I have a deep, dark secret.
I sincerely enjoyed the Disney Channel Original Movies “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S” and “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2.” I mean, I think I enjoyed them. I’ve watched each film about three times, which is more than I’ve watched “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Saving Private Ryan” combined. But am I proud of this? God, no.
For those unfamiliar with the Z-O-M-B-I-E-S franchise, it would be my honor to enlighten you. In the white bread, Stepford town of Seabrook, there was an accident at a nuclear lab that turned a portion of the citizens into mindless, Herculean, brain-eating zombies. Through miracle technology called the “Z-Band,” the populace could get the zombie problem under control, and the zombies could reintegrate into society. Due to the lingering fear of cannibalism and all that, the zombies are forced to live as second-class citizens.
Thus our story truly begins.
Zed, a zombie, is excited about his first day of integrated high school. Addison, a pastel-clad cheerleader with a dark secret, is also excited about high school. The two meet, sparks fly, and a forbidden romance blossoms. They sing the song “Someday,” about how someday they’ll be able to be normal teenagers in love, and I love it in a not-sarcastic way. Zed learns to “hack his Z-band” to play football real good, thus giving zombies a teensy boost in social status. Weeee. Except this plan doesn’t work, and Zed gets in trouble. Addison decides to stand up for what she believes in, reveals her dark secret, and racism is solved. Finally, zombies and humans can co-exist.
It’s a dumb story, but damn it, it’s cute as hell. Zed Necrodopolis is sweet and charming, and Addison is adorable and kind-hearted. It’s love at first sight and the cheesy set-up works in its favor. It’s like if “Warm Bodies” met “High School Musical.” Throw in a few fun set pieces like the Zombie Light Garden and the Zombie Safe Room, and you’ve got yourself a good time. How could I possibly resist?
The sequel is awful.
I know this because I’ve watched it over and over as if I expect to find hidden meaning upon the 10th rewatch. The sequel’s plot is less straightforward: a group of young werewolves needs to locate a magic stone to power their necklaces. These necklaces are what give the werewolves their werewolf powers. They’re also looking for the Great Alpha, I guess? There’s a chance it might be Addison, who feels like she doesn’t really belong anywhere. If Addison puts on the necklace and becomes a werewolf, then BAM! All her problems are solved.
Meanwhile, Zed is still trying to create equality for zombie-kind and wants to take Addison to Prom. However, unlike the zombies, the werewolves don’t give a shit about fitting in, which makes Zed feel weird about his self-image and relationship with Addison. Anywho, Zed and Addison resolve their differences and help the werewolves find the magic stone, and all is happy.
OR IS IT?
Here’s where we get into Addison’s Deep Dark Secret: her hair is “different.” Instead of being regular blonde, it’s like super blonde, like Danaerys Targaryen. (Her hair is very pretty, but it makes her stand out, and that makes her sad) At the end of the second film, a meteor falls from the sky and crashes into Seabrook. Addison’s beautiful blonde hair briefly glows blue, and everyone in the audience is supposed to be like, “Whaaaat?”
One of the big themes of the series is that Addison is different, and she doesn’t know why. All she knows is that she’s Not Like Other People, and much of the series is about her dealing with this issue. Not that I think it is a terrible theme – I think this is one of the more substantial elements of the Z-O-M-B-I-E-S franchise. Addison feeling different is what makes her so empathetic to others in the first place. Her legitimate feelings of alienation also created one of the GREATEST DIALOGUE EXCHANGES IN FILM HISTORY.
Zed: Addison. I had no right to take your necklace to stop you from becoming a werewolf. I couldn’t handle the fact that you might be a monster, ’cause I couldn’t accept the fact that I am one.Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2, Disney
Addison: I thought everything would make sense if I was a werewolf, but I’m not. And I don’t even know if I’m a cheerleader.
Zed: You’re a leader, Addison. You make others belong.
If I ever have a movie quote tattooed on my body, I want it to be this scene from Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2. God, what a relatable, normal conversation for a boyfriend and girlfriend to have. I remember the first time my high school boyfriend tried to stop me from becoming a werewolf because of his internalized monster phobia. It put a strain on the two of us.
All dumb jokes aside, although the dialogue shared between the two characters is ridiculous, it also shows why Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is so enjoyable. Zed and Addison are highly motivated characters. Zed comes from a subjugated class of people and has learned that the only way to experience upward social mobility is to conform to Seabrook’s stifling standards. This duality between his (cautiously) optimistic persona and who he truly is (you know, a disgusting brain-eating monster) makes him feel insecure and resentful around other people, aka the werewolves, who are happy and socially fulfilled despite their exclusion from Seabrook society.
On the other hand, despite being a member of the upper echelons of Seabrook society, Addison has felt othered for her entire life. Addison has also had to maintain a false persona to continue receiving that acceptance (aka wearing the slightly less blonde wig over her very cool white blonde hair). The acceptance of her peers is not unconditional. Then once her Deep Dark Secret is revealed, she doesn’t know where she stands, and she longs for community and acceptance.
Zed and Addison are a great couple because they genuinely like each other despite their different backgrounds, and they each work hard to empathize with each other. Call me a sap, but I want the best for these fictional characters. Their love story, in addition to the well-conceived color palette and absolutely banging soundtrack, is why Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is worth watching.
I do think that some of the credit for the quality of the soundtracks goes to George S. Clinton and Amit May Cohen, who worked as the composers for the films. The song “Someday,” is a delightful bop and per the Z-O-M-B-I-E-S Fandom wiki, was written by Dustin Burnett and Paula Winger. I know next to nothing about how Disney hires its songwriters and composers, but I hope that they keep the same team from the first and second movie, because those musicians know what they’re doing.
Now that I’ve rhapsodized about this Disney Channel Original Movie and why it’s so great, you may be wondering why I’m ashamed to like it so much. Well, friend, I’m embarrassed because Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is still a Disney Channel Original Movie, and those movies are artistically bad. Almost every Disney Channel Original movie contains poorly-realized plots and characters that feel inauthentic and shallow. In addition, these movies can be condescending: the producers assume that the viewers are dumb 11-year-olds with no concept of the world beyond Disney’s universe.
Just because a piece of art is intended for children does not give it carte blanche to suck.
Compare most Disney Channel Original Movies to shows like Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club,” both of which are geared towards similar audiences, and it’s like night and day. The writers from that show have written a series of compelling stories about a group of young friends in a baby-sitting club but have used the series as a platform to explore more complex issues. Stories like “treating your transgender client with respect and care they deserve” or “how to grieve a loved one and come out to your family.” These are great stories that are entirely relatable to younger kids and deserve to be told. I could spend hours talking about how much I love the new “The Baby-Sitters Club” series, and I probably will at another time, but let’s get back to the Z-O-M-B-I-E-S franchise.
I have mixed feelings about the third Z-O-M-B-I-E-S movie. On the one hand, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Zed and Addison’s characters and following their silly romance. In addition, the songs from both movies, especially the second, are freaking bangers, which has given me high hopes for the third movie. But what I’m not looking forward to is the plot, which, quite frankly, sounds like dog shit:
“In the monster-plagued town of Seabrook, the local high school has three separate cliques: Cheerleaders, Zombies, and Werewolves. When alien tweens arrive to bring peace, they find instead the Earth-like disharmony that begins to infect them.”Disney Zombies Fandom
Really, space aliens? That was the logical progression to cheerleaders, zombies, and werewolves? Ugh, fine, okay. My guess is also that instead of “tweens” they meant to say “teens.” Alien tweens would be like the characters from “Lloyd in Space” or “I Was a Sixth Grade Alien” or April the Gorlock from “Jimmy Neutron.” Those kinds of aliens I would welcome into this franchise. Unfortunately, knowing DCOM, the alien tweens in Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3 will likely be white-haired skinny teenagers in blue clothing and face glitter. Underwhelming and easily marketed. As a science fiction fan, the laziness I anticipate in this alien character design pains me. These aliens could be visually arresting and creative, but instead, they’ll be like Zed’s stupid jacket from the first movie: poorly conceived and badly executed.
All this being said, I am still going to watch this movie. I’m going in with mixed expectations. I expect the plot, dialogue, and character designs to be bad, but Zed and Addison will be cute, and the musical numbers will be fun and engaging. I hope I’m wrong about some of my predictions. I would love for this movie to blow me away with how good it is. I think the world only benefits from good art, even if that art is a romantic musical about a zombie and a cheerleader.