Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Thirteenth Year

Go To

The Thirteenth Year is a Disney Channel Original Movie released in 1999 directed by Duwayne Dunham (Halloweentown) and starring Chez Starbuck, Dave Coulier and Courtnee Draper.

On a bright sunny day, a mermaid leaves her baby son on a human couple's boat while dealing with a zealous fisherman Big John Wheatley (Brent Briscoe). The child winds up getting adopted by this couple, Whit (Dave Coulier) and Sharon Griffin (Lisa Stahl Sullivan), and named Cody. Cody (Chez Starbuck) grows up living a fairly normal life, becoming the star of his school swim team and dating a girl named Samantha (Courtnee Draper). But then he begins to experience weird things shortly after turning thirteen years old, such as constantly feeling thirsty and growing scales and fins when he's splashed with water. With the help of his biology class tutor and eventual best friend Jess Wheatley (Justin Jon Ross)—who happens to be Big John's son—just what is happening to him.

This movie features examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Sean apparently gives up finding out Cody's secret after his fight with him in the hallway.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: Cody's biological father is nowhere to be seen. The same applies to Jess' mother.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The Griffins are the ones who gave Cody his name, but it's unclear if his birth mother had already given him a name before their seperation and if therefore Adoptive Name Change is in effect.
  • Anti-Villain: Big John, in a way. Though he does attempt to (and successfully does) kidnap both Cody and his biological mother, he's only doing it to try and show people that mermaids really do exist. The second Jess gets in danger because of it, he immediately lets this go.
  • Allegory: Cody's transformation can be seen as one for puberty. It's even lampshaded a bit (albeit unknowingly) when Whit gives Cody The Talk.
  • Apparently Human Merfolk: Cody and his birth mother look like normal humans (at least in the latter's case, it's the top half). They only sprout fins and scales when they get wet.
  • Ash Face: Whit in the beginning, after his boat's engine blows up in his face.
  • The Atoner: After expressing her shock with Cody over his merman transformation and avoiding him altogether, Sam tries to repair the damage done and regain his trust when Cody invites her to the cove.
  • Betty and Veronica: Cody is the Betty to Sean's Veronica and Sam's Archie.
  • Big Man on Campus: Cody is this among the student body for being the star of the swim team.
  • Big "NO!": From Cody, when his birth mom is about to be snared by Big John's net.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: A major variation of this trope. Cody's thirteenth birthday begins his slow transfiguration into a merman.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cody goes off to be with his birth mom but leaves his adoptive parents and friends behind. However, Cody promises that he will return before the next school semester starts in order to complete his education, which implies that his transformation may not be completely irreversible, so this is mild.
  • Book Dumb: Cody averts Academic Athlete when it's revealed he's failing biology class, which could put his position on the swim team in jeopardy. He's given a tutor in the form of Jess.
  • But Now I Must Go: At the end of the film, Cody goes to live with his birth mother in the ocean to learn more about his heritage and abilities, though he promises he'll be back before the new school year starts.
  • Cassandra Truth: For thirteen years, people in town mock Big John for believing in mermaids. Turns out he was right.
  • Collector of the Strange: Big John, who collects many items related to merfolk as part of his obsession with Cody's biological mother.
  • Cool Kid-and-Loser Friendship: Cody is at the top of the popularity food chain, while Jess is on the bottom. Sean even lampshades this when telling Cody that they, the star athletes of their school, don't mingle with nerds.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Subverted. While they do try and revive Jess this way, it doesn't work. However, Jess is saved when Cody shocks him with his merman powers.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jess has a few moments, such as when he calls getting beat up during Cody and Sean's fight as part of his "job description".
  • Determinator: Cody with his desire to not let his transformation get the best of him and Sean's desire to beat Cody in every swim race.
  • Disney Death: Jess in the climax.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Played with. Cody's birth mother uses a variation of this trick on Big John in order to lure him into crashing his boat so she can escape. When he spots that the "fish" he's pursuing is actually a mermaid, he's so ecstatic at the discovery that he doesn't realize his boat is headed towards some rocks.
  • Distressed Dude: Jess becomes this multiple times, simply for not knowing how to swim.
  • Doorstop Baby: Or rather, "boat nook" baby, and even then, it wasn't intentional - Cody's birth mother put him into a basket on Whit and Sharon's boat, only intending to leave him there for a minute while dealing with Big John, but Whit and Sharon find the baby and take him in.
  • Dramatic Irony: We find out Cody is a merman and who his mother is extremely quickly, but it takes the characters a good chunk of the movie to figure it out.
  • Fainting: Sam faints upon seeing Cody with scales.
  • Flat Character: Being a one-dimensional antagonist, Sean doesn't get nearly as much development as the others do.
  • Friendless Background: Jess doesn't even know how to make small talk when he first befriends Cody.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Jess (who's a boy) and Sam (a girl, which makes it short for "Samantha") work for any gender.
  • Gotta Pass the Class: Cody has to pass biology in order to stay on the swim team.
  • Granola Girl: Sharon, Cody's adoptive mom, shows shades of this, such as disparaging capitalist society and not trusting most forms of medicine. It's only when she sees Cody sticking to walls that she calls a doctor.
  • Happily Adopted: Sharon and Whit, after finding a little baby boy dropped off on their boat and no one claiming the supposed "missing child", took in the little boy themselves, named him Cody, and raised and loved him like their own blood. It's to the point that Cody regards both his adoptive human parents and biological mermaid mother as equally important.
  • Hippie Parents: Sharon Griffin. She makes questionable healthy food recipes and doesn't like doctors.
  • Hollywood Drowning: Mostly averted. All Jess screams is "Dad, help!" before getting dragged underwater by the net.
  • Insistent Terminology: Cody is a merman.
  • Interspecies Adoption: Whit and Sharon adopted a merman, though they were unaware of Cody's true heritage when they took him in.
  • Jerk Jock:
    • Sean fits this trope to a T. Not only is he a fierce rival to Cody over the swimming medal, he also tries to steal Sam away from Cody despite the fact Sam shows no interest in Sean at all. Additionally, he mocks Cody for even befriending Jess, saying that people like him don't talk to nerds like Jess, just look down on them.
    • Cody acts a bit like a standard jerk jock before he goes through Character Development, being a top sport swimmer who doesn't take his education seriously and looks down on nerds like Jess. It isn't until he needs Jess to help boost up his failing grade in biology and later safely discuss his merman-puberty experience that Cody starts to realize how much of an ass he was.
  • Light-Haired Swimmer: Cody and a few other characters.
  • Love Triangle: Cody/Sam/Sean.
  • Mama Bear: Cody's birth mom. And she protects Cody from Big John (well, she tries). When she witnesses Cody collapsing in pain as his tail begins to form, her first instinct is to help him.
  • Magical Defibrillator: When Jess is unconscious from nearly drowning and CPR doesn't work, Cody uses his electric shock ability to get him back.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Jess's mom is not spoken of in the movie.
    • Cody's birth mother, though she didn't want to be one.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Cody is a merman adopted by a human couple.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Big John's reaction when he sees that Jess is drowning.
  • Nerd Glasses: Jess wears a pretty big pair of them.
  • Nice Girl: Sam. While she does initially freak out upon finding out Cody's true nature, she comes to understand him and wants to help him control his abilities.
  • Odd Friendship: The athletic, outgoing Cody and the studious yet socially awkward Jess.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: It's only when Cody is able to walk on walls does his mom suggest they call a doctor.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: According to this movie, merfolk appear as normal humans up until their thirteenth year, where they experience their version of puberty, which includes growing their fins and tails and developing electricity manipulation powers similar to electric eels.
  • Parental Abandonment: Cody has no biological father seen or alluded to, and while she's not evil, his mother had to give him up so that he could spend the next thirteen years as a human.
  • Parents Are Wrong: Cody wants to live under the sea and be with his birth mom. Sharon vetoes this, but eventually relents and realizes that Cody has to be free to live his own life.
  • Properly Paranoid: Sean, when he insists that Cody is cheating during the big race.
  • The Quarterback: Cody, though he's a swimmer rather than a football player, and is generally a Nice Guy.
  • Race Against the Clock: In the climax, Cody has only a few minutes before his metamorphosis is complete, and it can be implied that like most merpeople in fiction, he will die without water. Things get even more tense when Big John catches his mother in a net.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Sean was already suspicious that his former friend won the state finals, but his fight with Cody in his last scene proved to be the straw that broke the seahorse's back.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: The doctor who looks over Cody after the latter starts sticking to walls, when he gives his diagnosis: all his strange changes are a result of Cody going through puberty. On one hand, it's not inaccurate to call Cody's merman transformation just that. But what the doctor didn't take into account was that this was merfolk puberty.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Cody's transformation is meant to be an allegory for puberty, with his inescapable fate as a merman being not too dissimilar to that of a boy’s rite of passage to adulthood.
  • Sanity Slippage: Big John, while something of a neutral character, was sane and composed for most of the film, getting overly excited when he finally captures the mermaid. Sean also starts slipping into a ruthless territory when Cody’s last swim race ends in destruction.
  • Scary Symbolic Shapeshifting: When Cody’s left foot turns into a fin, the mood is tense and so is the music, making the scene feel as though he is turning into a Lovecraftian monster.
  • Seashell Bra: The mermaid wears one.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shrinking Violet: Jess is a Rare Male Example.
  • Signature Instrument: The first time that we set eyes on Jess, he's playing a horn. In-universe, this is his position.
  • Slasher Smile: Sean does this quite a bit during his final confrontation with Cody.
  • The Silent Bob: Cody after becoming a merman. His mother does not have any dialogue as well.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Sean, on his views of Cody and the geeks he scorns. He also believes that he should have won the medal for the swim race.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Most of the cast is male, the only prominent female characters being Sharon, Sam and the mermaid, making it a 6:3 male-to-female ratio.
  • Steamrolled Smart Guy: Jess is this before Cody starts to befriend him. Being a nerd, he is constantly underestimated by his peers and his father has little time for him. As for his mom? She is presumably dead.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Cody accidentally makes the scoreboard at the swim meet explode, which somehow doesn't kill anyone. Most likely because everyone was at a safe distance.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Whit loudly tells Cody that he has to stay out of the water to prevent his transformation from continuing.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Almost every scene involving Jess and water goes…poorly until Cody helps him out. He does manage to overcome this, but thanks to a net pulling him down, it becomes a Negated Moment of Awesome.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: On the other end of the spectrum, Cody seems to possess this as part of his merman metamorphosis as well as the fact that he is on the swim team, which required a lot of training.
  • Super-Strength: Implied with Cody when he rescues Jess from the net with ease.
  • Tempting Fate: Cody and Sharon use a very poor choice in words with the following exchange.
    Sharon: Starting now, your whole life is different.
    Cody: I don’t feel any different.
    [cue the rest of film playing out with Cody suffering his inescapable transformation into a merman]
  • Third Party Stops Attack: Both Jess and a teacher are able to break up Cody and Sean's fight.
  • This Is Reality: Big John's fellow fishermen are fond of saying this. They tell Big John that merpeople do not exist. Needless to say, they're proven wrong. Too bad they never see it.
  • 13th Birthday Milestone: The movie revolves around a boy turning into a merman upon his 13th birthday and attaining a Puberty Superpower.
  • Title Drop: During Jess's research into merpeople: "In the thirteenth year of life."
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Though he wasn't all that much of a jerk at the start, Cody's friendship with Jess causes him to warm up.
  • Tranquil Fury: Sean is furious about Cody winning the swim race and his secret, and he is initially like this (trying to hide it with a smile and a calm attitude) when Cody suddenly shows up to him and Sam in the school hallway.
  • Transformation Exhilaration: While his first two transformations (his feet turning into fins and his arms growing scales) are disorienting and creepy, Cody's final transformation into a merman (aided presumably by his mother) is greeted joyfully.
  • Transformation Fiction: The premise of this film is that once the main character becomes 13 years old, he slowly transforms into a merman.
  • True Companions: Discussed. At one point during the movie, Cody bemoans about how his merman side is (on top of restricting him from his swimming passion) ruining his social life. Sam didn't take his secret so well, and Sean has become hostile towards Cody under the assumption he's cheating. Yet, in wake of his merman transformation, Cody notes that Jess is the only one who hasn't been chased off thus far. When pressed on why he stuck around, Jess admits it was because he sees Cody as a friend.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Played with. Cody is by no means a Badass, but his voiceless mermaid mother does prove more adept at pursuing Cody than Big John anticipated. It's eventually subverted when Cody saves Jess from the net and uses his electrokinesis to revive him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Big John near the end. This also leads to Heel–Face Turn.
  • Was Too Hard on Him: Whit and Sharon dwell over this after scolding Cody the previous night. To be fair, they are a bit distress over what will become of their son once the change is finished.
  • Watching the Sunset: On the night before his transmogrification is complete, Cody stares with silent melancholy at the ocean from the lighthouse.
  • Water-Triggered Change: Cody's gradual transformation into a merman speeds up when he's in contact with water.
  • We Used to Be Friends: While Sean had shades of being a Jerk Jock in the beginning, he and Cody got along decently well. It's not until he glimpses his fins and suspects that's how he "cheats" at swimming so well that his true nature starts to come out. From here on, Sean and Cody's friendship goes completely downhill, culminating to the point where a teacher has to break up their fight.
  • Wham Shot: Cody is about to shake hands with Jess...but then he reacts in surprise at the scales on Cody's hand. What makes this significant is that Cody's transmutation is beginning to start.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: The last we hear of Sean is when he was chasing Cody into the locker room, swearing he'll find out about Cody's secret and he turns up again after a fight between the two. It's not stated what happened to him at the end, or if Cody returning to the ocean will be enough to elude him.