August 23, 1997 – The Disney Channel Original Movie Northern Lights Premieres
“It is never a happy time when we are asked to say goodbye, yet that’s what today is for.”
On August 23, 1997, the Disney Channel Original Movie Northern Lights premiered. This was the first film to be billed as a Disney Channel Original Movie, as others preceding it had been known as Disney Channel Premiere Films. It was based on the 1988 stage play of the same name by John Hoffman. The film was written by Hoffman and Kevin Kane, and directed by Linda Yellen. It starred Diane Keaton as Roberta Blumstein, Maury Chaykin as Ben Rubadue, Joseph Cross as Jack, Kathleen York as Daphne, and John Robert Hoffman as Joe Scarlotti.
The film begins with a little boy being told about the Northern Lights by his father, how they are a phenomenon that shows up in their own time. Meanwhile in New York, Roberta Blumstein is in trouble once again. She sells tickets for Broadway shows, and continually argues with her customers, as well as takes too many breaks. She then gets a phone call about her brother, as he died rescuing a cat from the top of an electrical pole. Roberta has been estranged from her brother for ten years, and she recalls their last moment together. She heads out on the next train, and meets a strange man at the Bright River Junction station, also waiting for a ride into town. She and the man head to the King Edward Hotel, which is surprisingly decorated with hundreds of lights. The hotel is filled with interesting characters, and the two quickly make their way to settle down for the night.
The next morning, two kids are spying on Roberta, who is brought room service by a scary individual, which causes her to drop the tray on the floor. The other man, Ben Rubadue, has left several messages for his wife, who doesn’t seem to be responding. Later, she is accompanied by Joe Scarlotti to the memorial service for her brother, while Ben is being stalked by a strange woman. Roberta is confused and stunned by the attention given to her brother, which includes several interesting changes to how the church is being run. She then is shocked to find that Frank had a son named Jack she knew nothing about. Scarlotti then reads the will to Roberta and Ben, which gives them joint custody of Frank, which greatly annoys Roberta. She decides to call her lawyer to remove her from the responsibility, and gets incredibly lost on her way back to the hotel. She runs into the reverend’s wife, and tries to get her to take responsibility for Frank.
Roberta finally makes her way back only to get stuck in the hotel’s elevator. Jack helps her get out, and Roberta finds out that he and Frank live in the hotel. He thinks that Roberta didn’t like her father, and that his dad told him that she was a lot of fun. Roberta is impressed by Jack’s piano skills, particularly when he plays Debussy, and is painfully reminded of Frank. Later, she starts throwing a tantrum when the cigarette machine won’t dispense her cigarettes, and runs into Ben. The two head out to dinner to talk, and she admits that she is a childless widow. The two try to pawn Jack off onto the other, and are surprised by the band beginning to play. The singer of the band, Daphne, introduces Roberta, and tries to get her on stage to sing. Although reluctant, she gets up and sings, but has to leave when she starts to cry. Daphne attempt to comfort her, though Roberta rebuffs her. Ben tries to comfort her too, but Roberta angrily admits that no one understands what she’s feeling, and opening up doesn’t help. Roberta is unaware that Jack has heard the entire exchange. Ben leaves another message for his wife, who still won’t return his calls.
The next morning, Ben gets a visit from Daphne, who asks him to help her to a picnic. Roberta is ready to go home to New York, refusing to go to Frank’s memorial party. She finally is persuaded to go, after being given a pair of sneakers to wear. She starts to bond with Jack at the party, and they talk about Frank. However, when she admits that she doesn’t know why Frank chose her to take care of Jack, it prompts Jack to run away. Roberta frantically searches for Jack, and finds him with his mother, Margaret. Roberta is surprised that she is still alive, and they sit together when Jack plays the piano at the party. Roberta questions Margaret at the party, and the woman starts jumping about and dancing. Everyone chases after Margaret, who runs into the river. His mother has mental issues and is unable to take care of Jack, and Jack runs away again. Ben chases after him, and finds him on a nearby swing set. Jack says he can’t leave his mom behind, and Ben agrees. When Roberta finds Jack later throwing rocks at his cat, as he is mad that his cat caused his dad’s death. She admits that she was mad at Frank because she didn’t want him to leave. Jack thinks Roberta will stay, but is hurt when he finds that she still want to go back to New York City.
Ben and Daphne have tea together, and there seems to be a mutual attraction between them, culminating in a kiss. Later, he finally gets a call from his wife, who turns out to be his ex-wife. He admits to Roberta that he wants to stay and take care of Jack. Roberta decides to take the train back to New York, and when she gets ready to leave, the town has gathered to wish her well. She still falters on leaving, but Jack says he understands, as he likes where he lives as well. As she waits for the train with Ben, Jack heads out to the roof to once again search for the Northern Lights. Jack slips on the roof and is dangling from the gutter, with Ben and Roberta rushing to help. The group at the hotel manages to catch him in a sheet, and Roberta holds him close, though she misses her train. The film ends with everyone wishing Jack a happy birthday, and Roberta has remained in town. On their way home, Jack, Roberta, and Ben look up to see the Northern Lights.