Disney’s latest TV movie sensation ‘Descendants’ was a huge hit when it debuted at the end of July, just in time for back-to-school, and now kids can relive the colorful coming of age tale over and over. (And over and over and over and over, as kids are wont to do.)
To preface this, this is a kids/preteen’s movie and therefore I’m judging it as such. I find it laughable when reviewers attempt to review something that wasn’t made for them and apply their own set of expectations to it. (My favorite was an adult male’s review of ‘Twilight’ in which he complained incessantly that it wasn’t scary at all, because he was a huge fan of horror movies and found this film lacking.)
Once you hear the plot, you can pretty much guess the entire story: The Disney villains have all been banished to the Isle of the Lost, while the heroes– the princesses and princes– all live in the picture perfect kingdom of Auradon, ruled by Belle and The Beast/Adam. Belle’s son Ben is about to be crowned king and in preparation issues an official edict allowing four of the teenage kids of the villains to leave the Isle and attend high school in Auradon. Of course the villains hatch a plot, enlisting their kids as covert agents to steal Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother’s wand, which will free them from the Isle of the Lost and grant them control over Auradon as well. While the wicked kids go along with the plan, once among the offspring of the good guys and gals– some of whom show more nasty traits than they do– they have a change of heart and discover the importance of being true to themselves.
That last part isn’t a spoiler. It’s the message of every Disney movie.
For adults, the cast of villains contains some favorites, namely Kristin Chenoweth as Maleficent, the ringleader of the banished and Kathy Najimy as Snow White’s Evil Queen. Their performances are over-the-top but that’s intentional and Broadway vet Chenoweth gets to knock out some nifty musical numbers.
As for the kids, say what you will, but Disney knows how to pick ’em. Dove Cameron stars as Mal, Maleficent’s daughter, who, as her mother leads the adult villains, is the defacto leader of the teens. Joining her on her little field trip are Sofia Carson as Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen, Booboo Stewart as Jay , the son of Jafar and Cameron Boyce as Carlos, the son of Cruella De Vil. All the kids deliver solid performances, but Cameron in particular is engaging and shows signs of real future star potential. (I understand she’s already something of a big deal among the Disney crowd.)
The evil kids and their parents are really engaging, but the heroes fall a little flat. But Mitchell Hope as Ben takes a rather one-note role and manages to make it appealing, while not straying too far from the vanilla foundation of the earnest prince-turned-king.
There area few things that don’t make sense. The Lost Boys, from ‘Peter Pan’ are denizens of the Isle of the Lost, even though I wouldn’t consider them villains. And Jay, the son of Jafar is an acrobatic thief who kleptos the belongings of his fellow fairy tale characters both on the Isle and in Auradon. This makes him seem more like Aladdin than his evil sorcerer father. And one of the subplots involves the girls making over the Fairy Godmother’s daughter “Plain” Jane, who really is anything but. (There are no ugly people in the Magic Kingdom!)
Musical dance numbers are a Disney requirement and while they are visually captivating, the songs aren’t especially memorable, despite the soundtrack hitting #1 on iTunes. There’s not a “We’re All In This Together” out of the bunch and I daresay, one song in particular is maybe THE WORST I’ve ever heard. I’m not just talking Disney songs, I’m talking like ever. The song in question is a rap version of “Be Our Guest” from ‘Beauty & The Beast’. I’m not sure why they felt the need to hip-hop-ize an existing song, but having it performed by the Milquetoast Prince Ben and his whiter-than-white pals busting stereotypical homeboy moves is just egregious.
Beyond that, while the film breaks no new ground, it’s pleasant enough that for an adult, sitting through it multiple times isn’t completely unbearable. (For kids, I assume it’s “Squeeeeee!”) The DVD also includes some behind-the-scenes bits which are entertaining, including dance rehearsals with director/choreographer Kenny Ortega of ‘High School Musical’ fame as well as a blooper reel, because who doesn’t love bloopers? Predictably, unfortunately that’s about it, which leaves room for Disney to release sing-along and dance-along versions later. Expect the first around Christmas. Mark my words.
If you have tweens, you’ve probably already bought this movie. If not, I assure you there will be a more deluxe version later on, but for now, the movie at least delivers chaste colorful fun. Just maybe ask the kids to watch on their portable DVD/Blu Ray players with the headphones on. Especially when it’s Ben’s turn to rap.