Every once in a while a Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) seems to it a special spot that captivates interest beyond their regular audience and UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC has the potential to be that next big breakout film in the cultural zeitgeist.
One part HARRY POTTER with a magical school for children, one part THE BREAKFAST CLUB zeroing in on an outcast group of misfits, Disney’s latest DCOM, seemingly with a goal of creating a relatable and repeatable franchise, centers in on a pair of magical girls. Enter 13-year-old Nory Boxwood Horace (Izabela Rose) and her best friend Reina Carvajal (Siena Agudong) who enroll at the Sage Academy for Magical Studies. Once there, the BFFs embark on quickly diverging paths as they explore their magical abilities in a setting where perhaps not all is exactly as it seems. While Reina seems to find a quick footing, Nory ends up in remedial group known as the UDM (Upside Down Magic), a group for magic slingers who are not in complete control of their magic.
Discontent with her station, Nory befriends her fellow UDMs Max Torina (“Raven’s Home”), Elie Samouhi (“Bizaardvark”) and Alison Fernandez (“Once Upon a Time”) under the tutelage of wisecracking groundskeeper and “professor” Budd Skriff (Kyle Howard). The UDM program operates under guidance of stern Headmaster Knightslinger (Vicki Lewis) who holds that UDM unconventional powers leave them vulnerable to dangerous and evil “shadow magic” that has befallen the school before.
Picture the world of Harry Potter set in today’s a more tech savvy age (and in America) and you quickly get a sense for the vibe. The various characters feel like familiar archetypes from various DCOMs and the casting commendably reflects a diverse mix in both leading and supporting cast. The headmaster unsettlingly feels like a magical version of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’S unmoving Mrs. Darbus but otherwise there’s not a whole lot of new ground to tred in this magical realm.
While not something we’d expect to see in a theater, UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC still offers some high-flying whimsy. It doesn’t seem likely it will capture the same sort of rabid fascination of the boy wizard who spurned books, sequels, toys, and theme park integrations, but it’s still a fun ride on those broom tails.
Still, the film reinforces great central themes of trusting in yourself, fighting for what you believe in, and finding ways to excel in ways that might not be the most conventional. The buildup of the UDMs learning to harness their power in anticipation of the film’s climatic big baddie is satisfying and each of the oddballs find satisfying redemption in their new found sense of abilities. UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC is a fun magical adventure.
Joe Nussbaum directed UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC and serves as executive producer alongside Suzanne Farwell (“The Holiday,” “The Intern”) and Susan Cartsonis (“Descendants 3,” “What Women Want”). Two-time Art Directors Guild Award-winner Bill Boes (“Sleepy Hollow,” “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”) serves as production designer, Adam Santelli (“Descendants 3,” Disney Channel’s “Freaky Friday”) serves as director of photography, and Barbara Somerville (“Nikita,” “American Gothic”) serves as costume designer. With a teleplay by Nick Pustay (“Ramona and Beezus”) and Josh Cagan (“Kim Possible”), UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC is based on the Scholastic book from bestselling authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins.
See it for Yourself
UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC debuts on Disney Channel Friday, July 31, 2020 (8:00 p.m. EDT/PDT)