Since its launch in November 2019 — fortuitous timing for a streaming service to enter the public sphere — Disney+ has padded its subscriber base with the promise of endless live action/CGI remakes of beloved animated properties (Lady and the Tramp, Mulan, Pinnochio, and Peter Pan & Wendy, so far) and franchise extensions (new Home Alone, Hocus Pocus, Enchanted, and Night at the Museum films have all landed within the last 18 months). Less visible to your average movie-goer is the platform’s essential resurrection of its Disney Channel Original Movie days. While the sub-brand never technically went away — and indeed, the Descendants and Zombies franchises have proven immensely popular in the tween market in recent years — we’re still a long way away from the DCOM heyday millennials will remember so well, driven by nostalgic classics of middle school cheese like Halloweentown, Brink!, and Johnny Tsunami. Disney+ has married its need for content with this history of minor-key, kid-facing TV movies, and thus has buffered its premiere tentpole productions with the likes of Better Nate Than Ever, Sneakerella, and Chang Can Dunk, the titles of which basically broadcast both their meager ambitions and the demo they’re chasing.
The latest such film to enter the fray of overfunded but joyless Disney scraps is Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Crater. As such kid flicks so often go, most of the film’s attention is paid to establishing its plucky gang of juvenile types: there’s the group’s de facto leader, Dylan (Billy Barratt); his best friend, Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey); the milksop nerd, Borney (Orson Hong); the tragically ill friend, Marcus (Thomas Boyce); and the no-nonsense girl brought into their circle, Addison (Mckenna Grace). The quintet all live on a lunar mining colony — Addison recently arrived from Earth; the others born and raised — and what little narrative impetus the film offers concerns Caleb’s imminent relocation to another planet following the death of his father. You see, there are mysterious circumstances at play, and Caleb promised his father — played by Kid Cudi, whose choices in acting projects seem to employ the same logic as the kid who tries to be in as many random yearbook photos as possible — that in the event of his death, he would visit the titular cavity so that he might discover… something. As a bon voyage to Caleb, the group decides to spin this all into a mission of sorts, at which point Crater delivers some slow running on the moon’s surface, a joke about none of the celestial-born boys knowing what baseball is, a lot of generic space danger, and, most bafflingly, just a hint of anti-corporate, pro-worker sentiment (indentured servitude, somehow, plays an essential role in the film’s plot).
It’s all inoffensive enough, and young kids flicking through the Disney+ catalog will likely be mildly entertained by this decidedly wholesome trifle featuring performers who are actually around their age, but for anyone past puberty, there’s simply nothing to hang on to here. The world as rendered is profoundly narrow in scope, as if adapted from a 10-page children’s picture book, and the project feels entirely enervated, lacking the vitality and eccentricity that energized those lightweight, turn-of-the-millennium Disney projects that premiered on living room TVs on Friday nights. During that time, Disney maintained a cottage industry of campy kids cinema, delivering films that were undeniably kitschy but also rich in personality, quotable, and unabashed in their commitment to wacky dorkdom. Films like Zenon — an easy superficial comp for Crater — have even developed something of a cult following with a certain sphere of mid-millennials, which is what can happen when you enthusiastically embrace the corn — and when you deliver an original song with the chorus: “Zoom zoom zoom, make my heart go boom boom / My super nova girl.” Crater never lands with much force because it aspires to so little, but the bigger sin is that it doesn’t even give itself a chance to be memorable in any fashion. On a technical level, it may be a more elevated product than those DCOM novelties of yesteryear, but it’s also far less engaged, fatally so. Crater ultimately does very little to disprove the notion that the glut of streaming content has created a black hole where art — or at least Andy “Brink” Brinkster and Zenon Kar — once existed.
You can currently stream Crater on Disney+.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 19.