A high school film filled with show tunes fared well for Disney Channel nine years ago. The network gives the “High School Musical” recipe another try with helmer Kenny Ortega in its biggest production to date, “Descendants.”
The TV movie premiered Friday at Walt Disney Studios. Before the screening, Disney Channel President Gary Marsh told attendees about the two and a half years of work that went into the project.
“We have now made 100 Disney Channel original movies, and this is by far the biggest and most ambitious movie we’ve ever attempted,” Marsh said.
The feature follows the malevolent teenage offspring of popular Disney villains from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “101 Dalmatians” and “Aladdin.” The live-action pic fuses classic tales and high school drama with original music for Mouse fans of all ages, an attempt at reaching past the network’s target demos.
“Because it deals with fairy tales that we all know and love in every generation, the continuance of these stories will bring everyone together,” said actress Sofia Carson about her Disney Channel original movie debut.
Her fellow cast members include Disney Channel veterans Dove Cameron (“Liv and Maddie”) and Cameron Boyce (“Jessie”) along with network newcomer Booboo Stewart.
The sinister parents in the pic include Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Cruella de Vil and Jafar, and Disney seized the opportunity to up the star power in the cast: Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Maz Jobrani play the baddies.
The man of the evening, however, was Ortega. Every cast member described him as an ideal leader throughout the film’s production. “Working with Ortega — it doesn’t get better,” Chenoweth said. “He’s my mentor…. He’s, in my opinion, the guy.”
Ortega said that he has made a home with Disney Channel after working there for a decade. “It’s really given me a voice, support and really allowed me to do everything that I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m ready for another 10 years,” Ortega said. “I’m hoping that next year we can do another big-time celebration for ‘High School Musical.’”
A few “HSM” alumni attended the event, including Corbin Bleu, Ashley Tisdale, Monique Coleman, Lucas Grabeel and Olesya Rulin.
Robinson and Chenoweth – who celebrated her birthday at the premiere and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier that morning – were treated to a rendition of “The Birthday Song” at the after-party.
Musical numbers continued when Disney’s Dove Cameron and Ryan McCartan took the stage as the Girl and the Dream Catcher.
“Descendants” bows July 31 on Disney Channel.