The 25 Best Disney Channel Original Movies

3. Smart House (June 26, 1999)

Director: LeVar Burton
Stars: Ryan Merriman, Katey Sagal, Raquel Beaudene
Lesson Learned: A house is not a home when there's only a hologram there to hold you tight.

Smart House, directed by Star Trek's Geordi La Forge, is a loose adaptation of Ray Bradbury's short story "The Veldt." They both operate from a similar premise: Living in a "smart" house that uses technology to care for human needs, though it may sound appealing, will ultimately backfire. Shots fired at science, right? Look closer.

In Smart House, we have Ben, a young computer whiz, played by DCOM heartthrob Ryan Merriman, his widowed father, and irritating kid sister. They are the Coopers, and they need a home with a mother to care for the kids in the absence of the dead mother. (DCOM's weren't going to rock traditional notions of family/child-rearing.)

Lucky for the Coopers, they win the titular Smart House, where Pat (played by Katey Segal, of Sons of Anarchy), a hologrammed version on monstrous femininity, will take care of them. Everything's going great, initially. The kids get to "Slam Dunk the Funk" in a choreographed dance routine at a house party, Merriman's character gets someone to kiss his face, and all the trash gets picked up thanks to Pat's sucking abilities.

But then Ben gets jealous of the woman his dad is dating, and starts to push Pat to become a more involved mother. Pat goes haywire, locking the family inside the house to best "care" for them; Merriman calls her out for being a hologram; Pat relinquishes control; technology loses, real families win.

In "The Veldt," a family lives in an automated home with a nursery where the two kids spend all their time. The nursery creates a virtual reality for whatever the kids want. Their parents can't figure it out, but every time they check in on the kids, they're chilling on an African plain, with lions grazing on animal carcasses off in the distance. And now the kids won't come out of the nursery. Time to call in the kiddie shrink, who advises the parents to power down the nursery. But before that can happen, the kids lure the parents into the nursery. They lock them inside. The lions move from the distance to the foreground and consume the parents. The shrink pays a visit and finds the children taking lunch on the veldt.

Many people look into the face's of children and see beaming potential, wonderful creatures exploring the world, making the occasional mistake but learning from those experiences. That's what Disney sees. Bradbury, not so much. —RS

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