In many ways, Upside-Down Magic is a return to form for Disney Channel Original Movies. It reminded me of the annual Halloween-themed films like Halloweentown and Twitches. Based on the best-selling Scholastic book series of the same name, it comes with a built-in audience with plans to become a film franchise of its own.
Nory (newcomer Izabela Rose) and her best friend Reina (Siena Agudong, Sydney to the Max) are heading to Sage Academy for Magical Studies to hone their magic abilities. With five well-known schools of study, Reina is instantly accepted into the Flares school to practice fire magic, but Nory is rejected from all of them, landing herself in the little-known Upside-Down Magic school, or UDM, where she will learn typical human curriculum while waiting for her magical abilities to disappear. UDMs are believed to be highly susceptible to “Shadow Magic” and therefore are a threat to the world.
Nory thought she would be a Fluxer based on her ability to transform into animals, but she can’t seem to become just one animal at a time, naming her typical cat/dragon combo a “Dritten.” Her UDM classmates include a “Flyer” named Andres (Max Torina, Raven’s Home) who can’t land, a “Flares” named Elliot (Elie Samouhi, Bizaardvark) who makes smoke instead of fire, and a Flicker named Pepper (Alison Fernandez, Life-Size 2) who sends things away instead of bringing things to her. Their teacher is Budd (Kyle Howard, Hulu’s Into the Dark: A Nasty Piece of Work), who has pretty much given up on life until Nory’s optimism and refusal to lose her magic inspires him to help each student discover what makes their own magic special.
Fairly predictable and derivative of The Worst Witch and Harry Potter, Upside-Down Magic will certainly be a lot of fun for a generation who hasn’t been exposed to those other stories about magical schools. Unlike Hogwarts, Sage Academy divides students based on skill rather than personality traits, but still applies a color scheme to each group and has a school crest that ties them all together. The film tries to set itself apart visually by replacing a magical castle setting with a California Arts & Crafts style university setting, a real boarding school in British Columbia called Shawnigan Lake School.
Upside-Down Magic has a cast of charming kids and an appealing magical story that Disney Channel’s target audience will love. Parents will likely be reminded of stories with similar themes that they connect with better from their own childhoods, but it’s certain to become Disney Channel’s next big thing.
I give Upside-Down Magic 4 out of 5 “Squippy” fluxer transformations.
Upside-Down Magic premieres Friday, July 31st, at 8:00 pm ET on Disney Channel.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.