Remember when Katherine Heigl wasn’t an often maligned TV star/rom-com maven? Remember when the Disney Channel had TV movies with budgets and plots that befit their low quality, limited audience reach, and very targeted appeal?
Wish Upon a Star was one of the Disney movies that were deemed family friendly enough to play incessantly throughout the late 90s. It capitalized on slightly lower tier teen stars, the Andrew Keegans and Katherine Heigls, not the JTTs and Christina Riccis who were dominating the kid-oriented box office. These Disney movies recycled plots, wardrobes, movie sets, and supporting casts. They were everything to the pre-Internet kid.
For girls who had cable and were in their early teens in the late 90s, Wish Upon a Star was a quintessential 90s teen TV movie. It featured body switching hijinks and sibling rivalry, which are pretty solid plot points in the kid movie genre. Katherine Heigl played popular Winter Princess sister, Alexia Wheaton, bitchy to and snarling at her younger sister Hayley (played by burgeoning scream queen and child star Danielle Harris) who was of course grungy and nerdy and who also secretly idolized her older sister. As with all good body swaps, the sisters are contentious rivals who never understand each other but who also both secretly desire what the other has. They have nothing in common, but also probably everything. Alexia wishes she was as smart and talented as Hayley. Hayley wishes she was as pretty and socially adept as Alexia. Through their super PG attempts to ruin each other’s lives (“Alexia
Hayley Wheaton is a wench!”) they learn about each other and grow closer, as TV tells me sisters do. I don’t have sisters, so I believe this is pretty much how sister friendships evolve.
The movie is completely full of clichés. It also sort of addresses some plot points that often bother me in similar body switching movies. Why do the adults not intervene in any of the girls’ hijinks? The adult Wheatons are psychologists who are trying to teach the girls valuable lessons about adulthood and maturity. The teachers all have their own baggage and quirks that all lead them to ignore the obvious problems the girls are facing. Friends are also given similar treatment in that Alexia’s friends are more frenemies who don’t actually care about her, while Hayley’s one friend is more interested in fitting in. Speaking of high school preordained social hierarchy, both girls have socially acceptable love interests.
This movie also clearly attempted to replicate some aspect of the Clueless cool that filtered down to middle America in the form of frosted lipstick and knee socks. Alexia channels Cher Horowitz minus all the self-awareness and humor that made the latter great. Likewise, Hayley is Tai, pre-makeover.
The movie ends exactly how you would expect it to. The sisters help each other succeed. Lessons are learned. Miles are walked in one another’s shoes. The grass is definitely not greener on the other side. Hugs, cries, rinse, repeat.
Here are some of the most 90s moments in the movie:
- This wish-undo montage.
- Alexia’s gym clothes.
- This gaggle of Frenemies who use rules to regulate group behavior (post-Heathers, pre-Plastics edition).
- This Mom-Approved Love Interest.
- This entire screencap.
Ultimately what propels this movie into the TV movie camp pantheon is this inexplicable scene where Alexia-as-Hayley performs this bizarre table dance in the high school cafeteria in fetish gear. Remember her parents allowed her to wear this to school because they don’t want to ruin their children’s lives.
Presenting (without commentary) the best reaction faces from the Wish Upon a Star cafeteria scene:
If you don’t feel like watching Wish Upon a Star on YouTube, it is also on Netflix Instant if you have some desire to relive your youth or to try to explain the 90s to someone too young/old to remember 90s youth.