Disney Channel Original Movie Review: ‘Upside-Down Magic’

Today, Disney Channel takes audiences back to magic school with the original movie Upside-Down Magic.

Upside-Down Magic

Based on the bestselling Scholastic book of the same name from authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins, Upside-Down Magic follows best friends 13-year-old Nory Boxwood Horace (Izabela Rose) and Reina Carvajal (Siena Agudong) as they, along with their budding magical powers, enter the Sage Academy for Magical Studies.

There, Reina’s tightly controlled fire magic contrasts starkly with Nory’s completely random transformation powers and their educational prospects rise and fall accordingly.  Stuck in a bunker doing busywork while the more conventional students are hard at work learning magic and arrogance, Nory must rally her fellow Upside-Down Magic (UDM) students and faculty to believe that they can become more than what others suspect.

Like every story now about pre-teens going off to magic school, it is impossible to look at Upside-Down Magic without comparing it to the world of Harry Potter.  While it has some commonalities–a school separated into different parties (here more logically based on type of magical power versus Potter’s version of the D&D Alignment Chart,) teachers that are by turns unpleasant and ineffective, and a dark, looming evil — Upside-Down Magic is much smaller in scope and focus.

Photo Credit: Disney Channel/Eike Schroter

From the moment Headmaster Knightslinger (Vicki Lewis) makes her entrance, declares there is only one right way people should function, and banishes everyone unable to conform to her standards to a place out of sight where they can wait for their dreams and potential to die, the film’s message is pretty clear.  

Photo Credi: Disney Channel/Eike Schroter

Rose and Agudong as Nory and Reina do a nice job of portraying two friends with perfectly balanced traits–Nory is all self-confidence and extroversion and no impulse control at all, while Reina is all skill and discipline and crippling self-doubt.  The other kids are less well-defined, with usually having one or two personality traits and a power to identify them by.

The teachers do even more poorly, as we barely see the ones teaching the powers our two leads don’t possess (flying and pulling telekinesis,) and the two we do see are either Earth-motherly incompetent or cold and cruel.  Like the characters, the plot is drawn in pretty broad strokes without a lot of surprises or subtlety.

People who are different in this school have no hope or future, and are even seen as a potential threat to the current way of life at Sage Academy. Only fit to do menial labor with their teacher (the Harry Potter “Filch” equivalent), the UDMs are told to accept their innate inferiority for the good of the rest of society and look forward to a non-magical life as an accountant or “whatever it is you people do.”

While eating, the tables are segregated by (blazer) color, with the UDMs ostracized to a different part of the room and even the teachers instructing the proper students not to socialize with them lest they lose status.

Photo Credit: Disney Channel/Robert Trachtenberg

Upside-Down Magic is probably not going to replace Harry Potter in civilization’s collective consciousness any time soon, but it’s a perfectly reasonable tale, if a little on the straight-forward side.

It says that differences can become strengths, and that arrogance and division breed violence and weakness, just as surely as friendship and acceptance give strength.  If that gives any young unconventionals made to feel like an outcast a little reassurance or gives any young conventionals something new to ponder–well, that’s a good type of magic no matter what direction you look at it.

The Disney Channel Original Movie UpsideDown Magic is set to premiere tonight, Friday, July 31st at 8PM EST on Disney Channel. UpsideDown Magic will also be available on DisneyNOW beginning Saturday, August 1st.

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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8 Replies to “Disney Channel Original Movie Review: ‘Upside-Down Magic’”

  1. “Tween whisperer” Nick Pustay does it again with this comical screenplay based on books that were an unabashed HP clone. With two teenage daughters, I’ve suffered through a lot of Disney Channel movies over the years, and this is one of my favorites. Reminds me of Nick’s masterful work on the Ramona an Beezus screenplay, extracting the most out of the book on screen. The end of the moved seemed to leave it open for a TV series or a sequel, which this viewer would be more than happy to see!

    1. This comment really reflects my feelings as well. While I have only been blessed with one daughter- we watched our share of Disney classics: Wizards of Waverly Place, Halloweentown, and Suite Life – to name just a few. This adaptation of an adequate HP rip off was brilliant. Nick Pustay really showed Disney some incredible talent. I watched it TWICE last night and am anxiously awaiting the sequel.

    2. Wow, I thought I was the only dad who felt the way Mr Swain did in his comment. I can not imagine a more apropos phrasing than “tween whisperer” to describe how in touch Nick Pustay’s screen writing related to the demographic. When the teacher uttered “jiggery jaggety puberty powers” I was thinking, “man the kids would like that!”

      As a father of a 19 y.o., I’ve sat through Wizards of Waverly Place, Halloweentowns, and Suite Life’s (to name a few); but, this movie was so much better and in tune with the audience.

      I really hope Disney picks up a sequel with the incredible gifts that Nick Pustay brought to the magic world.

    3. I couldn’t agree more. My son is twenty three but watching this reminded me of so many of the classics we watched over and over in his youth. Keep it up Nick, you made this old man feel like a young father again.

    1. It’s available on the Disney Channel, which I believe you would access through your cable provider or through the DisneyNow app.