I suggested that a bunch of us use Disney+ to fill our blind spots instead of just watching old favourites. Things we might never think to watch on our own. The immediate comment, of course, was that finding my blind spots would be a bit of a challenge, which I acknowledged, but there is one—made-for-Disney Channel stuff, especially from after about 1989. So someone suggested I watch this one, which it is my understanding was very popular with people of its time. Just not with me.
Zenon Kar (Kirsten Storms) was born in 2036. In 2042, she and her family moved up to a space station owned by Parker Wyndham (Frederick Coffin) and his corporation. It’s now 2049. She has no interest in returning to Earth, but she’s known around the station as something of a troublemaker. Wyndham visits with his assistant, Mr. Lutz (Bob Bancroft). Zenon is suspicious of him, the only one who is, and she catches Mr. Lutz breaking into the main memory bank. She catches him, spies on him, and is herself caught in the memory bank. To punish her, her parents send her to Earth.
Now, on the space station, Zenon’s best friend was Nebula Wade (Raven-Symoné), and she had another friend whose name I can’t figure out who was a girl, but on Earth, there is one other girl. One. Like, there are girls in the background, but with lines, there is Margie Hammond (Lauren Maltby), who hates her and believes Zenon is stealing her boyfriend. Only Greg (Gregory Smith) isn’t Margie’s boyfriend and actually seems to be using her for the trappings of her wealth. And we’re okay with that, I guess, because Margie is evil.
Meanwhile, back in space, Zenon’s dad, Mark (Greg Thirloway), is the cool, mellow one, and her mom, Astrid (Gwynyth Walsh) is the strict disciplinarian. Zenon bonds with her dad, who knows lyrics to songs by her favourite band (apparently, boy bands will still be popular thirty years from now?) and shares her interest in how cool the lights are in a solar storm despite the incredible danger she was in that only her mother seems to point out. “Oooo, the colours” doesn’t counteract the dangerous kinds of solar radiation, folks.
Aunt Judy (Holy Fulger), back on Earth, is a ditz who’s afraid of travel and space and so forth. She actually says at one point that Zenon’s mild flirtation with a boy shows that she’s doing better with men than she is. (Naturally, she will hook up with someone by the end of the movie.) She won’t cook for Zenon because she thinks her cooking would be actually traumatic. Presumably she has a job, but we don’t know what it is or if she’s any good at it.
There are other aspects to the whole thing, but it was the sexism that bothered me most. Zenon herself was . . . okay, I guess, but almost everything she succeeds at doing, she does with someone else’s efforts. She’s intrepid, but she doesn’t seem particularly smart or clever or even courageous—she’s able to maneuver her familiar environment with ease, but as soon as she encounters a horse, she’s terrified. Not that there’s any reason for her to encounter a horse, you understand, but she does anyway.
Another part of the movie’s problem was that 2049 is not that far away. Most of the names, I’m relieved to say, are relatively common today—just as most people today have names that were relatively common fifty years ago. (The movie was made in 1999, naturally.) But the movie does have the persistent problem of “the future is far away” which doesn’t work. It’s twenty years now since it was made, and that means we’re almost halfway there. Do you really think we’re going to get a space station like this one in the next thirty years? They force the future thing in language, too, with a ton of “futuristic” slang.
One thing I do think is interesting is that culture in space and culture on Earth have notable differences. Zenon dresses very differently from Margie—Zenon’s clothing and jewelry are fashioned with bits and pieces of things recycled from within the station; indeed, though she and her friends get in trouble for raiding the recycling shafts, it seems to me that it would make more sense to have a system where people pick through refuse before it goes to recycling and see if they want any of it. She’s also unfamiliar with most Earth food, because on the station, they eat what they produce. They also eat all their meals in a cafeteria; the familial experience seems not to be as strong on the station.
This was, apparently, initially planned to be the pilot of a TV show. And I guess I can get that; for one thing, why would you build these sets if you weren’t planning to use them repeatedly? But it would’ve been one of those shows I didn’t watch, just as it was a movie I didn’t watch when it aired. I’m amused to discover that Zenon is played by the girl who voiced Bonnie Rockwaller on Kim Possible, but that isn’t enough to get me into the sequels.