There were the dark ages, and then there is today, the day that Disney+, the definitive streaming vault of all Disney and what-were-once-Fox films and television shows has launched onto the internet. Hard to think of a time before I could watch “Double Teamed,” a film about twins who are, in real life, not even sisters, who start playing volleyball and end up being basketball whiz kids, whenever my heart so desired. Now, I am free to watch the two all-time Disney Channel Original Movie classics that certainly no one has forgotten: “The Luck of the Irish” and “The Thirteenth Year.” Yes, surely you remember these two movies which came out in 2001 and 1999 respectively that function as horrifying allegories and cautionary tales for boys going through puberty.
“The Thirteenth Year,” starring a real person named Chez Starbuck, is about an adopted teenager named Cody Griffin. Unbeknownst to Cody, his birth mom is a mermaid (sidenote: Does anyone know how mermaids give birth, also, did his mom also grow up on Earth just to turn into a mermaid at 13?) who leaves him on a boat to avoid being captured. Thirteen years in the future, Cody, a great swimmer on the cusp of puberty, begins to feel… different. He wakes up one morning and tries to drink milk; the container gets stuck to his hand; he drinks gallons of water, and recruits a school nerd helps him figure out what’s going on with him. (Hint, Cody: your balls are dropping!)
In this extended allegory for all of the insane things that happen to your body when you hit puberty, Cody, like any other teenage boy, doesn’t ask his mom what’s happening to him but instead asks another teenage boy.
Because Cody is a dumb teenage boy (classic!) he decides to swim in the state swim meet despite the fact that he has scales, gills, and more, and, after smashing the swim meet record, a competitor accuses him of cheating — which feels a lot like when one kid finally hits his growth spurt and gets that sweet sweet hit of testosterone and crushes all the other kids at dodgeball in P.E.
Later on, Cody tries to find his birth mom on the beach, who can surely explain what’s happening to him and his body, and the transformation into merman from a little human boy with no body hair is complete. Then he asks his adoptive parents if he can go with his birth mom because he’s the only one who can help him, when, perhaps, Cody should reach out to a guidance counselor, pediatric doctor, or read some comprehensive Mermaid-ed literature instead of running out on the parents who gave him a home for 13 years. Anyway, his parents say yes, somehow… So, that’s the movie.
While “The Thirteenth Year” is absolutely bananas and you have to wonder who wrote it, who greenlit it, who cast it, who worked on it, and how many people watched it when it came out, perhaps an even more confusing film is “The Luck of the Irish” an inarguably racist movie about a kid in his early years of high school (late bloomer alert!) who… turns into… a leprechaun? Yeah. Sigh, yeah.
“The Luck of the Irish,” starring Ryan Merriman, a frequent DCOM actor, features a high school basketball player named Kyle who unexpectedly turns into a leprechaun after losing a “lucky gold coin” his mom always made him wear. Ryan, a normal high school teenager who hasn’t yet gone through the disorienting experiences of puberty (read: becoming a leprechaun) is excited for “Heritage Day” — a day at his school where kids celebrate their heritage. After interrogating his mom about his heritage (they’re just from Ohio, okay!!!!!!!!) and then going to an Irish carnival, Kyle shrinks! His hair turns red! His ears become pointed! His mom starts treating him differently (read: speaking in an Irish accent) and then finally admits to him that they’re not just from Ohio, they’re actually Irish, and also actually, they are secretly leprechauns and the gold coin keeps them human! Sweet! Meanwhile, Kyle tries to hide the massive transformation that turning into a leprechaun (read: racist puberty) has wrought on his increasingly small body.
Push comes to shove, Kyle ends up going to a trailer park (?) to fight an evil leprechaun named — you guessed it — Seamus McTiernan to steal his gold coin back, Kyle is somehow transported to Ireland where he fights in “Irish” competitions like wrestling and step dance, and then somehow, they end up playing a game of basketball for the coin. Ultimately, Kyle’s grandfather, who disowned his daughter (Kyle’s mom) for marrying a human man gives him a fake coin to give him confidence and Kyle realizes that, wow, puberty (read: being a racist depiction of an Irish person and/or leprechaun) isn’t all that bad, he can just fake it ‘til he makes it! Kyle then goes through puberty with grace. End of movie.
What does this say about Disney’s attitudes towards the natural, physical, physiological changes that come with puberty? It literally turns you into a weird monster and you have to *checks notes* move into the ocean forever or *checks notes* fight a leprechaun in a step dancing competition to get through it. Actually? That sounds about right. Forget everything I wrote above.