On paper it would seem like Descendants had all the ingredients to be a hit; villains, musical numbers, teen stars, Director Kenny Ortega, but after watching the latest Original Movie from Disney Channel, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a disappointing musical misfire. Much to my dismay, the nearly 3 hour television event just did not deliver on its promise. I suspect the cause can be summed up by the age old adage of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Watching this film I got a strong sense that there were far too many creative minds competing to get their ideas on screen and as a result the final product became a hodge-podge of conflicting ideas that simply do not work well together.
The story takes place in the present day kingdom of Auradon, where the benevolent teenaged son of the King Adam (aka the Beast) and Queen Belle is poised to take the throne. His first official proclamation is to offer a chance at redemption to the trouble-making offspring of Maleficent, The Evil Queen, Cruella De Vil and Jafar, who have been imprisoned on the Isle of the Lost, a forbidden island where all the other villains, sidekicks, evil step-mothers and step-sisters are placed upon their defeat. These villainous descendants, aptly named Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay, are allowed into the kingdom to attend prep school alongside the offspring of iconic Disney heroes. However, upon their arrival they face a dilemma: Should they follow in their nefarious parents’ footsteps and help all the villains regain power by stealing the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand, or embrace their innate goodness and save the kingdom?
This being a family film, it isn’t hard to predict the ending, and that isn’t terribly problematic as long as the journey to get there is interesting. But the predictability factor throughout the film is on high. With so many characters to keep track of, they all come off as largely two-dimensional caricatures of their original namesakes and that makes watching their journey incredibly tedious. Like the flip of a light-switch the problems that each teenage villain arrive with at the prep school are easily solved with the help of their hero kid counterpart. Even worse is that these problems aren’t even that inspired. Cruella’s son Carlos, for example, is afraid of dogs. This sort of “irony for comedic-sake” is a theme that lends itself to each of the villain teens and just gets old very fast leaving the audience wanting something a little less superficial.
With Kenny Ortega at the helm, its no surprise that a few musical numbers are in store. While the spectacle of these songs are quite fantastic, their tone and style fit the film like a square peg fits a round hole. They are jarringly out of place and would be much better suited as one-off music videos then actual musical theater songs that push the plot forward. They are quite catchy, however, and their modern pop rock sound make the Descendants album worth the purchase.The costumes are another highlight of Descendants. As seen in the many promos, the outfits are modern, hip, and cool. I think the production did a great job at tapping into the tween psyche and delivering villainous looks that will no doubt be perfect for Halloween.
A clever idea, a couple of great songs, and some superb costumes all seem like glittery razzle-dazzle that does an effective job at pulling the spotlight away from the film’s major plot and story problems. Perhaps when all is said and done Disney Channel will full its promise of bolstering its bottom line, but at the expense of great story-telling which in my opinion is the heart of the Disney company. On the other hand, maybe I am just out of touch with the tween psyche and kids will love this movie.