Disney’s Descendants: Wonderfully Wicked Fun For All The Family
This generation’s answer to High School Musical is here, and it’s wonderfully wicked.
You might have heard about the commotion Disney’s Descendants has been causing stateside. In July it premiered to an impressive 6.6 million American Disney fans, 10.5 million when including DVR playback, making it the most watched cable movie of 2015. We’ve waited patiently for this Disney Channel Original Movie to cross the Atlantic, but it’s been worth the wait.
Descendants is a new original musical about the children of some of Disney’s most infamous villains. It takes place twenty years after all Disney villains were rounded up and exiled to the Isle of Lost, an island with no access to any facilities that might enable villains to act out evil plans. Meanwhile, the heroes live in the beautiful Auradon with their children. (There’s a political discussion about this somewhere, but I’m not starting it). It all begins when Belle and the Beast’s son Ben decides to start his reign as King of Auradon by allowing four children of villains to attend school in Auradon. After all, he says, in a speech that might have come from a liberal manifesto, “their children are innocent. Don’t you think they deserve a shot at a normal life?”.
It’s not clear why sixteen-year-old Ben has become the king when Beast is still live and kicking. Nor is it obvious why the specific villains featured are chosen. The film is more enjoyable if one doesn’t question its more contrived moments.
The little villains-in-the-making are Maleficent’s daughter Mal, played by Dove Cameron, a spunky girl determined to make her mother proud and the film’s protagonist. Then there’s image-obsessed Evie (Sofia Carson), daughter of the Evil Queen, who learns she’s worth more than her appearance. The girls are a joy to watch. Unfortunately, the boys – Jay (Booboo Stewart), the son of Jafar; and Carlos (Cameron Boyce), the son of Cruella – were very underdeveloped due to a lack of screen time. Jay learns he is good at sports, while Carlos discovers that dogs are awesome. That’s it.
But if we’re talking about acting stand outs, Kristin Chenoweth steals every scene she is in. The former Broadway star is simply magnetic as the unquestionably evil Maleficent, who is intent on using her daughter to steal the Fairy Godmother’s wand and wreak havoc upon the world once more. Chenoweth is clearly having the time of her life. Naturally, Chenoweth has to belt out a show tune, and consequently “Evil Like Me” is by far the musical highlight of Descendants.
Descendants is one of those few Disney Originals that genuinely will be enjoyable for all the family. It’s thoroughly engaging, full of interesting characters and subplots, and – most importantly to us oldies – Disney in-jokes. The only big disappointment is that most of the musical numbers fall flat. They’re nowhere near as strong as High School Musical, despite the fact that High School Musical alum Kenny Ortega is at the helm. Instead of emotional and catchy tunes, the majority of the musical numbers are the sort of thing we criticise X Factor for: soulless electro autotune junk. The music does a huge disservice to the capable voices of the young stars. Some performances are even embarrassing to watch, with “Did I Mention” being reminiscent of HSM‘s “Bet on It”. Perhaps a lack of heart in the songs is totally meta about the evil backgrounds of these characters, but we doubt it.
You’ve probably got to be in the mood for a Disney film to enjoy Descendants, but if you’re a fan it’s definitely worth a watch. The moral lessons could even be considered subtle for a Disney film. It’s all about “you can be what you want to be, regardless of who your parents are or what they’ve done,” which is a nice enough message to send out. We can’t honestly say we liked it more than the legendary High School Musical, but we were glued to our screens throughout. Let’s just hope Descendants 2 pays more attention to the musical numbers.