Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Brief History of the Disney Channel Original Movies

                Stop the presses!  Disney Channel has announced that its new movie released on June 24th will be its 100th Disney Channel Original Movie.  The movie is Adventures in Babysitting, a remake of the 1987 film which had the same name.  In honor of this amazing feat, Memorial Day weekend Disney Channel will be showing 51 of the 100 films. 
But did Disney Channel really produce 100 films?  Well, yes, and no.  It's actually more than that.  Disney Channel’s current list of movies was made specifically for the teen and tween audience, ages 8 to 16.  That list started in 1997 when Disney was making the transition from being aimed at a younger audience to aimed at a more general or family audience.  But as it turns out, Disney has been making original movies for the Disney Channel for a lot longer.
The Disney Channel officially premiered on April 18, 1983.  At the time, The Disney Channel was a premium channel similar to HBO or SHOWTIME, and would count on subscribers for its profitability.  In its early years, the show featured shows aimed at younger children and movies during the night aimed at a general audience.  The very first Disney Channel original movie (at the time called “Disney Channel Premiere Films"), which premiered on October 9, 1983, was Tiger Town, about an aging baseball player for the Detroit and a young fan who idolizes him. 
For the next fourteen years, The Disney Channel produced between 1 and 6 movies a year, some of them original projects, some of them sequels to popular movies.  Among the more notable ones produced: three sequels to The Parent Trap, with Haley Mills resuming her roles as identical twins; the Not Quite Human series, about the building of an android who looks like a 17-year old boy; and a coproduction with Sullivan Films and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called Anne of Avonlea: the Continuing Story of Anne of Green Gables, which was the sequel to the popular Canadian series about Anne of Green Gables, and led to the coproduction of the TV series Road to Avonlea.  
In the late 1990s, Disney was slowly transitioning out of being a premium channel to being a basic cable channel.  During 1997-1998 specifically, The Disney Channel became Disney Channel and underwent a significant rebranding.  Now the channel had three programming blocks, with the afternoon and early evening hours for the teen and tween crowd, and as the “unofficial” start of this transition, Under Wraps premiered in 1997, under the "Disney Channel Original Movie" banner, told the story of three kids who befriend a mummy who comes back to life.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, Disney Channel ramped up its movie production, premiering 12 films in the year 2000.  While many were stand-alone projects (and still are today), some of the most popular include Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, which spawned two sequels, and Halloweentown, which led to three sequels.  In 2003, The Cheetah Girls premiered as one first Disney Channel original movie that featured the characters singing.  The success of the movie and the soundtrack led to other movie musicals (and two sequels and a standalone album).  In early 2006, High School Musical premiered and its soundtrack became the number one album of 2006.  High School Musical 2, in 2007, remains the highest-rated TV movie ever on the network, with 17.2 million people tuning in.  The success of those musical franchises led to others, including Camp Rock, Lemonade Mouth and Teen Beach Movie.  In 2015, following the success of the ABC series Once Upon a Time, Disney Channel released the movie musical Descendants, which followed children of some of the villains and heroes of popular Disney animated movies. 
         Disney Channel original movies have come a long way from Tiger Town to a remake of Adventures in Babysitting.  While the most recent one hundred movies definitely reflect Disney’s focus on the teen and tween audience, there are a whole host of movies produced for the Disney Channel from 1983 to 1997, which were produced for a general audience and waiting to be rediscovered.  

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