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Before Disney became the global film goliath that owns Marvel, the Star Wars franchise, and 20th Century Fox, it ensnared ‘90s and 2000s kids with an iconic slate of Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs). Heartwarming, low-budget, and full of teen pop classics, several DCOMs rose above the persistent mediocrity of made-for-TV movies to become true cultural landmarks of our generation.
5. “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior” (2006)
Likely the least recognizable film on this list, “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior” features Brenda Song of “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” smashing stereotypes and saving the world with reincarnated Yin Warrior magic. While many consider the last few years to be a historic period of Asian American representation in Hollywood, Disney created a Chinese-American homecoming queen and superhero who saves the world and develops a romantic arc with a Buddhist monk way back in 2006.
4. “Halloweentown” (1998)
Truly the best childhood Halloween movie, this classic’s role on the list really represents the full series, comprised of four films released between 1998 and 2006. The Cromwell-Piper family at the heart of the series is immensely charming, and the films track them over their formative years as the protagonist goes from 13 years old in the first film to a college student in the last. With magic, family, romance, and early 2000s special effects, these films will never not be nostalgic.
3. “High School Musical” (2006)
No mention of DCOMs is complete without the sensation that shot Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens into stardom and put “Breaking Free” into every karaoke lineup in existence. It is a wildly unrealistic representation of high school, but it gave the world “We’re All in This Together,” so most of its faults can be forgiven.
2. “Camp Rock” (2008)
Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas, two of the greatest Disney child actor success stories, show off their acting chops as much as can be expected from two adolescent singers in this DCOM that portrays the coolest summer camp you never went to. It is a story of hidden identities, superstars, and a typical “Mean Girls” plotline in which characters lose sight of themselves in order to fit in while on the path to developing a voice. “This Is Me” may well be the anthem of a generation.
1. “Lemonade Mouth” (2011)
While this movie has not achieved quite the same mainstream success as the last two, it easily has the best soundtrack, character development, and ensemble of all DCOMs. The teens’ interesting and distinct brokenness comes together to form the uncannily gifted titular underdog rock band. They help each other grow, and even though the film is no shining example of realism, it is infused with an awkward, hopeful, us-against-the-world spirit that feels authentic to adolescence.
— Staff writer Jenna Bao can be reached at email@example.com.
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