Fairytales, like many things, is something I can go on about for longer than the average person thanks to not only my attraction to the sub-genre, but the fact that I am following not one-but three series that could be considered as fairy-tale.
There are some incarnations that can act as a direct link between an already pre-established tales, some act as reimaginings, and others that barrow elements from famous tales. and then ones that are in name only. I have seen examples of all of the above. But the most recent release from Disney, Descendants, is the former.
Everyone knows many of the classic stories; Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and many of the like by way of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson to name a few. Generally, the adaptation of fairy-tales by Disney are the more famously known.
Over the years the house of mouse has reimagined classic tales and often expanded on what happened after the happily ever after with sequel films and even various ranges of books. Not that anyone can blame them, fans want more and there is still quite a few adventures that can be told as our favorite characters settle down after the famous tales end and begin to lead normal lives – or what is considered normal to them.
And the latter is the venture we see in the newest, and perhaps the single most anticipated movie since Camp Rock known as Disney’s Descendants.
Ever since the announcement on this new Disney Channel original movie there has been a great deal of hype and coverage on it as well. Fans of all ages know Disney’s tales and characters very well and have a deep love of them, so the chance to see the next generation was exciting as it opened new doors and even cast some light on the villains.
To be honest, I was not really sold on the idea when I came across the news a la Google Alerts. But as time drummed on and more information filtered in the more I found my interest peeked. And just like all content I went in with an open-mind and fairly high hopes as after all, no one walks into something wanting to see it fail. Though I do have a few notes…
I am now officially warning of spoilers. Major ones at that. So, if you have not yet seen the movie and wish to walk in with no knowledge or opinions beforehand you might wish to come back later. If not it is time to dive right in.
In a rather condensed nut-shell the film follows the sons and daughters of some of the most infamous villains as they receive a second chance of sorts to level the Isle of the Lost and venture into the kingdom populated by the heroes of the classic tales. But being allotted the chance to go to school with the children of their parent’s own enemies is no easy feat for the children of the villains, nor heroes. Even harder than that is the internal conflict Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos face as they are now questioning if they are in fact as ‘rotten to the core’ as they had believed and could there possibly be good hidden within their depths.
At the start of the film it is quickly noted that the worlds we once knew have changed rather rapidly between the twenty-year long jump between the end of Beauty and the Beast and the present. During the elapsed time, Belle and Beast has wed and the two unite all of the magical kingdoms as one. They become the official King and Queen. One of the duo’s first acts was to cast away all of the villains and their sidekicks who wronged many of our token characters, off to a distant island with a magic protective barrier known as the Isle of the Lost.
There the villains lead their own lives away from rest of the world, but remain basically free to do as they wish. Including having families of their own. Being the children of banished felons; the children of Maleficent, Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella have known nothing of what it is like to live outside the barrier. But they know what it is to live in the shadow of their parents with high expectations of their always present guardians placed upon them. Talk of revenge and escape along with trips down memory-line are common activates.
But things are about to shake-up greatly both on the Isle and in the kingdom of Auradon as Prince Ben, the son of Queen Belle and King Beast, makes his first proclamation that the children of the villains are given a chance of their own to prove themselves by attending Auradon Prep. The choice is not one without strong reactions from the King himself, but also all effective by the action.
Epically Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos. Despite having every reason in the world to not want to go (bar Evie who longs for a prince), the teens are persuaded and even threatened into going. But not because of reason you would think. Oh no, Maleficent has a plan for the children’s time in Auradon- to steal the Fairy Godmother’s wand. With that Maleficent will be able to bend the wills of good and evil and finally get revenge.
The transition from island life to that in the kingdom is challenge at first for Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos as they try to make their way through a school filled with people who want them there less than they want to be there, never mind all the scheming for the wand. Soon the teens learn that there are even sides of themselves they had never seen the light of before.
Despite falling for a prince that turned out to not be worth her affections, Evie gradually starts to discover that she is far more than a pretty face and is in fact smart. This all with the help of a budding friendship with Doug, the son of Dopey of the seven dwarfs. Jay finds himself a MVP of the school’s sport-team and happy being part of something bigger than stealing. Carlos works past the fear instilled in him by his mother than dogs are horrid things and loves the school’s mutt.
Mal, on the other hand, is much more focused on their objective of stealing the wand. Perhaps more so than her friends who are becoming side-tracked. More than anything Mal longs to make her mother proud, and for that she needs the wand. As part of her plan to get close to the wand at the upcoming coronation, Mal uses a love potion on Ben to make him fall in love with her. Even though it starts are strictly business, Mal does start to find herself falling and developing really feelings for the prince as he showers her with affection.
As the coronation arrives the children of the villains find themselves facing their own internal conflicts; to steal the wand and follow their parent’s wishes, or not and live as they had. And for Mal it also means having Ben in her life or not. The choice is hard and perhaps the greatest emotionally charged aspect of the story. And it drums into the final stage of the film.
I could go on and be more elaborate with the details, but then what is the point of actually watching the movie yourself.
Like I had said before I had some issues with this from the get-go that made me hesitate. And because I know there is a large pink elephant in the room we might as well address it once and for all; how similar Descendants is to that of Ever After High. Yes, both series have similarities and deal with the children of famous and infamous fairy-tale characters and the lives they lead. But the worlds of Auradon and Ever After have conflicting factors.
Ever After High is more firmly driven around the concepts of legacies and destiny. Everyone has a part to play and play they must. From birth everyone is marked with a very specific destiny that is shared by their parents. Raven Queen, the daughter of the Evil Queen, is destined to follow in the footsteps set before her to poison the next Snow White and relive the story for a new generation. But Raven’s rebellion is not only far from orthodox but weights with not only repercussions but pressure to have to follow her destiny. Raven has to be the next Evil Queen, there is little choice about it- or at least that is what everyone in the world of Ever After believes.
In Descendants, there is nothing engraved in stone that states that Mal, Evie, Carlos or Jay has to be like their parents. They do not have to relive the paths their parents made famous and for the most part are free to do as they wish. Even though they are in their parent’s shadows, have high expectations upon them and get type-casted by their peers at their new school, they by no means have to be evil. No one is making them. Being good will not end their world and no one is running up to any of the teens demanding they do what their parents did.
Despite being similar on many levels, Ever After High and Descendants face different themes. That of remaining true to one’s self when pressured to become something one is not, and that of self-discovery with the realization that you are in fact not your parents.
Raven knows very much so who she is and to some extent what she wants, Mal struggles to see the difference as she is more focused on pleasing her mother than diffracting the two and realizing just who she herself is.
Mal’s struggle in particular is one very identified with, everyone always has that one person they want to be proud of them and often will go to ridiculous lengths to gain that respect and admiration. It could very well be one of the better aspects of the movie.
Like anything else, Descendants is not without its pitfalls. The over-all plot was weak, pacing needed help and there was not much of an emotional charge as we seen some of the more high tension scenes. The musical numbers where not only not that memorial but did little to move the plot forward. And even with the use of cliché and mildly cheesy tropes, an ending that was no surprise-the biggest offender was constantly telling rather than showing.
A great example of this was the “Evil Like Me” number, rather than having Maleficent go on about her evil deeds using something along the lines of flash-backs as the song was preformed would not only have given a much clear depiction of what was being elaborated on, but also give us a chance to see Mal’s reactions.
I can honestly say that Descendants is perhaps the single most ambitious production we have seen on Disney Channel in a great while. Even though it missed notes and squandered some of the potential, it was not bad. I have seen worse with less. On the same note I am not fangirling over it. If it had been made into a mini-series with more time to elaborate on some of the aspects it would have been better and more of the potential reached as problems would not have been.
Descendants will most likely become the next big series in place of the previous generation’s High School Musical craze. And with a sequel teased more appears to be on the way.
Join the conversation; what is your option on Descendants? Sequel- yes, no?