars in Cadet Kelly as the intimidatingly intense, seemingly cold-hearted Jennifer Stone, has addressed it multiple times, including in one of her own TikToks. And, look, you’re never going to find me slandering a single Hilary Duff movie, okay? But especially not one where she’s rocking matching military school uniforms with her close-talking frenemy. Cadet Kelly follows the free-spirited eighth grader from NYC who is forced to move upstate and enroll in George Washington Military Academy after her mom’s fiancé gets a job there. There, Kelly struggles severely under the new rigid structure, and her adjustment is made worse by Cadet Captain Jennifer Stone, who hazes her harshly in the supposed name of a fellow Cadet Captain both girls are crushing on (okay, sure…). Eventually, Kelly adjusts to the rigor of her new school, even joining the drill team, and eventually performing one of the most iconic drill routines opposite Jennifer, because the two make it over the hump of their newfound friendship — no pun intended, I swear. The characters in Cadet Kelly are surprisingly well-crafted by DCOM standards, and whether or not you ship Kennifer (Jelly?), this movie holds up as one of the Disney Channel greats. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    2. Stuck in the Suburbs (2004)

    Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

    I feel like now is as good a time as any to remind you that Taran Killam (Saturday Night Live, Single Parents, famously married to Robin from HIMYM) played pop star Jordan Cahill in what is simultaneously one of the most and least formulaic DCOMs on this list: Stuck in the Suburbs. Starring hands down one of my favorite Disney actors, Danielle Panabaker, Stuck in the Suburbs follows Brittany Aarons, just your average girl living in the suburbs and longing for a more exciting, overall less basic life. Brittany writes moody songs about trying to escape her town and pines after pop star Jordan Cahill along with her friends. When a cool new girl (Brenda Song, Dollface) moves to town, Brittany befriends her and the pair end up attending Jordan’s video shoot for his new single — why he chose the seemingly boring suburbs to shoot said video remains unclear — and through typical DCOM shenanigans, wind up accidentally swiping the singer’s cellphone. When they realize whose phone they have, and all the newfound power that comes with it, what ensues is (mostly) what you’d expect. Everyone, especially my girl Danielle, is at their Disney Channel-level acting peak in this movie, which boasts a weirdly stacked cast, a great soundtrack, and notably (and to my relief) lacks any real kind of romance, favoring the friendship stories instead. Refreshing for a Disney Channel flick, for sure. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    3. The Cheetah Girls (2003)

    The Cheetah Girls gathered over a manhole singing to Toto
    Disney+

    Spoiler alert for The Cheetah Girls 

    The zillennial urge to rewatch The Cheetah Girls 1 and 2 perpetually… The girls were right, I don’t wanna be no Cinderella, I simply wish to be a Cheetah Girl. The outfits, the choreography, and most of all the friendship. Does anything rival the cultural impact of this girl group/movie franchise? I think not. Galleria (Raven-Symoné), Chanel (Adrienne Bailon), Aqua (Kiely Williams) and Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan) are best friends, sisters and cheetahs. After auditioning for their high school talent show, a famous alum spots the girl group and offers to meet with them about a record deal. Galleria immediately lets her ego get the best of her and becomes ultra controlling over the girls and the group as a whole. When their record deal turns out to be semi-shady, The Cheetah Girls find themselves on the verge of breaking up. Luckily, Galleria’s dog, Toto, falls into a hole on the streets of Manhattan, causing a news frenzy and a crowd to gather, vigil style. In the end, Toto saves The Cheetah Girls’ friendship, and The Cheetah Girls save Toto. And this movie saved me throughout all of 2020, and 2021…and so far in 2022. I promise, it totally holds up. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    4. The Cheetah Girls 2 (2006)

    The Cheetah Girls at the breakfast table in spain
    Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

    My sincerest apologies to the people of Barcelona who had to watch me and my best friend from high school sing Strut at the top of our lungs for four days straight. But that alone should be a testament to The Cheetah Girls 2’s legacy (and our typical teenage audacity, I suppose). The second Cheetah Girls film picks up three years after the first, where the girls, now juniors in high school, are stressed about spending the summer apart. Thankfully, a helpful gust of wind informs the girls about a music festival/competition happening in Spain, and they all decide to tag along on Chanel and her mom’s summer trip. Once they arrive, it’s The Cheetahs at their best, singing to the entirety of Barcelona while meeting new friends and potential love interests along the way. This sequel’s got even better songs than the original and an unbeatable setting. If you can suspend your disbelief a little more than maybe your average DCOM would require, you’ve got yourself a totally cheetah-licious film. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    5. Good Luck Charlie, It's Christmas! (2011)

    Bob helping charlie put the angel on top of the tree in Good Luck Charlie, It's Christmas!
    Fred Hayes/Disney Channel/Everett Collection

    Understandably, this movie was pigeonholed as a Christmas movie, which explains why it didn’t receive the praises it deserved upon its premiere, but I firmly believe it should join the ranks of other successful Disney Channel shows turned great Disney Channel Original Movies. Good Luck Charlie’s strength as a show was always in the relationship between Amy and Teddy and the film really leans on that to shape the story. The Duncans are headed to Palm Springs to visit family for Christmas, but when the airline offers someone a free ticket in exchange for giving up their seat, Teddy and Amy have to take a few detours to reach everyone in time for the holidays. It’s a fantastic holiday road trip movie I'd dare compare to the likes of Planes; Trains and Automobiles, with the added appeal of an action-packed B-storyline with all the boys (plus Charlie, of course) trapped in an intense paintball match back in Palm Springs. It's heartwarming, it’s funny, it's everything the show was, (minus the dumb romance plot lines Disney channel tried to sneak in) plus better cinematography. You can even watch it if you missed out on the Good Luck Charlie hype back in the day, I promise. Queue this one up next Christmas, or quite literally whenever, for a fun feel-good time.

    Watch it on Disney+.

    6. Go Figure (2005)

    Katelin and her coaches in Go Figure
    Disney+

    Katelin is a super talented figure skater with dreams of going pro. After being discovered by Natasha, the prestigious coach she desperately needs to take her to the next level, Katelin heads off to her new fancy boarding school to train, on (surprise) the hockey team. As a "twirl girl," Katelin has to earn the respect of her new team, along with that of the figure skaters, while keeping both parts of her life separate from one another. This movie was one of those great athletic stories that convinced me I could definitely become a pro figure skater at the age of eight (far too late in the game to get into the competitive sport) when it graced my grandparents' bedroom TV for the very first time. It’s got the classic torn between two worlds dilemma shared by many great DCOM athletes to follow, such as the soon-to-be-mentioned Troy Bolton and Jump In's Izzy Daniels, paired perfectly with the early 2000s baby girl boss feminism embodied by the film’s tagline: “She shoots. She scores. She accessorizes.”

    Watch it on Disney+.

    7. Halloweentown (1998)

    Marnie and her siblings in the back of a cab
    Disney+

    There are so many great DCOMs about finding out you’re a witch, but this one definitely takes one of, if not THE, top spot. Marnie and her siblings just want to go out and celebrate Halloween, but her mom is being an on-brand level of weird about it. When Grandma Aggie arrives for her annual visit, Marnie eavesdrops on a fight between her mother and Aggie and learns that both women are witches, but that her mother has chosen to live as a mortal in the mortal world. When Aggie goes to leave, Marnie and her siblings sneak onto the bus with her and wind up in the world of witches, goblins, and ghouls, aka Halloweentown. Halloweentown is filled with festive, magical touches that make the movie stand the test of time, even as some of the special effects and makeup age out of being cool. The movie’s villain still unsettles me, and watching the kids experience their first few moments in Halloweentown never ceases to make me feel like a kid again. Despite the name, I would not consider this a strictly Halloween film, and very much enjoyed rewatching it in late February, so you should take a trip to Halloweentown whenever you please...maybe even right now?  

    Watch it on Disney+

    8. Return to Halloweentown (2006)

    Marnie and her friend sitting on the steps of Witch U in Return to Halloweentown
    Disney+

    Look, I know it’s controversial, and considering the original Halloweentown also graces this list, I clearly have nothing against Kimberly J. Brown as Marnie, but I did not mind the actor swap in the fourth and final Halloweentown, Return to Halloweentown, and I actually think it’s an essential part of what makes the movie good enough to land a spot on this list. The newly recast Marnie is headed off on a full scholarship to Witch University, but her college experience isn’t the Hogwarts-inspired adventure she was hoping for. At Witch U, no one is allowed to utilize their magical powers, and the school is full of mean and snobby witches who immediately clash with Marnie and her do-gooder attitude. Eventually, Marnie discovers something is wrong in Halloweentown — I mean, really, when is anything ever right in that wacky town? She and her new friends must work together to save the school, and subsequently the world, per usual. It’s Harry Potter-esque, but without the often stressfully high stakes, plus Lucas Grabeel (!!), who finally gets the screen time he really deserves (I’m looking at you, High School Musical). Return to Halloweentown is almost surprisingly fun and not at all tired despite being the fourth chapter in the franchise, and not at all sorry to say, I think the new Marnie makes all the difference. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    9. High School Musical 2 (2007)

    everyone dancing by the pool in high school musical 2
    Adam Larkey/Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Look, in a perfect world each chapter of the High School Musical franchise would bop straight to the top of this list. But in reality, when you revisit the world of HSM, you'll find only the second one has a plot meaty enough to stand the test of time. When you watch this time around though, you might find yourself rooting, just slightly, for Troy and Sharpay. Hear me out: Could she have been a little nicer and more considerate in her methods? Certainly. But Sharpay is hustling her sparkly mini-skirt-clad-behind off in an attempt to help Troy level up his entire life. And Troy doesn't even deserve it! I digress. All the Wildcats are headed to work at the Lava Springs country club after Troy persuades the manager into hiring basically his entire high school — what can we say? The man is charming. But their fun summer jobs aren’t as easy as they, for some reason, thought they’d be, and soon the group is at odds with one another. The whole plot taking place against the dreamy backdrop of the fancy golf resort really helps patch up any holes in the plot, and the second film easily boasts the best songs out of the three. They also finally let Zac Efron use his own voice in this one, so the lip-syncing feels a little less out of sync. Of all the High School Musicals, this one absolutely aged the best and will only have you wincing/cringing/potentially fast-forwarding an appropriate amount. 

    Watch it on Disney+

    10. Jump In! (2007)

    four of the characters watching the sport from the sidelines
    John Medland / Disney Channel / Everett Collection

    Adding to the tally of DCOMs that convinced me I could absolutely dominate in a sport I had no prior knowledge of: Jump in! This criminally underrated movie stars High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu and the soon-to-be Nope star, Keke Palmer. Jump In! follows Izzy (Bleu), a boxer training to carry on his father’s athletic legacy. His friend, neighbor, and not-so-secret crush, Mary (Palmer), is a competitive Double Dutch player on a team with her friends. When one of their teammates abandons them with the city finals around the corner, Izzy jumps in to help. For some reason, being great at Double Dutch is very embarrassing for Izzy and he struggles to maintain secrecy and avoid ridicule, often bailing on his new team, named The Hot Chili Steppers — a reference I’m pretty sure I only fully got just now — and lying to his father. Eventually, he really steps up to the plate and helps his teammates in the city finals. Jump In! is the most fun I think I’ve ever had watching a sports movie, but I promise you, the jump rope stuff is way harder than it looks. This heartfelt movie should've skyrocketed Corbin Bleu to stardom, and upon rewatching it, I’m still really unsure as to why it didn’t. Either way, you should definitely revisit his fancy footwork in Jump In!

    Watch it on Disney+.

    11. Read It and Weep (2006)

    Jamie and Is in Read it and Weep
    Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Jamie Bartlett’s life isn’t all that, but her fictional one totally is. Every time Jamie faces a problem, her alter ego, Isabella (or simply "Is"), totally solves it in her world of school, boys, and enemies. Jamie writes about Is and her magical adventures in her diary via the 2006 equivalent of an iPad, but accidentally submits the diary as a homework assignment one day. In a definite breach of privacy, her teacher submits it for a writing contest and it wins, becoming an instant bestseller. Jamie has fictionalized just enough that the self-centered high schoolers around her can’t seem to connect any of the very clearly drawn dots, and instead begin to adore the now famous and successful Jamie. Also, her family owns a pizza shop, and her best friend Connor (Jason Dolley, Good Luck Charlie) has a massive and poorly kept secret crush on her. I only learned upon this last rewatch that this film stars both Kay and Danielle Panabaker, who look and act so similarly I thought they’d just had Kay play both parts and aged her up a little as Is. Either way, as a young aspiring writer, this DCOM did something to me, and the effect still persists to this day. Order yourself some seaweed pizza and fire up Read it and Weep for your next movie night. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    12. Starstruck (2010)

    the character playing guitar
    Disney Channel/Everett Collection

    Anyone who has read basically any of my work knows I simply adore a celebrity-meets-normal-person-who-isn't-a-fan storyline. So much so that I wrote about the BBC One/HBO Max show that utilizes this same exact concept and shares a name. But this movie…oh this movie does this trope SO well. The writers must have known what they were doing, potentially even pulled straight from some Wattpad/Tumblr fanfiction plots to craft this total masterpiece of a DCOM. Jessica Olsen is just your average girl from Michigan out in LA on a trip to visit her grandma (who unfortunately is neglected the entire trip). But Jessica isn’t like other girls, namely her basic older sister who is obsessed with pop star Christopher Wilde. In fact, Jessica HATES him, a fact she makes known early and often throughout this movie. When her sister drags her to try and spot Christopher at a club in LA, Jessica ends up at the backdoor in perfect position to get concussed by Christopher during his hasty escape from the paparazzi post an iconic performance of his original song, “Shades.” The pair end up having to outrun the paparazzi together (with Jessica mildly concussed for at least some of this time? The medical specifics are unclear), and naturally fall in love, but not before trashing/losing/sinking SEVERAL cars together. Sterling Knight definitely proves himself as the post-Zac-Efron leading man we all needed, and I'm sad we didn't see him do a whole lot more following this film. The cheesy (and quite unrealistic) LA setting? Fantastic. The spontaneously intense musical performances? Unmatched. I recommend rewatching this gem alone or with notably nonjudgemental friends all willing to admit that “Something About the Sunshine” is a genuinely catchy and fun song. Go ahead and watch it. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    13. Twitches (2005)

    Alex and Camryn in Twitches
    Disney+

    The first Twitches film was so great that Disney gave it a sequel, Twitches Too, a rare occurrence for non-musical DCOMs that actually hasn’t happened since. A twins separated at birth story always hits, and Tia and Tamera Mowry nail it like no other (sorry Lindsay…), but no one who’s seen Sister, Sister could possibly be surprised by that. Camryn and Alex are magical twin sisters, but they don’t know it yet. Both of the twins experience flashbacks to their real lives in the magical realm of Coventry, which manifests in their unique talents — Camryn draws and Alex writes. The pair grew up with wildly different backgrounds (once again, think The Parent Trap) after being hidden in the non-magical dimension of Earth for their own protection. After reuniting on their 21st birthday, the twin witches must team up to save their home dimension from “The Darkness.” While technically a Halloween-y movie, Twitches is thrilling year-round, and “The Darkness” genuinely still gives me the creeps all these years later. It’s through and through a top-tier DCOM. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    14. Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (2009)

    Justin keeping Alex from falling off a cliff in Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie
    Francisco Roman/Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

    I feel as though this movie was entirely eclipsed by the television counterpart's (admittedly fantastic) legacy, but we need to talk about how good it was/still is. There’s almost no way to create a standalone film with a story that can keep up with multiple seasons of magical mischief — almost. The Russo family are headed to the Caribbean for what Jerry and Theresa hope will be a magic-free vacation, but all three of the Russo kids have other plans. On vacation, the family meets a wizard who wants their help finding the Stone of Dreams to turn his parrot back into a human, but Jerry shuts down the quest idea because he’s heard it’s either a hoax or too dangerous (which is it, Jerry???). Later, in a fit of frustration at her mother’s anti-magic sentiments, Alex wishes that her parents had never met, and accidentally casts a spell to make it so. Now she and her siblings have to find the Stone of Dreams to save themselves from literally dissolving into nothingness since their parents never meeting means none of them should exist. The location alone makes this movie worth the watch, but paired with next-level cinematography compared to the show’s standard sitcom style, and Selena Gomez’s unbridled star power, I wouldn’t have questioned it if this Disney Channel Original Movie had graced the big screen. Alas, it never did, but you can still see Alex, Justin (David Henrie), and Max (Jake T. Austin) race against time to save their family and go through some tear-jerking character growth together from the comfort of your own couch, the way Disney intended. 

    Watch it on Disney+.

    15. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)

    Zenon and her friends exciting over music together in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century
    Disney+

    If 2049 doesn’t look like Zenon’s life, then seriously what is the point? Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century follows Zenon (obviously) who grew up entirely on a space station that orbits Earth. Zenon has great friends and loves her life in space, but after getting into trouble (once, one single time!) her parents decide to ground her, like literally, by sending her to live with her aunt down on Earth — bit of an overreaction in my opinion. Zenon doesn’t fit in with the earthlings; they’re mean about her undeniably cool name, they don’t get her slang, and they don’t care about her stories from literal outer space (rude). So Zenon spends most of her time texting her bestie, Nebula (Raven-Symoné), and trying to figure out how to get home. She then discovers a horrible (and genuinely terrifying) plot is brewing to crash the space station for the insurance money. It’s up to Zenon and her new Earth friends to save all of her loved ones from dying in space at the hands of this evil mastermind. This movie is jam-packed with nostalgic '90s goodness and fun futuristic touches we just don’t see anymore these days — probably because we realized we’re further away than we thought from the very first rock concert in space. Still, we can rewatch Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century and at least imagine.  

    Watch it on Disney+.

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