Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, 25 Years into the Future

Courtesy of Disney Channel

Set in 2049, Disney’s Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century is far more nostalgic than futuristic. The ’90s neon and frosted-tipped boy band members are so distinctly of the year 1999 that the film feels like a time capsule as opposed to feeling dated. Visually, the colors, clunky technology, and bad CGI create a fun and unique aesthetic not unlike the Space Age of the 50s and 60s. For a low budget Disney Channel Original Movie, the film is also surprisingly poignant in its view of the world. With star performances from Kristen Storm and Raven-Symoné, and Zenon is a fun watch that has a lot to say about enjoying the simple moments of life—even 25 years into the future.

Zenon in front of a Poster of Proto Zoa
Kristen Storms as Zenon Kar

In the past, present, and future, there will be a boy band, probably a British one, for teenage girls to obsess over. For 13-year-old Zenon Kar (Kristen Storms), it’s Microbe. They’re about to be the first band to perform in space, on Zenon’s station. Thanks to her sculpture of lead singer Proto Zoa, played by Phillip Rhys, she wins a contest to dance with the band. It’s no surprise to any of her friends because Zenon is the It Girl of outer space, leading me to believe that the awkward stage of preteen puberty doesn’t exist in the future. She’s confident, a good friend and always trusts her intuition even when it gets her into trouble. Like when she suspects Parker Wyndham (Frederick Coffin), owner of the space station, and his side kick Mr. Lutz (Bob Bancroft) are up to no good. When her sleuthing goes awry, she’s sent to live with her Aunt Judy (Holly Fulger) on Earth. 

Zenon talking with her Friends
Futuristic Y2K fashion on Zenon and Nebula (Raven-Symoné)

With the exceptions of big cities like L.A. and New York City, Earth is way behind the times. Where Aunt Judy lives they still eat hamburgers and pizza while Zenon is used to hydroponically grown food with no artificial preservatives or colors. The future predicted by this movie is all about efficiency and practicality. The idea of eating food for enjoyment is foreign to Zenon, as are flowers. Aunt Judy tells her, “Down here not everything has to have a purpose, some things are just good for your soul.” Fulger plays her role of the fun, single aunt so well. She’s perky, stylish, and drives a yellow punch buggy, the dream car of almost every girl in the early 2000s, including myself. More importantly though, she’s vulnerable with Zenon which helps to establish their bond early on. Aunt Judy expresses to her that her whole life she’s been afraid to put herself out there and take risks. She appreciates how fearless her niece is and that makes Zenon her hero. There’s a great parallel with Zenon and her aunt as one learns to grapple with the past as the other faces the future. 

While Zenon is incredibly tenacious, that doesn’t make her transition to Earth easy. After some initial struggling—a mean girl, drowning, and a chemistry explosion because we still use Fahrenheit here—she begins to understand the simple pleasure of Earth with the help of her horseback riding love interest Greg (Gregory Smith.) While the film failed to predict social media and the rise of iPhones, it manages to convey the importance of living in the moment away from screen and technology. Sure, Earth has problems, but going to space isn’t going to solve them. *Cough* Elon Musk *Cough* The moment, however, is fleeting as Mr. Lutz returns to Earth to steal back a disc Zenon accidentally took from him. This leads to a 13-year-old hacking the entire space station to stop Wyndham from trying to shut down the station with a virus to collect the insurance money. The film has an unexpected scathing take on capitalism, not only is the billionaire corrupt, but Zenon’s space friends tell her “Everything down there is motivated by money.” She responds, “Everything down there is motivated by self defense.” After all, these kids have never even sneezed due to space’s lack of germs. Of course they view Earth as a scary, germy place with earthquakes and other natural disasters.   

Zenon and Greg riding a horse
Greg (Gregory Smith) takes Zenon horseback riding

According to the station’s commander, the station is 27 years old, meaning we’re a few years behind schedule. However, we still have a quarter century to create hover limos and elect Chelsea Clinton into office. The film also predicts hologram teachers, the enduring legacy of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and a horrible earthquake in 2035, so we can look forward to that, I guess. I think it’s not too soon to start working in some of the film’s futuristic slang into our vocabularies. For example, “inky” means bad, “lumarious” means good, and “zetus lupetus” can be used to express excitement or exasperation. Like, Zetus lupetus! The new Microbe song is so good. The one that goes Zoom, zoom, zoom // Make my heart go // Boom boom // My super nova girl.” The song actually is kinda good, albeit extremely cheesy,  even if the band is apparently as outdated as we are, as one of Zenon’s friends tells her, “Microbe? They’re about as thermal as some band from back in 2025.”

After she makes her way back to space on Microbe’s ship, she gives her winning dance to Nebula, played by Raven-Symoné, cementing Zenon as the coolest girl in all of space. However, I found myself much more invested in Zenon’s life on Earth than with her attempts to get back to the space station to save her friends and family. Mr. Lutz and Wyndham aren’t particularly interesting villains, especially considering Zenon is a great protagonist. Storm gives a great performance that is equal parts precocious and relatable teenage impulsion. A testament to its popularity, Zenon was the first Disney Channel Original Movie to get both a sequel Zenon: The Zequel (2001) and become a trilogy Zenon: Z3 (2004). The film captures the excitement of 1999, the anticipation of what life may look life in the 2000s. However, the future is built on change, which can be scary. The idea that even in 2049, the Earth really hasn’t changed that much provides a certain level of comfort that’s expected from Disney.  

Written by Joyelle Ronan

As a pop-culture enthusiast, Joyelle particularly enjoys television, film and theater. She is interested in writing about how the media arts help people relate to, explore and find meaning in life. You can check out more of her stuff at

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