Starring: Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, Sofia Carson, Mitchell Hope, Kristen Chenoweth, Sarah Jeffrey, Kathy Najimy
Directed By: Kenny Ortega
I know critics don’t usually review Disney Channel movies, but this one had so much damn hype that I felt like I had to. I’m probably in a much better position than most critics, as I do occasionally watch Disney Channel films and TV series (mostly as background noise), but mainly just Girl Meets World (but usually only when one of the original cast is set to cameo). I’ve seen the High School Musical franchise, and the first Camp Rock, so I must be qualified to comment on the quality of Descendants, right?
Well, really, no. There’s nothing that I can say about the “cinematic value” of Descendants, because it’s everything you could possibly expect or predict it would be. Yes, the film is about the children of villains who are given a second chance to be something more than what their parents are. They’re reformed when taken to a preppy hero school, and all is well and good in the world. Yay!
I’ll start with the good. First off, Dove Cameron has star written all over her. Usually Disney seems to want to force marginally talented children into all of their programs, but I gotta say there’s something different about Cameron, who has that “undefinable it-factor” that everyone always talks about. It’s kind of the same way I felt when I saw Channing Tatum in a small role in Coach Carter. There’s just something about them… you know that they’ll be just fine after this. Cameron needs to break away from Disney fast, because I think she’s definitely the next Demi Lovato/Selena Gomez/etc. I didn’t feel the same thing about the rest of the cast, including Sarah Jeffrey (who was much better on Wayward Pines). I think Booboo Stewart is an interesting actor, and I’m glad he’s gotten more to do here after suffering as a supporting character through the Twilight franchise, and as Warpath in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. And as always, Kristen Chenoweth is perfection.
The rest of the cast feels like Disney Channel actors, who are destined to be unemployed when they age out of being able to do Disney Channel series. Cameron Boyce, I can’t imagine seeing him as an adult actor, Sofia Carson seems to have virtually no personality, and Mitchell Hope is as bland as they come.
The film assumes your children are fundamentally stupid, and names the children as close to their parents names as they can get, which often times results in hilarious consequences. First off, apparently the Evil Queen from Snow White has no name, and therefore has adopted Evil Queen as her actual name. So of course her daughter is named Evie. Jafar’s son is named Jay, Cruella DeVille’s son is named Carlos (still keeping the first letter), and Maleficent’s daughter is named Mal. That way, in case your children suffer serious brain damage while watching the movie, they can always associate who these kids represent. Even the good kids don’t catch a break as Ben is the son of Beast and Belle, and Audrey is the daughter of Aurora. Supporting characters seem to be either supporting this trend (Doug is the son of Dopey), or oddly breaking the trend (Mulan’s daughter is named Lonnie, and the Fairy Godmother’s daughter is named Jane). The name thing was so obvious that by the time we met Lonnie and Jane, I felt like they didn’t belong somehow, and there was going to be some sub-plot about how the school had been infiltrated by impostors.
Most of the music is absolutely awful. Holy Auto-Tune Batman. The numbers are so heavily auto-tuned, that I honestly couldn’t tell you if anyone in the cast outside of Chenoweth can sing. Even Cameron’s listenable solo If Only is autotuned. Did she need that? The only number that actually works is Evil Like Me, which is also Chenoweth’s big number. She obviously refused to sing any of the pop-hybrid tunes, so Disney had to go out and get an actual Broadway writer for her: Andrew Lippa. It’s the only song that Lippa is credited with writing in the entire show, and it happens to be the only song Chenoweth sings. It’s also the only one that feels legit in the style of a musical.
Another problem I had was that the whole film is centered around the coronation of Ben as King, a wholly unnecessary move since his parents are still alive. I’ve never seen a coronation where the sitting King is allowing his son to succeed the throne while he’s standing right there. It’s just bizarre. Also, the presence of Doug as a character is just strange altogether, as he’s the only character present who is the child of a non-Prince/Princess or a Villain. This leads me to wonder if future Descendant movies will have the son of Genie. Also, I feel like there was a missed opportunity with the dog in the film, who could have been named something like Copper or Tramp, but instead went in a different direction.
I can’t say I had a bad time watching Descendants, but I also can’t say it’s any good. I bet your kids will like it, and as an adult looking to spend time with your kids, you’ll probably see Descendants as harmless. I just wish that Kenny Ortega had actually given some real effort to this film, the way he used to when he did films like Newsies and Hocus Pocus. It really could have taken this film to the next level. Instead, we’re left with this.
FINAL GRADE: C+