Z-O-M-B-I-E-S, on Disney Channel
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This first aired in February 2018, but I didn't get to see it until October 2019, on DVD.
It begins with some backstory (in motion comic format), which is narrated by the two lead characters in the movie, Addison (Meg Donnelly) and Zed. Fifty years ago, in the town of Seabrook, an accident at the power plant released a gas that turned a lot of people into zombies. Eventually a wall was constructed to separate the uninfected inhabitants of Seabrook from the zombies, who now live in a restricted area known as Zombietown. At some point after that, the government created Z-bands, which zombies wear as bracelets, which stop them from wanting to eat brains, and basically leave them just like ordinary humans, except for their pale skin and green hair.
In the present (which is live-action), zombie teenagers are going to be allowed to attend Seabrook's human high school for the first time. However, many humans (including the principal, Ms. Lee) are against this, as they're still afraid of zombies, and harbor erroneous stereotypes they've been taught over the past few generations. (I suppose to be fair, a lot of people had grandparents who were attacked or even killed by zombies, decades ago. But I don't think that excuses their bigotry in the present.) This part of the plot, teenage descendants of "monsters" being allowed to attend high school with "normal" people, reminds me a lot of Descendants, another Disney Channel Original Movie, which came out a few years before this one. But I think I slightly prefer this movie. Anyway, Addison has been training pretty much her whole life to be a cheerleader, and she's looking forward to finally getting to try out for her school's cheer team, this year. (Seabrook's cheerleaders are champions, unlike the football team they cheer for. Which reminds me of the Cheerios, from Glee.) But Addison has a secret: she has always had white hair (for a reason that is never explained). This marks her as "different," so if anyone outside her family ever found out about it, she'd become an outcast, just like zombies. So, she wears a blond wig. Meanwhile, Zed is excited to go to the human high school, because he wants to try out for the football team. Unfortunately, when he and the other zombies get to school on the first day, they find out that they're going to have to stay in the basement, so they won't get to interact with human students in any way. Even their "teacher" is actually just the school's zombie janitor.
Zed sneaks out of the basement to try out for football, but the coach refuses to accept him. And... I forget whether it was before or after that, but Zed inadvertently causes a panic among human students (which actually starts out with a rather humorous misunderstanding). He ends up hiding from the other students in a "zombie safe room," which, ironically, is meant for humans to hide from zombies. Then Addison gets away from the chaos in the hallways by going into the safe room, which is dimly lit. She begins talking with Zed, not realizing he's a zombie... until the lights come on. She's startled (to say the least) when she sees him clearly, but after that, they become friends. Meanwhile, Addison also befriends a (human) girl named Bree, who is excited to try out for the cheer team, herself. The team is led by Addison's cousin, Bucky, who is very vain when it comes to how great he is at cheerleading, and very demanding of perfection from anyone who wants to join his squad. He also has a trio of sycophantic cheerleaders who work closely with him, named Lacey, Stacey, and Tracey. And they're all opposed to zombies being allowed in their school. Zed has a couple of close (zombie) friends of his own, Eliza and Bonzo. Eliza is really into computers (a fact which is important to the plot), and Bonzo is an aspiring musician (a fact which I think is only mentioned once). I should also say that Bonzo only speaks in a zombish language (which kind of reminded me of Groot). But while he seems friendly and eager to join in with humans, like Zed, Eliza is much more cynical about humans. Or I suppose more realistic, because her belief that they're all bigoted against zombies is mostly well-founded. I should also mention that Zed has an adorable little sister named Zoey, who wants to be a cheerleader someday, though for now she's much too young, and doesn't yet leave Zombietown.
Anyway, one day zombies are allowed to attend a pep rally, and... an incident leads to Zed's Z-band briefly going offline, so he's in danger of reverting to full zombie. While he's able to hold onto his wits, he gains superhuman strength, which impresses the football coach. So Zed gets a spot on the team... but he soon realizes that while his Z-band is working and he just has normal human strength, he's not good enough to remain on the team for long. This leads him to get Eliza to hack his Z-band whenever he's playing football, to give him just enough zombie strength to make him a great player (but not enough to lose his self-control). This aspect of the Z-band is actually one of the most interesting plot points, to me. It could have been just a gimmick, but I think it adds a whole extra level to the bigotry against zombies. Because... later in the movie, Zed goes on a date with Addison, with his Z-band set to make him appear fully human. The fact that zombies don't do that all the time makes me think (and I don't remember if this was ever explicitly stated or not) that there must be a law against it. (There are any number of laws zombies must abide by, including a strict curfew, and not being allowed to own pets.) In fact, I don't think most humans even know that that Z-band setting is possible. But the only reason I can think of that zombies wouldn't be allowed to appear human is because the authorities want them to look different, easily recognizable as zombies. And the only plausible reason I can think of for that is to make it easier to maintain segregation and bigotry against them. (Of course, there could be concern about what might happen if the Z-bands stopped working without warning, but I think if there were a real danger of that, it could happen whether the bands were set to "full human" or not. I mean, it's understandable that a problem could arise as a result of the bands being hacked, as Eliza does, but only because I assume the agency that controls the Z-bands intentionally locked them into a single setting.)
Um... so... where was I? Well... of course, Addison and Zed's relationship moves beyond friendship, but they still have to hide it. (As I mentioned with their date, before I got off on that whole Z-band rant.) I must say, I think the human-zombie romance in this movie is much more believable than the one in Warm Bodies. Meanwhile, Zed's football team wins lots of games, and with his newfound popularity, he's able to make things better for the other zombies in school; Principal Lee allows them to eat lunch in the cafeteria, with the human students. (And my first instinct is to compare Zed's popularity to Rudolph's usefulness, which is my go-to analogy for any situation where a person (or people, or reindeer, or whatever) are shunned until they can do something for the "normal" people. But I guess in this case, a more apt comparison would be how many white people only like black people when they're playing sports... or music, etc. Anyway, Zed's popularity begins to overshadow Bucky's popularity, which leads him and his little clique to do something drastic... which I don't want to spoil, but I will say they eventually come to regret it. And... it kind of bugs me that they never really suffer any consequences for a completely reckless action that put a lot of people in very real danger.
But, of course there's ultimately a happy ending (largely thanks to Zoey, but of course also Addison). And... I think that's pretty much all I wanted to reveal of the plot. Except, I guess I haven't mentioned yet that this is a musical, so there are some really fun song and dance numbers throughout the movie. And I really liked most of the characters. And I liked that the fact that the cheer team includes both girls and boys was just a total non-issue. So, despite all the racism against zombies, at least it seems like the people of Seabrook are progressive enough to have gotten beyond outdated gender roles. (On the other hand, this movie is one of many examples of "fantastic racism" that includes people of color being racist against people perceived as non-humans, whether it's zombies, or mutants, etc. That kind of thing always irks me.) Anyway... there's just a lot of stuff I really like about this movie, and even some of the things I dislike in-universe, I appreciate as plot elements, because of their reflecting similar things in reality. (And as usual in movies like this, I end up wishing such things could be resolved as relatively quickly and easily in real life as they often are in fiction.) And... I hope I'm not forgetting anything I wanted to say. But I've probably said more than enough, anyway.
Followed by Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2