By Chris Dos Santos
2nd April 2023

Disney Channel - the love of my life and my sworn enemy. We have discussed her power before in the 'High School Musical' retrospective. When it launched in 1983, the network was originally designed for a much younger crowd, with shows appealing to the preschool demographic using characters like Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh to teach things like numbers and letters to kids. While tween programming slowly began to be introduced to the channel, the first taste of success was 1998's 'The Famous Jett Jackson' and the network began to shift. In 2000, the first real tween hit for the network came about with 'Even Stevens' - but that was only a dose of what would come, and a year later 'Lizzie McGuire' would change the course of history.

The show follows Lizzie (Hilary Duff, 'Cheaper by the Dozen', 'A Cinderella Story') and her best friends Gordo (Adam Lamberg) and Miranda (Lalaine, 'Easy A') as they battle the world as middle schoolers. Dealing with all the challenges that come from being 13 years old and thinking your mum (Hallie Todd) is a villain and the highest stakes of your day is hoping your crush, Ethan Craft (Clayton Snyder), will notice you and that your bully, Kate (Ashlie Brillault), avoids you. Along with her dad (Robert Carradine) and younger brother Matt (Jake Thomas, TV's 'Cory in the House'), the show featured an animated version of Lizzie that helped express her inner monologue.


The show was an instant hit as it perfectly captured the complexity of being a teenage girl in the early 2000s without speaking down to the demographic. It was one of the first shows directed at teens that saw them as a person and understood their struggles. Disney Channel had a rule that shows couldn't run for longer than 65 episodes, which was the case with 'Lizzie McGuire' and as such only lasted for two seasons. While Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs) would become a staple of the network in its later years, they were still finding their feet when 2002 came around. Due to the show's massive merchandise sales - by 2003 it was estimated the show had brought in US$100 million for Disney - it was decided to take the kids out of Hillridge Junior High and so off to the big screen they went.

'The Lizzie McGuire Movie', originally intended as a series finale, was released midway through the show's second season with 28 episodes airing after the film's release. However, the film follows the cast, minus Miranda whose actor had left the show due to work on other projects, graduating from Junior High and jetting off to Rome, Italy, for a celebratory trip before heading into high school. While on their trip, Lizzie runs into Pablo (Yani Gellman, '47 Meters Down', TV's 'Pretty Little Liars'), an Italian pop singer who mistakes her for Isabella (played by Duff and her sister Haylie), his singing partner who looks identical to Lizzie but with black hair. They have recently broken up but are still booked in to perform at the International Music Video Awards. Pablo gets the idea to use Lizzie to pretend to be Isabella so the show can still go on. As you can imagine hijinks ensue, a wheel of cheese, Vespa rides, an inflatable igloo dress and of course a performance at the Colosseum make this 'What Dreams Are Made Of'.

There are many ways to analyse 'The Lizzie McGuire Movie' as a TV show to film - as a product of its time, where it lies as a gear in the Disney Channel machine, a piece of tween media or as a fantastic film. I'm going to go with the latter, since this is unapologetically one of my favourite films. Even as the Disney Channel became more and more of a juggernaut, 'Lizzie McGuire' still stood out among the 'That's So Raven's' and 'Hannah Montana's' due to its grounded setting, and while the movie is the most fantastical thing the show ever did, at its core, the way it captured the teenage experience is why we remember it today. Lizzie was never a wizard who is a teenager or lived in a hotel as teenager - being a teenager was always first.

Many talks of a sequel to both the film and show or spin-off had arisen over the years, but it wasn't until 2019 when at D23, Disney's expo, an official revival was announced for the yet-to-debut streaming service Disney+ with most of the original cast returning.

Only two more Disney Channel properties would make the jump to the big screen - the final chapter of the 'High School Musical' series and 'Hannah Montana: The Movie' - while other shows like 'Wizards of Waverly Place', 'The Suite Life' and 'Phineas and Ferb' got DCOM status, only further cementing how huge the 'Lizzie McGuire' brand was for the company. Many talks of a sequel to both the film and show or spin-off had arisen over the years, but it wasn't until 2019 when at D23, Disney's expo, an official revival was announced for the yet-to-debut streaming service Disney+ with most of the original cast returning, but again Miranda was absent. It's pretty well documented and many fans already know that the show never came to be, while two episodes where filmed Disney ultimately cancelled production due to the show being too adult while they were hoping for something closer to 'Raven's Home' which was a sequel to 'That's So Raven' that stuck much more to the sitcom formula and family storytelling. The Lizzie revival was written as a show for fans of the show who have now grown up and are adults who deal with things like cheating and sex. Duff did fight for the show to move to Hulu but Disney wasn't going to let something with the Disney brand make that jump, and while Disney+ now does offer more adult content with parental controls the show still remains cancelled and those two filmed episodes will most likely never see the light of day.

'Lizzie McGuire' was a first for a lot of things on the Disney Channel, but none more noteworthy than Hilary Duff herself. While we now can credit the network for bringing us many stars like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez, Duff was the first to launch into the mainstream, having a gigantic music career, her biggest album 'Metamorphosis' launching off the heels of the film. Duff was the blueprint to not only have a successful series but turning teens into global superstars.

There is a reason 20 years on we are still talking about 'Lizzie McGuire', and it's because it spoke to 2000s tweens and not at them. As we grow older, sometimes we just need to go back to school bullies, crushes and parents being the biggest struggles in our lives. 'The Lizzie McGuire Movie' is an extension of those themes - a time capsule of fashion, first love and being a teenager. While the film steps a bit outside the realm of realism the show thrived in, it's still one of the great examples of a successful jump from the small to the big screen. Grab a bandana, put on your best colour-blocking outfit, grab a wheel of cheese, eat a bunch of carbs and belt out 'What Dreams Are Made Of'. If you needed an excuse to jump back into a ball of nostalgia, this is your free pass to go back to Italy!

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