Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
high school musical 2 summer job?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
high school musical 2 summer job?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
Culture > Entertainment

Disney Channel turns 40: A look back at my favourite memories

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Despite taking the truly British rite of passage from CBeebies to CBBC growing up, I found my way onto the all-American Disney Channel as I headed into my teens. With shows like Suite Life of Zach and Cody, Good Luck Charlie and Hannah Montana, I’d be stuck to the sofa and the channel wouldn’t change until it came back round to an episode I’d seen before. Because of my infatuation therefore, my dad also grew older with Disney Channel shows before his eyes and still to this day knows so many storylines and the origins of the Disney stars. We could be watching an Academy Award winning film and my dad would recognise Zendaya as Rocky from ‘the dancing show…what’s it called, Shake it Up Chicago’.

In honour then of the Ruby anniversary of a channel that shaped my childhood, I thought I’d harness my teenaged emotions and my dad’s memory to recognise the ways in which Disney Channel has been such a huge part of young kids’ lives across the world.

From characters to episodes that had me engrossed over the years, here’s my ‘Disney Channel’s Finest‘ roundup:

Wizards of Waverly Place

Right at the top, we have Wizards of Waverly Place. This was the one. It was funny, emotional at times and I got to experience the most insane, imaginary world through the lens of regular and relatable family dynamics. I feel like any young girl can resonate with Alex Russo, especially those with brothers.  She was unapologetic and didn’t do what she was told – that’s what made her so exciting. The agency she held and the way that she taught me, and so many others from a young age, of our power and our capacity to fight anything that came our way, will never be forgotten. In fact, the show in itself felt real and explored some of the common issues that we experience throughout our lives. I’ll never forget my first heartbreak and how the words that came back to me from memory were Theresa’s advice when Alex broke up with Mason: ‘you’re just one heartbreak closer to happily ever after’. Wizards of Waverly Place will always hold a spot in my heart and it makes me smile every time I see the cast reunite. My dad and I’s one wish is to be able to eat a sandwich from the Waverly Sub Station.

The Crossover Episodes

The Disney Channel producers knew what they were doing when they introduced the crossover episodes. Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana and Charlie Shakes It Up, for example, combined a love for individual shows with the excitement of cross-universe interaction between our favourite characters. The audio-inputted cheers as the Russo’s stepped aboard the S.S.Tipton was unmatched. I remember the regular promos that would be aired weeks before the episode, so I knew at exactly what time to be in front of the tv to witness what felt like greatness. Now that so many Disney stars have grown up to be internationally recognised celebrities, it’s also pretty cool to have first seen them interact in a ridiculous sitcom setting. My favourite cross-universe moment however, comes not from a cross-over episode but is when Maddie (Ashley Tisdale) in The Suite Life of Zach and Cody says people constantly tell her she looks like Sharpay from High School Musical – genius!

Disney Channel Original Movies

The films that came as a product of the Disney Channel, I genuinely believe will go down in history. I mean, who will ever forget the High School Musical franchise? I also have such a distinct memory of the day my mum took me out of primary school an hour early for a ‘dentist appointment’, when actually it was just the only time she could find a showing of Hannah Montana: The Movie at our local cinema (I guess my parents strongly encouraged my Disney phase). But even the movies that never made it to the big screen had a huge impact on my teenaged self. I’ve rewatched Starstruck and Cloud 9 well into my adult years and enjoyed every minute of them because the nostalgia of the romantic build-ups is just great. And, these films never seemed to undermine the female characters at their centre- we could be snowboarders, singers, twitches or (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen Avalon High) the literal reincarnation of King Arthur, without forsaking a bit of girliness amongst all that power. The DCOM’s of my childhood will forever be adored and I’ll continue to rewatch films like Geek Charming well into my 40’s. As you read this, my speaker blasts ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ from The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

After reading the draft of this article to my dad, he’d like me to insert that his favourite DCOMs were Let It Shine and Lemonade Mouth, because they ‘actually had pretty good music’. He would also like to extend a mention to Teen Beach Movie and Princess Protection Programme which have also, somehow, stuck in his memory.

Girl Meets World

As I grew older and my Disney Channel days were drifting away, it was Girl Meets World that clawed me back in. I was so attached to that show. In fact, my best friend at the time was the Maya to my Riley, mostly because of our hair colours but definitely because of our contrasting views of who should end up with Lucas. But it wasn’t just the love triangle that had us hooked. Girl Meets World educated us and started a narrative on topics such as abandonment, Autism, bullying and grief all through its unconventional characters, who didn’t just have surface level problems to be solved at the end of an episode. Topanga Lawrence, whether she be 8 years old in Boy Meets World or the strong working mum of its reboot, is an icon and a role model to women everywhere. My dad claims that the most far-fetched part of this show was that they were allowed to talk so much in class.

And of course, Disney Plus

The day that Disney Plus was launched was a blessing because I got to relive all of these adventures and emotions through the nostalgic re-watching. It’s always slightly different when you watch as you’re older; you recognise the Americanisms that are heightened for a young audience and the plot lines that are actually quite ridiculous. Yet despite this, I still can’t get over just how GOOD these shows are. Disney Channel will always epitomise growing up for me, but the young girl who was once so obsessed with switching the TV to number 724 (on Virgin Media) will never disappear.

Hey, I'm Meg! I'm a Politics and IR student at the University of Bristol, a proud feminist and Co-President of the Bristol Chapter! I'm also an avid writer, eager to step into the field of journalism.