TV Review: Disney’s ‘Descendants’

Disneys Descendants TV Review
Courtesy of Disney Channel

Largely threading the needle between Disney Channel’s tween audience and family members who will relish its ties to the broader Disney fairy-tale universe, “Descendants” is a playful and tuneful TV movie, exhibiting much higher ambitions than, say, the “Teen Beach” franchise. Granted, one might wish the focus tilted a bit more heavily toward the adults — Kristin Chenoweth as Maleficent steals every scene she’s in — or that the second half wasn’t as heavily padded. Still, the songs are clever, the look is sumptuous, and the idea is so good it goes down easy even if the broth’s a trifle undercooked.

More earnest than something like “Once Upon a Time” but plucked from the same set of ribs, “Descendants” begins with the premise that the defeated Disney villains have been relegated to a sort-of exile in a place called the Isle of the Lost, where they have been confined but are free to raise families. (Never mind that they all seem to be single parents or had one kid at exactly the same time; nitpickers, begone!)

Growing up without magic, the kids kick off the festivities by singing an energetic number in which they embrace their family lineage, “Rotten to the Core.” But then four of them are chosen to attend school alongside the good kids, who live in the glittering kingdom of Auradon, where Ben (Mitchell Hope), the son of Belle and the Beast, is about to be crowned king.

So into this strange environment come the children of Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Cruella de Vil and Jafar — in sequence, Mal (“Liv and Maddie’s” Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart). Alas, Maleficent dispatches them with plans of stealing the wand of Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson, also a hoot), thus paving the way to unleash the sorceress back on the world.

“Descendants” thus engages in a somewhat predictable nature/nurture argument, with the four transplants starting to like their new home, while Mal — initially the most committed to the notion of DNA determining destiny — gradually beginning to fall for Ben. And while there are obviously thick strands from Disney’s animated classics woven into the story, the borrowing goes beyond that, including a bit of Harry Potter, including a game that looks like a hybrid of Lacrosse and Quidditch.

Written by Josie McGibbon and Sara Parriott, and directed and co-choreographed by Kenny Ortega, the movie boasts a stronger, more assured story than most of the recent youth-oriented live-action musicals Disney has offered, with plenty of brightly colored bells and whistles as well as songs that range from Broadway to rap. About the only cautionary note is a climactic sequence that might be scary for some young kids, given the difference between CGI creations and full-blown animation.

Fortunately, parents who might have been tempted to seek shelter elsewhere from these exercises in the past will be compensated, principally, by Chenoweth, who clearly embraces the opportunity to cut loose with her “wicked” side.

While such brand extensions always require care, Disney has been adept at wringing additional mileage from its old fairly tales and movies, including preschool titles like “Sofia the First” and “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.” And while there’s always the risk of sullying storied franchises with such offshoots, in the case of “Descendants,” at least, the studio proves they can do some good without being bad.

TV Review: Disney's 'Descendants'

(Movie; Disney Channel, Fri. July 31, 8 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Vancouver and Victoria by Bad Angels Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Kenny Ortega, Wendy Japhet; producer, Tracey Jeffrey; director, Ortega; writers, Josie McGibbon, Sara Parriott; camera, Tom Burstyn; production designer, Mark Hofeling; editor, Don Brochu; music, David Lawrence; choreographers, Ortega, Paul Becker; costume designer, Kara Saun; casting, Jason Lapadura, Natalie Hart, Corinne Clark, Jennifer Page. 112 MIN.

Cast

Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, Sofia Carson, Mitchell Hope, Melanie Paxson, Brenna D’Amico, Sarah Jeffery, Zachary Gibson, Jedidiah Goodacre, Dianne Doan, Kristin Chenoweth, Wendy Raqel Robinson, Maz Jobrani, Kathy Najimy

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  1. Gira says:

    Evie’s voice annoyed the hell out off me. It was too sexual for my liking.. Maybe I’m wrong about it, but to me it seemed like she was using it get attention and be pretty.

    The other thing that bothered me is that they made Mal and Ben fall in ‘love’ way too fast. He started the movie with a girlfriend, and it took no time after breaking things with her for him to ‘love’ Mal.

    I understand his ex was not verry nice, but he dropped her like a hot potato.

    In general I expected a lot more, but I understand the movie is for kids so I’m not that mad about it.

  2. Ayleah says:

    I wonder who is the father

  3. Spider Jerusalem says:

    I felt enraged after watching it.

    I’ve been looking forward to this for months, since it’s a setup with so much potential, but the execution felt off. None of the “Good Guys(registered trademark)” acted noble, kind, or selfless. Instead, we get some racist and classist under(and over)tones in the way the kids are treated, spoiled brats who should have been raised better, and characters acting, well, out of character.

    The cast may be diverse, but the film presents a society divided by class, and the underprivileged kids are here judged on everything except their own merits. To the people of Good Guy Ville they are not persons, not even children, but something to be despised and mistreated. And some of their unpleasant upbringing is not even their parent’s fault, but is caused by the “Good Guys(registered trademark)”‘s actions (See slightly spoilery rant at the end).

    I understand the appeal of having the guys from High School Musical, which still holds up as fun, back for a DCOM, but next time get someone familiar with the source material. John Oliver keeps saying that Jamie Dornan is #NOTMYCHRISTIAN, and this Jaffar is #NOTMYJAFAR. The actor is great, he’s just not playing Jafar. Although, to be fair, the evil queen and Maleficent are almost enough to calm my rage. They are so much fun!

    Then the racist and classist comments start spewing from characters whose parents were once the underdog themselves, and I remember to keep the rage on simmer.

    I know this is a made for TV movie on a childrens’ channel, but children deserve better. We all deserve better.

    *Slight spoiler alert* *Stupid rant alert*
    These kids have never eaten chocolate before the movie starts. The only possible reason for this is that there is no chocolate where they live. The magic barrier is also a barrier for goods and services (no wifi, as Mal states in the opening) and one rich kid (the badly characterized daughter of Mulan, who should know not to judge by one’s upbringing or circumstances) presents chocolate chip cookies as the true manifestation of parental affection. The reason for them not having chocolate before is not their parents’ love or lack thereof, but an economic embargo placed on their community.
    *End of spoilers* *But I don’t think I’ll ever stop ranting*

  4. Descendants was emotionally touching, far beyond my expectations, particularly in the budding romance between Mal and Ben. The chemistry between them was palpable. Kenny Ortega lives up to his sterling resume, with direction and choreography to rival his best work in High School Musical. And the songs are of high quality. I particularly liked the fun, high-energy “Did I Mention.” Bravo, and brava!

    • auseyre says:

      Have to say I was looking forward to it too, watched the 6 minute preview and was appalled that Beast and Beauty pretty much went District B13 on the bad guys, and felt no remorse that their kids were raised in what is essentially a ghetto(traditional sense of the word).

  5. Descendants says:

    I love this movie it was exciting and adventures I wish they would make a TV series

  6. Chandler says:

    Descendants was absolutely painful to watch. The acting was really bad, with the exception of the always amazing Chenoweth, who, while a pretty weird choice for Maleficent looked like she was having a lot of fun. Dove Cameron was okay, but pretty much everyone else was bad, or got very little screen time. But the biggest thing that drives me nuts is the time period… Or lack thereof. This movie tries to take characters from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, 101 Dalmations, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan and others, and throw them together. The biggest problem with that is, not many of these characters are from the same places in time. How did Cruella, Jafar and Mulan get here, when they’re from London, the Middle East and ANCIENT CHINA, respectively. Once Upon A Time answers this with different realms, and keeps their original stories intact, while twisting them here and there. Then in Descendents, we get Mulan’s daughter talking about Chocolate Chip Cookies. How does this make any sense? Mulan is from Ancient China! Chocolate Chip Cookies were invented in the United States. (Side note, the names of the kids are all really lazy. I mean, Mal, Jay, Evie… Come on.) Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, but 30 years later, they have cell phones, tablets, cars, video games… If you’re gonna do a fairy tale, this ruins the timelessness. But worse than the timeline is the fact that they’re taking classic characters and making them parodies of themselves. I’m not saying you can’t ever touch classic characters, but you’ve gotta be very careful if you’re gonna do that. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is the Phineas and Ferb Star Wars crossover, which did a very good job of staying true to the characters and the story of the original. All of the original characters were there, and were completely unaltered. I’m not expecting them to go that far and put that much effort and creativity into this, but it would be nice if they could respect the original movies that these characters were based on. But sadly, it’ll be a huge hit with stupid kids who don’t know better, and that’s all it has to ba.

    • me says:

      So you have no problem at all with people talking to mice, women hanging around with dwarfs, and genies popping out of lamps. But suspending disbelief just a little bit more to put different time periods together – well, that is just unacceptable?

      I would suggest that perhaps you, of all people, should not be calling other people “stupid”.

  7. Karen says:

    My 8yo has been talking about this all week. Watched with her. She loved it, of course, but I thought it could have been so much better (Adult villains excluded). The premise was so clever! Had the story been a bit stronger, it could have been really fun. I was most disappointed in Belle, as she has always been my favorite princess. Smart and no nonsense. Makes me sad that they made her character so weak. All in all, my daughter adored it, which is what really matters.

  8. Denise says:

    Like these dimwitts couldn’t find a black child to play the part of Cruella’s son. You’re such dick’s discriminating pigs!

  9. Jojo says:

    You’re pathetic lmao! hispanic??? that kid has a black father in real life plus was really great for DCOM

  10. newbiedm says:

    This review is insane. The movie is terrible. And the way characters are portrayed? Belle is a dope compared to the bookworm from the films… Cruella d’evil (a black woman with a hispanic kid) just runs around in circles whenever she comes out…. It’s so bad. Ridiculous.

    • Paul says:

      The actor who plays Cruella’s son is half-black and half-Jewish, so.

      • Egyptian says:

        The actor that played her son, Cameron Boyce, is half black and half Jewish. Who’s the racist one now? Making the assumption that he’s Hispanic.

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