Film and TV

Zach Heltzel of Zetus Lapodcast on the Best (and Worst) Disney Channel Original Movies

Fans rejoiced this summer when Disney Channel announced that it would be airing all its original movies in celebration of its 100th film, Adventures in Babysitting. The channel's Memorial Day Weekend lineup featured an extensive marathon of most of the feel-good films (although, we're still mad that Johnny Tsunami aired at 3:30 a.m.).

If that marathon didn't satisfy your need to revisit Disney Channel original movies (ahem, DCOMs), then you'll be pleased to learn that Valley comedian Zach Heltzel has created Zetus Lapodcast. It's an oral history of DCOMs, from A to Zenon. Running since 2015, each episode clocks in at over an hour of hilarious reflection on not only fan favorites, but many of the deep cuts and almost-DCOMs. Did you know that Hocus Pocus was supposed to be one? Neither did we.

Born and raised in Glendale, Heltzel attended Ironwood High School and Arizona State University, where he graduated with a degree in marketing. He was an "extracurricular journeyman," serving as vice president of the ASU Young Democrats, and arts and entertainment reporter for The State Press, and "a budding baby Don Draper" in AdWorks, ASU's first student-run advertising agency. He currently works in marketing for a health-care company and ghostwrites content for social media influencers.

We caught up with Heltzel to talk about what inspired the podcast, what to expect from it, and plans for this 21st-century show.

Where did you get the idea for this podcast?
I did not get the idea from anywhere in particular, but it was definitely drawn from the ether of BuzzFeed's corner of the internet. There was a wave of pop culture/comedy hybrid podcasts in 2014 and 2015 at networks like Earwolf and, more recently Headgum, ranging the gamut of pop culture. I noticed that the Disney Channel Original Movie, a staple of '90s kid nostalgia, had not been claimed.

What most interested you about the subject matter?
The future is terrifying, so it's no wonder that millennials are so fixated on revisiting the past. I really wanted to know what it would feel like to actually do it, not just as a cultural tourist stopping by and checking out one movie I remember fondly from my childhood, but taking it all in again and reckoning with it in a comprehensive, exhaustive way.

What was the first DCOM you saw as a kid?
I honestly couldn't tell you. I didn't have cable in my household until around 2001, and around that time, Disney Channel was a never-ending cascade of DCOMs. Brink!, Zenon, The Thirteenth Year, Smart House, et cetera. [They] were the white noise that played in my house during most of my adolescence.

In your opinion, what is the quintessential DCOM?
Every DCOM – save for that random one where Diane Keaton is a chain-smoker whose brother gets pushed off a power line by a cat – fulfills several of the following characteristics: a precocious youth in over their head (usually female), a comically low-stakes conflict, a high-concept plot (what if x was y?), a superfluous sports subplot to make boys care, and an overt metaphor for puberty. The first movie that comes to mind that fits all five is Motocrossed.

How do you choose your guests for the show?
Over the years, I've been lucky to befriend a lot of really smart and insightful filmmakers, comedians, and movie critics who volunteer to be on before I even have to ask them. That makes choosing guests pretty easy, because I'm actually terribly shy and would feel incredibly guilty if I had to ask someone to take several hours out of their week to watch an early-2000s cultural artifact and talk about it.

Who has been your favorite guest so far?
I've had too many really great guests to give them all the attention they deserve, so I'm going to take the easy way out on this question and give a shout to my mother and my brother. I had my mom on to talk about the movie Model Behavior as an excuse for us to get wine-drunk and dish about our revulsion to Kathie Lee Gifford. For April Fools Day this year, I teased a brief interview with Frankie Muniz and ended up releasing an episode where I ostensibly made my brother talk about the pilot of The O.C. with me, much to his dissatisfaction. People bring those episodes up to me all the time as being the ones they think are truly special, and I think there is something to that.


Who would you love to have as a guest on the show?
Hillary Clinton. You just know she has a lot of really great thoughts about Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior. If you're reading this, Hil, take a break from hiking and let's gab about The Good Wife over a glass of scotch.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans?
Mostly, it's been very positive! The people who grew up on these movies are almost all adults now - today's kids didn't know most of these movies existed until the DCOM marathon in May. I've received criticism from the more traditional Disney purists out there – you know, the young moms who take their toddlers to Disneyland six times a year mostly as an excuse so they themselves can go. Most people seem to get it and like it, so that's something that is never not cool.

Have any DCOM stars responded to your podcast?
They have! I don't want to name names at the risk of them not doing the show, as a few have promised but are understandably busy, but word travels fast. I definitely received an e-mail a few months back from a pretty major former Disney star telling me they listened to an episode about one of their movies and really enjoyed it, and frankly, I was shell-shocked. Which reminds me, I really need to stop saying bad things about Kimberly J. Brown's Etsy store.

How long do you think it will take you to get through all the movies?
It was going to take at least two years no matter what, but since we're a year and a half in and barely halfway done because I insist on veering off into random nonsense like an episode about the TV show The O.C. or special episodes about non-DCOMs like Hocus Pocus. It's probably going to at least take another 18 months to get through the roughly 50 movies we have left to go.

What was the worst DCOM you've covered so far?
Eddie's Million Dollar Cook Off and Quints are two movies that nearly put me into a death spiral with their abrasiveness.

What's the most under appreciated DCOM and why?
The Scream Team is not just a good DCOM, it's a fantastic, weird little genre movie that I cannot believe hasn't risen to the level of a cult classic yet. Monty Python's Eric Idle is in it, and dare I say it is the best Disney Halloween movie prominently featuring Kathy Najimy. Take that, Hocus Pocus.

What's next for the podcast?
We're currently in the dry period between movies 20-somethings remember (Zenon, Brink!, Smart House) and movies today's teens remember (High School Musical, Camp Rock), so in a few months, things are going to be really exciting.