Disney Descendants Review

Last year, Disney announced the production of a Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) titled Descendants. Since then, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the July 31 premeire about the children of Disney’s heroes and villains and their interactions.

For those of us lucky enough to have the Watch Disney app, the movie is available before tomorrow night’s big premeire! I’ve already watched it, of course. 

This may be silly, but I didn’t realize it was a musical until the opening act. Had I known powerhouse singer Kristen Chenoweth was playing Maleficent, I would’ve assumed there was at least one song. You don’t pay for Chenoweth and not use her voice! 
Although a couple of songs fit quite well, a couple did not. I loved Rotten to the Core, Evil Like Me and If Only. Rotten to the Core, the opening sequence, has a very West Side Story vibe, with our main characters parading through their turf causing mischief and mayhem at every turn. Evil Like Me showcases Chenoweth’s amazing voice in a Broadway style number with some harmonizing with Disney Channel’s own Dove Cameron. The Liv and Maddie star also has a solo ballad, If Only, highlighting the inner struggle of her character, Mal. She has a beautiful voice, and the movie relies on her vocal storytelling ability to lead the musical numbers. I was less fond of Did I Mention and the cast’s random pop-ization of Be Our Guest. Both songs felt less sincere and more forced, and too similar to High School Musical.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with Descendants. This is partially my own fault; with my excitement building over a year, I had unrealistic expectations. But, in my defense, Disney Channel fed into those expectations with their TV spots and ads all summer. The movie was different than I expected, both with the softening of characters and the predictability of the plot. Disney animation has really honed their storytelling skills, with plot twists and surprises keeping viewers on their toes. I had the same expectation for Descendants, despite its live action cast and made-for-TV status. I still enjoyed it, but it lacked the originality I anticipated.

As far as the softening of characters goes, I expected all of the villains to be harder and more vengeful, like their animated selves. Instead, they were less frightening, with only Maleficent striking fear in anyone’s heart. The Evil Queen was too absorbed in brainwashing her daughter and staring into a mirror to plan anything, Cruella has apparently become delusional, and Jafar has gone from a manipulative mastermind to a thieving salesman. These characters simply don’t fit with those I grew up with–and feared. Even Maleficent wasn’t scary, just a heartbreakingly bad mother.

Of course, I hadn’t fully expected the movie to answer the question of the children’s parentage. Only one parent is revealed for each character, with Cruella and Jafar parenting a boy each and Maleficent and the Evil Queen each quasi-mothering a daughter. I also found it odd that Cruella would make her son afraid of dogs, and Jafar would teach his son to be a thief, as neither original character would act in such a way. I would think, after 20 years on the Isle of the Lost, that each villain would grow angrier and more resentful each year, instead of drawing into themselves and losing what made them villains in the first place.

The costumes and make-up are great, though I did find some of the dance choreography contrived. I loved that Evie, daughter of the Evil Queen, was super into fashion and making her own clothes. The graphic design, with Mal’s graffiti art reading ‘Live Evil’, was fantastic. There were a lot of little details to make this universe real and believable, with cameos from some of our favorite characters. I adore that Belle’s wardrobe was yellow-centric, and that the Fairy Godmother wore lots of blue. Tiny homages to the original characters were much appreciated by a Disney nerd such as myself!

The movie is, of course, still enjoyable. The songs will be stuck in your head for days (in a good way), the teen characters are more complex and interesting than their adult counterparts, and the fact that the consequences of our grandparents and parents actions affect future generations is clearly imparted, giving the audience something to think about long after the credits roll. There are issues of trust, manipulation, coercive bullying and choosing who to become that are explored, all within the Disney heroes and villains universe. Though the plot points may be more predictable than not, Descendants is still well worth your time.

Have you seen Descendants yet? What did you think?

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