Well, I tweeted while watching it, I figure I might as well review it, right?
Descendants is the story of the children of our favorite princes, princesses, villains, and sidekicks, looking for their own adventures. It all begins when Ben, the son of King Adam and Queen Belle of Beauty and the Beast fame, decides that the children of villains deserve a chance, rather than being imprisoned on an island behind an anti-magic barrier with their parents. He suggests a small group to begin with: Carlos, the son of Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmations, Jay, the son of Jafar from Aladdin, Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White…and Mal, the daughter of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. It’s the last who especially sets everyone on edge–and for good reason. Maleficent plans to use this idea of Ben’s as a chance to get the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand and free her and the other villains. But what if Mal starts to have second thoughts about whether or not she’s actually evil?
As far as Disney movies go, it’s pretty formulaic even by their standards. I mean, I was shocked thirty minutes in when the kids almost achieved their goal, but then one of the kids bungles things and so we have to have so many attempts at getting the stupid thing. The plot suffered because there were just so many characters going on, and none of them really had subplots going in the same direction. So the main plot had to try and herd them all together…which just made things even more of a mess and it felt like we didn’t really get to touch on some of them, especially Carlos who I felt got shafted a bit. Jay and Evie sort of manged to survive with some character depth, but a lot of the attention went to Mal because…Mal’s plot was also the main plot, she just had some internal conflict going on in addition.
That said, I did love most of the characters. They did a good job with the villain kids, showing them slowly coming to the good side by softening their look. (I’m holding on to hope that the end was just them being formal and they are going to stay fairly punk in their more everyday outfits.) As characters, I loved how reversed Evie and Jay were from their parents. Evie actually likes cooking and cleaning and sewing, which seems contradictory to her mother, and whereas Jafar was all about the intellect, Jay is very physical. Carlos also had a little of that, reminding me more of Horace and Jasper than Cruella. Mal was very much her mother’s daughter, which actually was a bonus because it fit with where they were going with their character. Aubrey at times fell too hard into the mean girl role, I would have liked to see more depths, while Ben actually shocked the bejeebus out of me at the end with his surprising changes (though he’s Belle’s kid, how I missed that he would be smart, I don’t know.) Again, there was just a lack of focus that made it hard to get as much out of them as I would have liked.
World building and back stories wise, we got given a bit of an info dump at the beginning, and then we were just sort of tossed in. Which…didn’t exactly work. Most of the Disney films are actually set in different time periods and countries, and most of them are even historical. I couldn’t get how the heck Carlos could be in the same universe as Ben, for example. Really, despite it being in the song that they remixed, they seemed to have forgotten that the set Beauty and the Beast in France, not some random magical kingdom they made up. I just wish we had gotten less names thrown around and more focus on the history of the characters and how this crazy world came to exist. Hell, that could have been added motivation for Mal’s eventual heel-face-turn!
Now, because this is live action, I have to pick on the acting and costumes a little bit. I normally give Disney channel movies a bit of credit. I mean, I was raised during the golden age of Disney TV movies actually being good, but I know it’s a bit more hit or miss now. But I actually thought a lot of the actors were at least decent, with some potential for more. The exception…was the guy they got for Ben. The title male character, and he was stiff and flat a lot of the time, especially in dance scenes (not good for a musical). He had his moments, but overall, I expect better if you are going to make him the co-lead. While some of the nods to the parents were neat, the colors were sometimes overly bright. They could have muted them and made their point just as clear. I also don’t get why Maleficent had black lips when one of her big signatures is her bright red lipstick. The crown for the coronation also looked awful and fake, which is cringe worthy.
Despite all of this, the visual effects were awesome, and I have to give a shout out to Maleficent’s actress, since she was great. And as everyone saw in the tweets, yes, she was the original Glinda from Wicked and she is also from my home state. I am proud. I also loved Belle and her little whacks at Adam whenever he said something she didn’t like, it made me snicker. Which is good, since Adam is still a bit of a jerk (yay, characters being consistent) and needs his leash tugged occasionally. Obviously I loved the female villain-bred heroes, since Evie and Mal sort of just stole my heart, and I loved the evil little smirks and power walks they had, especially how Evie’s plot boiled down to, you don’t have to be an airhead to catch a guy….heck, you don’t even need the guy. And still I was on the Ben and Mal train through all of this!
Okay, I have to wrap this up. As far as an obvious answer to the Ever After High franchise goes, Disney did…okay. They could have fleshed things out more, and they obviously forgot their own canon in places. But (and this is a big but), this first movies appears to be, in Disney fashion, a franchise building block, much like a first book in a longer running series. As far as that goes… They did good. I will definitely be seeing what’s going on in the sequel, and while the books look to be too juvenile for me to even glance at (curses), I hope they will do great things with the animated shorts coming out.
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