The release of Disney+ has opened up the vaults of Disney content, allowing us all to rewatch our old, childhood favorites. With quarantine leaving me with a lot of free time at home, I have been watching all of my favorite Disney Channel movies for the first time in years. The experience has been truly nostalgic. It has been interesting rewatching all of these movies now as an adult through a different lens, so I thought it would be fun to make a list of the best Disney Channel movies.
The Disney Channel has made some pretty great movies over the years, but they have a particularly good record of creating amazing Halloween movies. Twitches is perhaps my favorite Disney Channel Halloween movie. The concept of twin witches finding each other and banding together to defeat their evil stepfather who killed their biological father is fantastical, but also empowering. The graphics are low-tech, but nostalgic. Its campy and heartwarming energy makes for an amazing feel-good movie to watch during fall.
- Lemonade Mouth
Lemonade Mouth is the most recent movie on this list and came out around the end of my Disney Channel watching years. I tend to agree with most people that this was around the time that Disney Channel content started to go downhill. However, Lemonade Mouth was an exception to this trend. This movie breaks the Disney mold, tackling somewhat controversial and deep topics that we don’t often see in Disney movies — from the pressures of growing up in an immigrant family, to having your only surviving parent in prison, or feeling like you don’t live up to your parents expectations. There are also surprisingly strong political undertones put into the terms of high school popularity and the power dynamics between students and school administrators.
- The High School Musical Franchise
I think I would be remiss if I made a list of the best Disney Channel movies and did not include the High School Musical Movies. These are undeniably the most iconic and well known Disney Channel movies. I remember watching the first movie the night it premiered when I was in kindergarten and instantly loving it. The songs and Kenny Ortega’s choreography in the dance scenes are unmatched.
- Freaky Friday
Freaky Friday is a movie that could have been bad if it did not have such a talented cast that pulls off the movie’s concept so well. Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis are perfect in Freaky Friday. Their acting is spot on, having us believe that they truly did switch bodies and bringing the comedic elements to another level. This movie is funny but also is a heartwarming journey between a mother and daughter discovering each other and growing closer in the process by seeing things through each other’s points of view.
- The Cheetah Girls Franchise
The Cheetah Girls is another iconic Disney Channel franchise. These movies are the definition of girl power. I love how the plots center around friendship and show how together, women can conquer any challenge. The Cheetah Girls cast is another one of the more talented casts. Every one of their songs is amazing. The Cheetah Girls 2 is probably my favorite; I loved the Spanish setting and influence in the music. The characters were also inclusive, representing girls from different backgrounds and family situations.
- Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior
Brenda Song has played some iconic Disney Channel roles, from London Tipton to Wendy Wu. This is another #girlpower movie. This movie challenges misogynistic stereotypes, showing a girl can be feminine but also strong and powerful. I think we can all admit we were practicing our karate moves after watching this movie.
- The Halloweentown Franchise
The Halloweentown series is another one of Disney’s amazing Halloween hits. These movies are a must-watch along with Twitches during the Halloween season. These movies bring back the nostalgia and magic of Halloween from my childhood. I love Marnie; she is different from the typical Disney movie female lead, with the movies embracing her “weird” interests. She is brave and manages to save her entire family in the first movie despite not being trained as a witch yet. As seen in my picks above, I love seeing a strong female lead. It is also cool that Hollywood icon Debby Reynolds plays Marnie’s grandmother.
Cowbelles is, in my opinion, a commentary on social class, privilege, and wealth disparity. We begin the movie with somewhat annoying and entitled main characters. However when they are forced to see how the real world lives, they experience significant character development and learn to be selfless. They also manage to save their dad’s company and keep all of his employees paid after his shady business partner frames him for embezzlement and steals all the company’s money.
- Jump In
I remember seeing the previews for Jump In, and I could not wait to see it. With Corbin Bleu and Keke Palmer in the lead roles, this movie couldn’t be anything but fantastic. Jump In had me jumping rope and trying to learn how to do double dutch, which I did not unfortunately have the skill to ever achieve. The songs and double dutch choreography is amazing. I had this movie’s album constantly playing in the boombox in my room.
- The Color of Friendship
The Color of Friendship is perhaps the most educational Disney Channel movie, tackling a topic that is rarely, if ever, seen addressed in Disney content. This movie was a great way to introduce the idea and educate children on racism. Throughout the movie we learn about apartheid in South Africa, and how racism still reinforces oppressive structures today. I love seeing Mahree being faced with the horrible aspects of her home country and unlearning her racist ideas through her friendship with Piper and her host family.