Hello, Spongey here.
2019 is almost in full swing by now, with two posts taken care of. Now to dive into our interesting first Scene by Scene review of the year. We have a Disney Channel movie I should have done a lot sooner.
I was going to do something special for this one but that sadly fell through and I decided to just do it normally. I’m glad to at least be finally doing this movie as I’ve been thinking plenty about it ever since it aired.
This aired back in February and given the marketing, it seems to be another would be franchise. I’m surprised we hadn’t any announcement of a sequel but maybe they’re waiting for Descendants to dry up.
It’s no secret DCOMs are generally rather corporate, and a fair few of them are made to spawn franchises, filled with stuff they think the teen audience will enjoy. But this one seems to be even more so.
Even for me this one was a bit much on that front, and there’s a lot of things to joke about or pick apart. Hence why I’ve been really wanting to talk about this movie.
It’s based on a pilot for a series called Zombies & Cheerleaders, which is a slightly better title then the generic as hell one we got. This is also notable for being a rare DCOM that went through a director change.
Originally it was announced to be helmed by the Teen Beach guy but he got downgraded to Choreographer while Paul Hoen took over in the directors chair. The fact that they replaced him with someone who does DCOM’s a lot and is usually just reliable is rather telling. (Sorry Disney Brain)
The writers have done nothing. So, how does the channel that brought us High School Musical and Descendants shake up the zombie genre? Just how messy is it? Let’s dive in.
This, is Zombies (aka Z-O-M-B-I-E-S)
The movie opens with a neat graphic novel style opening that explains the backstory. Well, it’s neat until you realize the idea for using that style was probably taken from iZombie, the first of many times you’ll be reminded of something else you’d rather be watching.
We’re told about the city of Seabrook, which was a perfect town until an accident in a power plant created a green cloud that turned people into zombies.
“Brain eating zombies”
This is a bit intense for Disney Channel so naturally this is the best part and the rest will not be as interesting. They eventually build a barrier to keep out the zombies and then things just kind of go back to being perfect on their side.
That was 50 years ago and in that time, Zombies have been able to cool down to the point where one was even giving us some of that narration. This is Zed.
“And yeah, I’m a Zombie”
And as everyone else joked, you look like Jared Leto’s Joker.
Zombies have this Z Band that gives them these pulses that keeps them from going into mindless brain eating mode. But despite being able to be civil, they still gotta stay on their side.
If you’re thinking this is some sort of commentary, oh just you wait.
“Now Zombies can lead happy lives and have handsome but humble kids”
Well, there’s something I’d rather not think about.
So yeah, we have a backstory that leads to certain people being closed off from the rest of the world but now they will be allowed to go to school in some form for the first time.
Totally nothing like Descendants.
We are then introduced to our Human lead, Addison, played by Meg Donnelly who is actually pretty good and likable In this. She elevates at least some of this stuff and I hope she goes on to be in better DC content.
She’s a normal teen, minus her natural white hair she has to cover up. When I first watched this, I thought there would be some big twist explaining why she has white hair. Nope, it’s never explained and is only used for some weird forced metaphor later on.
She’s only afraid of others knowing about because Seabrook just hates anything different. That’s pretty lame. After all that info dumping, she and Zed finally leave for school as we get our first song.
Because of course this is a musical. This first song, My Year, isn’t too bad and works fine as an opening song establishing what they want and all that. Well, except for the kinda sloppy rap stuff. The choreography is decent though.
After the song, we are introduced to the Alpha Dick, Bucky. Yep, they made the popular person villain a dude, how progressive of you. Thankfully he is as over the top and enjoyable as I expect these kind of characters to be. And he has the extra layer of being Zombie Racist, basically.
Speaking of the zombies, they are forced to be in the basement and can’t try out for anything. I assume they have to use different water fountains as well. Zed tries to sneak out but trips which makes him groan right in front of someone, which causes some big panic.
“These drills are offensive and driven by Zombiephobia”
And all the subtly this could have had goes right out the window. Yeah, they’re gonna try to pull a Zoootopia but this is much more like Bright. This isn’t the worst idea by itself, but the forced way they try to pull it off makes it pretty…muddled, to say the least.
Addison heads for the Zombie safe room which some reason has no one else coming to it despite all the panic. Zed runs in there too and we get our meet cute, as they can’t tell the other one is a human/zombie at first due to the dim lighting.
But even when the lights come on, she sees he isn’t a horrible monster and even kind of cute. Yes, we’re going full Warm Bodies. Yay for Necrophilia! And with the whole element of the sides they are on not wanting them together, it’s also High School Musical.
There, now our rip off/rehash stew has all the ingredients and now we can start mixing.
Zed goes to Football tryouts and while he is of course rejected, I have to wonder why he was allowed to approach them when the Zombies are supposed to be in the basement. I do like this coach though, even if the joke of him not being good at pumping up the team was funnier when Milo Murphy’s Law did it.
We move on to cheerleading tryouts as we get song #2, Fired Up. It’s fine even if it serves less of a purpose than some of the others. We get to see more of Bucky being amazing though.
Seriously, I love how full of himself he is and how he switches from being super serious to more joke-y. His acting is sort of fake but in that fun Alpha Bitch kind of way. He’s better than all the other fake stuff in the movie at least.
Through this, we do see how harsh they are to anyone different in general which is fine but I feel like them being harsh to Zombiea already kind of justified (in universe given the backstory at least) on its own without the other in your face stuff here.
Addison and her friend I don’t care about (and is never important again) make the squad, and for their initiation they must commit a hate crime, I mean egg ZombieTown. Some person shows up that makes Bucky drive away so he doesn’t see them not doing it after this makes them notice how Zombies live.
That’s one of the more effective scenes, I’d say. Less muddled than a lot of the rest of this. The next day, Addison apologizes to Zed since he saw her last night. Nothing interesting here, so onto a pep rally.
“Cheer is contagious”
“So is Pink eye”
Okay, Zed’s female friend is the best character that isn’t Bucky.
Bucky pulls out a Spirit Sparkler to piss off the zombies because it’s been established they hate fire. I thought that was a Frankenstein’s monster thing but okay.
This sets off Zed’s male friend who is closer to monster zombie, and he accidentally makes Zed fall and on land on his Z Band. Thankfully he gets to it before anything can really happen here.
Zed ran through the crowd to catch Addison, so now the coach wants him on their turn. That was a very quick and weird turn of events. But this is important as they will help put Zombies in a better light as long as Zed helps this struggling team win.
Bucky sees this and I just love his reaction here. I also love how peppy he is through all this, and again how he switches on and off.
Zombies are now allowed to eat in the main cafeteria and Addison tries to have a moment with Zed before being pulled away. By the way, she tries to speak in “old zombie tongue” which is another thing that raises too many questions.
A bit later they meet up and talk about their problems, which leads to them going back to their first meeting place. Cue love song! As far as these kind of songs, it’s cute enough but that’s about it.
I’m not crazy about the stale romance stuff but I’ll take it over the forced allegory stuff. We cut to a football game which doesn’t go as well as they had hoped. So Zed has his female friend mess with his Z Band so he can go into zombie mode a tiny bit so he can basically cheat with zombie steroids.
I can’t see this going wrong at all. I mean seriously, he says he wants to do what is good for zombies but this is like, the opposite of good for zombies. But it works as they win and he gets back to normal in time, all set to a background pop song that’s more 2008 than 2018.
So with that, zombies start to aget bit more accepted which does not sit well with Bucky who swears they will not win again. Cue ironic montage of them winning a lot!
My only comments for this montage are that Bucky is still amazing and while I like thay the newspapers we see actually do come with full real articles, they blatantly repeat one of them because they didn’t want to do too much work for something only an internet nitpicker is gonna care about.
After the montage, Addison is invited to a thing in Zombietown that night which is basically just a rave where she sees more of Zombie Culture. I find it interesting how the zombies created their own culture given they started as just humans. That’s something they could have explored, just saying. Anyway…
“You like a good girl with brains?”
“You know that’s super offensive”
Oh yeah we’re back to that. And the character who says this is black, oof. Or does that make it better? I have no idea.
Then out of nowhere they break into our next song, Bamm, which has them singing about nothing, really. And this is the song they were pushing hard, even before the real marketing started. That said, it is easily the most memorable and catchy song at least.
“This is zombieland”
Well, you’re already reminding me of better movies, may as well add another to the list. Wait, I thought it was Zombie Town. Speaking of, the lighting does help this scene look kind of cool compared to some of the other visuals in this.
Addison talks to Zed’s female friend and goes on about how different zombies are from how she was taught.
“Look at you, you’re cool, smart and pretty”
“You think I’m pretty?”
SHIPSHIPSHIPSHIP. Er I mean….yeah, looks like they borrowed something else from Descendants. Speaking of shipping, Zed takes Addison aside and they have a reprise of their love song for some reason.
Their love is interrupted by them caught by the authorities, who bring Addison home to her upset parents. I love the bit where she says this was over a boy and the cop is just like “I’m out of here”.
Then the scene just kind of ends as we move to the next day where some of the cheerleaders find out that Zed is cheating. Mostly because he was dumb enough to just be freely discussing this with his female friend. They tell Bucky about this, right after he was bowing down to a trophy case and asking the cheer spirits for a sign.
I love this movie.
They’re able to quickly and quietly take Female Friend’s high tech thingy she uses to control them so they can of course use it. Preventing him from using it would be the easiest choice so he can’t cheat and thus get more popular but spoilers, they do something dumb with it because they’re evil.
At the same time, Zed messes with it so he can become much less like a Zombie, so Addison’s parents will approve of him. Okay, this desperate move at least makes sense with the themes and all but I do have to wonder why the parents aren’t questioning why was she was in ZombieTown with a human boy.
They go on a date at a place that has a “wide variety of vanilla” which would be clever if Addison didn’t say that was “so seabrook’”. Keep it subtle, guys. After some talk, we get to the big final game of the season.
Addison cheers Zed on despite what Bucky thinks. The combination of her determinism and Bucky’s…bucky-ness, makes this a fun moment. Speaking of, his crew messes with the Z Band so that his monster side becomes even stronger, along with else who hulk out and cause a bunch of trouble.
So their solution basically just caused more trouble for everyone, great job. Yeah, them not thinking this trouble is the point but…well okay, I’ll kind of let it slide given who they are.
The thing is, messing with the Z band on purpose is the only reason their “true nature” came out, which does make their zombie racism seem a bit sillier. Which is arguably the point given how ultimately silly real racism is.
I’ll give them points there but the way is executed just makes thing like this kind of dumb. Anyway, they get calmed down and are taken away. This causes her to get preachy and tell off the humans for creating this monster. This movie is so deep, man.
This makes her launch into another song where she “stands strong” and she finally takes off her wig. It’s not too bad as far as these kind of moments go, the on the nose-ness makes it enjoyable at least. I love how during the main part of the song, everyone in the background is just walking around like nothing is happening
They boo her and we just cut to Zed, who is just telling us how he feels. He does this a lot and it’s pointless.
The incident at the game causes some changes, like Bucky trying harder to purge Pro Zombie people and their Z bands being changed so that they can’t mess with them. But who cares about the latter, Bucky is getting even more insane which is amazing.
And we’ve still got the cheer championship I just learned/remembered was a thing. Perhaps the announcers can fill us in.
“You can say they’ve been cheertastic.”
“Well you can could say that, I wouldn’t. Because it’s a made up word”
I already said “I love this movie” so I won’t repeat myself.
Zed’s female friend (whose name is Eliza, don’t worry I know this now) plans to sabotage the thing and Zed explains why this is a dumb way to counteract the racism. Then after a talk, they all walk away and I guess either Eliza dropped it or they just forgot to reverse anything she likely did.
Bucky’s team does rather poorly since tons of people got kicked off so this little Zombie girl who I keep forgetting about comes in with a cheer. This causes to go out there and inspire change to embrace their differences and yada yada.
They tell Bucky about they’re doing and offer him a chance to realize how wrong he is and change and he declines. Because yeah, deep-seated prejudice like this doesn’t change overnight and some people won’t change.
They lead their revolution without him and put on a big show with zombie cheers, which comes with a neat reprise of Fired Up. Then in the middle of it, the zombie girl approaches Bucky in hopes to again get him on their side.
…And it works! Yep, he’s just like “okay” and joins them. Guess you can throw away all my spiel, we’re running on TrollLand logic where years of racism and prejudice can just go away cuz a little girl said pwease. I know this is a Disney Channel movie but come on, at least have the big Alpha Dick be unchangeable.
If you’re going to have an instant change, at least have one part be slightly realistic. But whatever, one song later everything is super cool. Even Addison’s parents and the like are just cool with Zombies now, despite no transition. With that, we get our closing narration wrapping up the story.
And all they tell us is stuff we already knew or can see on screen. With that, the credits roll over the dance party ending (set to a Bamm reprise) because this isn’t enough of a Discount Kenny Ortgeta movie.
Or maybe the credits guys want this to end as much as we do. Then it just ends, with the most rushed wrap up to a movie like I’ve seen since the last time I bitched about this.
*express frustration in Zombie*
Well, that was a movie.
Even by DCOM standards, this is such an obvious cash in. Every element feels like it was tailor made to reach a wide audience, with tons of things the DCOM audience has proven to like in the past.
Then they added a racism angle because that’s big right now. Even the sometimes garish aesthetics feel like someone chewed up the Descendants sets. On both an artistic and script level, this is pretty messy.
The main story elements end up feeling under cooked despite how much they try to focus on them. The love story for example is all just very typical and is just there to lead to the racism stuff.
It reminds me of just how much better these things are done other movies, like how High School Musical combines the love story and the “showing the rest of the school that people who are different can get along” stuff in a somewhat less forced way.
Complaining about the themes being in your face is a bit pointless in a movie like this and while I can tolerate some sugarcoating, this goes overboard with it. Everything is so in your face and blatantly explained that I can’t really think it about like I should.
There’s some elements that can be interesting but the execution and especially the really lame ending snuff that out. I don’t think it’s offensive so much as it is short sighted and not thought through that well.
I hate to bring up Zootopia again, but it actually wrote a compelling story with strong characters that worked well with the themes, knowing when to be more subtle and when to be more obvious so that you can find aspects to actually think about rather than it all being spelled out for you.
With all that said, the movie gets so wrapped up in all this that it can be charming in that Disney Channel way. The actors are trying their best and clearly are putting some heart into this, and the musical numbers can be fun with how they go all out with them.
There’s some legit amusing moments, mixed in with things that are funny because of how over the top they are, like basically everything Bucky does. That plus some nice moments do make this a fun ironic watch at times that I of course can’t get too mad at.
It does sink lower than some DCOMs on an artistic level but I will say the “good” things do make more enjoyable and fun to riff than stuff like Read it and Weep, even if this is messier.
It’s an odd mess with some charm to it, and some especially blatant corporate elements. It doesn’t have much in terms of brains, is what I’m saying.
Well, that was fun to finally go through. It’s especially interesting when it comes to ironic enjoyment and how it all comes together. I had fun both joking about and looking into why it’s so odd.
And hey, it offers more fresh things than Freaky Friday 2018 did, to be honest. Next time, we’re going back to the world of foreign animation. Oh boy.