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Kim Possible deserves a place among DCOM classics

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Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Disney Channel’s original Kim Possible movie is just that: a Disney Channel Original Movie. We can’t compare it to theatrical live-action versions of animated Disney films; it’s made for TV, and based on a TV show. Adjust your expectations about live-action Kim Possible accordingly.

That being said, this version of Kim Possible, a classic Disney cartoon from the mid-2000s, keeps the true spirit of the DCOMs many of us grew up with — Wendy Wu Homecoming Warrior, Halloweentown, and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century among them. Kim Possible is campy and hammers in its message with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but that’s not a critique. It just means that Kim Possible is, like most in the DCOM canon, a fun movie, and little else.

[Ed. note: This article contains slight spoilers for Disney Channel’s Kim Possible.]

Kim Possible bears a weighty legacy. The animated series ran from 2002 to 2007 and was a staple of many childhoods. Featuring a crime-fighting teenager and her best friend (and his naked mole rat) as they take on evildoers and the perils of high school, the show received high praise. Unlike many other action comedies at the time, Kim Possible centered around a capable heroine, and many boys and girls alike watched the show. Because it is such a beloved childhood show, the nostalgia value is high.

In Kim Possible the DCOM just like Kim Possible the Disney Channel Original Series — Kim (Sadie Stanley) lives a double life. By day, she’s a high school girl; after school, she’s either playing soccer or taking out bad guys. In the movie, Kim’s greatest foe, Dr. Drakken (Todd Stashwick), still wants nothing more than to defeat her once and for all. Because Kim is just so good at everything, he decides that he needs to steal the spark of what makes her Kim.

Yes, Drakken wants to nerf Kim Possible. He intends to do this literally, as if Kim’s “spark” is something that can actually be obtained.

Meanwhile, at the core of the movie, Kim deals with a struggle many millennials who grew up with the show can relate to: After being accomplished and the best at everything she does for most of her life, she faces a sharp turn in high school. At first, it’s that she’s unequipped to deal with the social hierarchy and the demands of her teachers; but when her new best friend, Athena, starts to outshine her in almost every way — including in crime-fighting — Kim has to battle feelings of insecurity and jealousy. The eventual plot twist is predictable, but it shakes the movie up from being more than a full-length, live-action episode.

Relatable as this premise may be to older Kim Possible fans, some seem unable to let go of their long-held visions of a live-action version. When lead actress Sadie Stanley was cast, many reacted negatively, because she didn’t fit the version of Kim that they had cast in their minds. The crown of beloved childhood classic sits heavy on its wearer’s head.

But instead of comparing 2019’s Kim Possible to some impossibly polished fantasy, we must look to the other Disney Channel Original movies. That’s what this is, after all; not a full-fledged remake, but fluffy TV fare.

The set design and special effects of Kim Possible are overdramatic, and could be lifted straight from the cartoon. Different gags grace the marquee of the high school each time it’s shown; Ron’s signature dish, the “naco,” drips with cheesy goodness; Rufus the naked mole rat is just silly enough as to not be jarring. At one point, Kim looks at her old outfit — one that resembles the outfit she wears in the cartoon — and remarks that it always felt a bit “cartoony” to her.

The acting is also all about hamming it up. But as far as the kid cast goes, Sean Giambrone as Ron Stoppable is particularly endearing, bringing his own touch to the quirky character. Sadie Stanley’s Kim might be a little more vulnerable different from the golden-eyed way fans recall her, but if you realize that Kim was a crime-fighting, over-achieving cheerleader, then her Type-A personality and insecurities make sense. The adult cast, which includes Kim’s original voice actor, Christy Carlson Romano, in a small role, also delivers the sometimes-cheesy lines with finesse. And Taylor Ortega, who plays Shego, nails everything about the iconic villainess, from exhausted eyerolls to the sassy comebacks.

The cast of Kim Possible mostly manages to save the movie’s shallow plot from falling totally flat. Despite Stanely and crew’s best efforts, however, there is a lot of misplaced melodrama. Kim realizing that she’s more than her accomplishments, that she can be a good person without being good at everything, would have more impact were it not for the grandiose plot twist in the latter half of the movie.

Though a few plot road bumps persist, Kim Possible manages a heartwarming ending, goofy and endearing characters, and a whole lotta wonderful corniness. It pays acceptable tribute to both the cartoon and the Disney Channel Original Movies that came before it — just as long as you keep in mind that it’s a tribute, and nothing more.

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