written by David Steffen
Zombies is a Disney Channel original musical movie that debuted in February 2018. The story takes place in the “perfect” planned community of Seabrook where everyone fits the 1950s stereotype of a perfect family (and everyone wears pastel pink or pastel blue). Or they all did fit, until a tragic power plant accident turns half the town into brain-eating zombies. But they got better, once the government invented and issued Z-Bands, watches that deliver soothing electrical shocks to the wrists to make them like other people. Zombies returned to a semblance of normal life years ago, though they look different (with green hair and pale white skin) and are forced to wear government issue clothing, and live in the neglected slums. But a recent change to the law has forced Seabrook High to accept zombie students.
Addison (Meg Donnelly is a student at Seabrook High, who wants nothing more than to become a cheerleader, so she can completely fit in, and she makes the team led by her cousin Bucky (Trevor Tordjman). Her parents force her to wear a wig to cover up her unusually colored hair, so she feels she needs to go the extra mile to fit in with other people. Zed (Milo Manheim) is one of the new zombie students, along with his friends Eliza(Kylee Russell) (an activist for zombie rights) and Bonzo (James Godfrey) (who speaks almost entirely in zombie language and has to be translated by his friends). Addison and Zed meet and develop an unlikely friendship, and romance. Zed makes the football team on the promise that his potential zombie strength will be the boon that their terrible football team needs to actually win some games, but to do this he has to hack his Z-Band to let his zombie nature become more dominant. At first Addison and Zed hide their romance, because no matter how integrated Seabrook High claims to be, it would be social suicide to associate with a zombie. But as their relationship grows, they have to decide where to go with social expectations and where to push back.
The musical dance numbers of the movie dominate the presence of the film, many of them being characteristic of huge cast choreographed dance numbers in what I guess I might call hip-hop? (I don’t know much about dance so I could be wrong about how that would be labeled) Some of the songs are also sweeter romantic songs between Addison and Zed.
I watched the movie with my family in part because we recognized Meg Donnelly from her role as Taylor Otto, the daughter in the ABC sitcom American Housewife. I’ve enjoyed other Disney originals with them, like Descendants, so I thought it was worth a shot. But I did find this one harder to turn my inner critical voice off enough to watch the movie. For a movie simply titled Zombies, I felt that it should be about zombies, but generally what they called zombies in the movie had really no characteristics of being zombies other than the intro where they were shown attacking the town. Their condition is so well managed by the time of the movie, that, in my opinion, it’s not really a zombie movie. I was interested to see how they would play the zombies in the romance, but it follows a pretty standard star-crossed lovers layout, with Zed being the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. So, to me, Warm Bodies is still the one and only zombie romance movie worth watching.
The metaphor they were apparently going for was with zombies as a marginalized race, being a stand-in for Black people or Jewish people or some other group. And maybe that’ll help teens get some perspective about what it’s like to be from the wrong side of the tracks. But. Well. Zombies don’t seem like a great example to use as a stand-in here. Before they got the Z-Bands, the zombies literally attacked people and ate their brains . Students of Seabrook have relatives who were killed by zombies. Their fear of zombies is not irrational. I think the degree of it is overblown since the Z-Bands seem to be pretty effective, but Zed gets the idea to hack his Z-Band when he bumps it against something and it malfunctions, so they’re not exactly a robust and durable technology. And the fact that they’re vulnerable to hacking is pretty messed up. I’d like to think that Eliza, zombie activist, would be all over locking down her security on her Z-Band so no one can mess with her.
More than the romantic leads, I found myself more interested in Bonzo, in part because he delivered his zombie-language lines with convincing fluency that it was fun to see. But most of all I was interested in the coach of the terrible football team (Jonathan Langdon), because he would always start out pep talks like you’d expect of a coach, but would quickly admit how bad they were and that he really just wanted to keep his job and have some of the things other people take for granted in life–I was rooting for him more than anyone.
I felt like the writing and acting made it hard to sell the story as having the high stakes it wanted to have. The casual hacking of Zed to give him superhuman strength to cheat at footballwas super underexamined, among other things, because it didn’t seem to realize how this justified the fears of the Seabrook students.
Personally, I didn’t care for it, but I imagine a lot of teenagers will like it largely for the cute boy and girl leads and the dance numbers. If you’re just looking for a romance, I think there are a lot of other better movies out there. IF you’re looking for a zombie romance with actual zombies, I’d try Warm Bodies. But if you want a teen romance with love songs and big scale dance numbers and you don’t mind that the zombies aren’t very zombie-like, give this one a try.