Film and TV

Remember Disney Channel's Luck of the Irish?

It may seem hard to believe, but Luck of the Irish premiered on the Disney Channel 15 years ago. It was part of the Disney Channel Original Movie renaissance, part of a slate of films targeted at teens. While many of them now exist only in our memory, this one, chockfull of Irish stereotypes, gains new life every year around St. Patrick's Day. 

Luck of the Irish
is the story of a junior high basketball star Kyle Johnson (Ryan Merriman) who has exceptional luck. He makes baskets without really trying, aces tests without even reading the questions, and has ladies hollering at him all over school. However, with his school's Heritage Day looming, he realizes that he doesn't know where his family comes from. He tries to pass off his ignorance by being indignant, snapping at classmate Bonnie Lopez (Alexis Lopez) when asked. He claims that "history [is] like, so 10 minutes ago. Now sports, that's what's happening now!"

That's about as much as you remember, right? Dreamboat Ryan Merriman, lots of basketball, and eventually some adorable leprechauns. However, it wouldn't be a Disney Channel Original Movie without a lesson to be rooted in, such as staying true to yourself (Brink!) and being proud of what makes you different (Johnny Tsunami). For Luck of the Irish, it's about diversity and connecting with your history to define who you actually are, not just what you've accomplished by luck.

Kyle's confusion certainly wasn't helped at home, as his parents (Marita Geraghty and Paul Kiernan) dodge the question by insisting their bloodline originated in Cleveland and nothing more. Upon further prodding, his very-red-haired-mother-who-is-obviously-Irish quickly shuts him down with an excuse that Donald Trump would approve of: "We're Americans, Kyle. That's all the heritage we need!"

Not to be defeated, he digs around his house and discovers a birth certificate that references his dad as "Bob Smith," not Johnson. That doesn't really provide more clarity, given that they are the #1 and #2 most common names in America. It's only when he sees a flyer for an Irish festival that he recognizes a symbol identical to a gold coin his mother gave him that he wears around his neck.

At the festival, he meets an older man who curiously criticizes his shoes and just as quickly vanishes. Later, he discovers a step-dancing show hosted by Seamus McTiernan (Timothy Omundson) and involuntarily becomes the Lord of the Dance. In the midst of it, he gets knocked over by a con-man in a leprechaun suit, who slyly swaps Kyle's real gold coin for a fake without him noticing. 

The next morning, he finds his mother cooking breakfast with her long red locks flowing and speaking with an Irish accent. Without much prodding, she matter-of-factly reveals that her family is indeed Irish and has protected him in order to shield him from Irish oppression (a common problem in 2001?). Easy enough, right? WRONG. What's a Disney movie without high jinks? Over the course of the school day, it's one bad-luck thing after another, including a botched performance at the big game. 

To make matters worse, he all of a sudden gets horrible-looking red highlights and seems to be shrinking, shouting Irish "expletives" like "Oh, saints preserve us!" None of this makes sense, until he comes home to find his mother, not just still super Irish, but  now 12 inches tall. Totally sensical now, right? His mother reveals herself as a leprechaun from the clan O'Reilly, whose luck is contained in — you guessed it — his gold coin. Which is why he is also turning into a tiny human.

It's concluded that the old man at the festival is actually his mother's father, Reilly O'Reilly (Henry Gibson) the self-proclaimed inventor of the potato chip, who didn't approve of  his daughter's non-leprechaun marriage. That's it? Seems like some pretty low stakes to go into hiding, change your name, and keep your kid in the dark his whole life. However, this had them convinced that he stole it for revenge, so they visit his potato chip factory (that was in the same town the whole time?) and confront him. He claims no responsibility and is showing signs of going leprechaun himself. He realizes that the step-dancing king Seamus must have been behind it, as he was a well-known con-man. 


They track down Seamus, his lackeys, and their creepy RV full of stolen gold coins. They chase him in Reilly's totally not suspicious green convertible, only to be foiled by a flying pot of corned beef and a downpour. Having thrown their lunch out the window, the criminals stop at the most Irish restaurant in town. That leaves them stationary long enough for the convertible gang , using good-old-fashioned ingenuity — not luck, you guys — to get to them. How so? By following a rainbow, of course! When questioned by Kyle's best friend Russell (Glennon Chatman) about the actual scientific origin of rainbows, Reilly shuts him down by reminding him, "I'm a leprechaun! So don't be tellin' me about rainbows." 

Also a "leprechaun thing"? Breaking into safes, which is exactly how they get to a chest of coins. Both Kyle and Reilly go back to their original size and ear shape, but are swiftly caught by the crooks and Reilly held hostage. Kyle thinks of the only solution, that which trumps heritage in fact: SPORTS. He challenges Seamus, betting that he can beat him at sports (not just one sport, all the sports) to get his coin back. 

Should've been more descriptive, Kyle.

A magic high-five drops them in Ireland, where he's challenged to hurling and step-dancing (which he wins by break dancing?) All in all, they're left in a tie. But Seamus insists that he wasn't beat on the technicality that it was a tie. Cool story, bro. They are then dropped back into the junior high gym, where Kyle smokes Seamus and co. through good, old-fashioned hard work and sports know-how. Fresh off his victory, Kyle performs yet another rousing step routine, followed by a speech about diversity in America and how proud he is to be Irish (knowingly for the last 72 hours.) He then leads the crowd in — we can't make this up — "This Land is Your Land."

It was a lot following a film of heavy-handed stereotypes, but all in all, it stayed on course with the moral of the story: to recognize diversity as part of what America was founded upon. In this case, it did so the way only Disney Channel Original Movies can: through mild mischief and hunky tween stars. 

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ashley Harris is a longtime professional fangirl. You can usually find her out at concerts, movies, and live theatre, or glued to the latest Netflix revival.
Contact: Ashley Harris