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Disney Releases 100th 'Original Movie,' A Millennial Favorite


There comes a moment in life when you realize that you're just a little bit older than you used to be. And for some born in the early 1990s, that moment came this past week when Disney announced its 100th Disney Channel Original Movie.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Let's watch a Disney Channel Movie.

MARTIN: Since Disney Channel Originals first premiered in the summer of 1997, the made-for-TV movies have grown into a cultural phenomenon and have become iconic childhood touchstones for many millennials. Favorites include "Cheetah Girls," "Camp Rock" and, of course, "High School Musical." Here to talk more about this and perhaps engage in a little bit of nostalgia is Jaimie Etkin, Buzzfeed's entertainment editor. Jaimie, thanks for being with us.

JAIMIE ETKIN: Of course. Thank you.

MARTIN: Can you start off by just describing a typical plot for one of these movies because that exists, right? There is some kind of formula to these.

ETKIN: The general plot is about some sort of tween or perhaps teen experiencing change in their life or wanting to experience some sort of change in their life. And then usually hijinks ensue. But eventually they get there and there's a happy ending, of course, after all because this is Disney Channel.

MARTIN: Why do you think these things became so popular? What's made them so enduring?

ETKIN: I think that when Disney Channel Movies first premiered, there was really nothing else like them for people in their early teens. And it was programming that really spoke to them, that they could watch even without the rest of their family. And I think having something that spoke to their experiences and what was going on in their lives, maybe in a grander way as it is with the Disney Channel, is something that really resonated as time went on.

MARTIN: How much of this do you think is just nostalgia for the '90s? Or did these films actually do something pretty groundbreaking?

ETKIN: In most cases, it's nostalgia, for sure. And I think we see a lot of that in the entertainment industry right now. But I think there was a bit of revolutionary programming in what Disney Channel was doing in that their cast was more diverse than the average cast for programming that was geared towards young people. And some of the content was something that you wouldn't see on Nickelodeon or on morning programming. Some Disney Channel Original Movies touched on deeper topics like struggling with having a sibling who has mental disabilities. So they did touch on some more serious topics and, I think, brought that into lives of people who maybe weren't discussing these topics otherwise. But generally, I feel like when you're talking about "High School Musical," it's really just nostalgia for a young Zac Efron and some catchy songs.

MARTIN: (Laughter) And speaking of Zac Efron, I mean, these shows launched some pretty big careers, right?

ETKIN: Definitely. I mean, Kaley Cuoco from "Big Bang Theory" was in a Disney Channel Original Movie called "Alley Cat Strikes" (ph). Brie Larson, who just won an Oscar for "Room," was in a Disney Channel Original Movie about racecar driving. So I think for a lot of young people, it was a platform that they didn't have. Like, adults do one episode of "Law And Order: SVU," I feel like young actors did on Disney Channel Original Movie.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Do you have a favorite?

ETKIN: I mean, it's hard not to say "High School Musical." I feel like it's just something that's so catchy and fun. And it brought that kind of musical genre to a new generation. Whereas these, you know, beach movies kind of existed for their parents or grandparents, it kind of exposed them to this fun genre that they hadn't really seen something that spoke to their contemporary issues before. And I also - I have a personal favorite which is this movie called "Motocrossed" about a girl who pretends to be her brother so that she can do motocross racing 'cause her parents won't let her.


ETKIN: Yeah, which is really fun.

MARTIN: And does she win? She wins in the end, right?

ETKIN: She - of course she wins. And they come around and realize that she should be able to race and...

MARTIN: The underdog wins in a Disney movie.

ETKIN: For sure, for sure.

MARTIN: Jaimie Etkin is the entertainment editor for Buzzfeed. Jaimie, thanks so much.

ETKIN: Thanks so much, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.