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

Disney announced the release date for its 100th Disney Channel Original Movie. NPR's Rachel Martin sits down with Buzzfeed Entertainment's Jaimie Etkin to discuss the cultural legacy of the series.



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.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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