Distributed By: Disney Channel
Television film Air Date: July 31st 2015 [Descendants] / July 21st 2017 [Descendants 2] / August 2nd 2019 [Descendants 3]
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Descendants– Starring Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, Booboo Stewart, Cameron Boyce, Mitchell Hope, Sarah Jeffery, Melanie Paxson, Brenna D’Amico, Zachary Gibson, Jedidiah Goodacre, Dianne Doan, Dan Payne, Keegan Connor Tracy, Kristin Chenoweth
Descendants 2– Starring Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, Booboo Stewart, Cameron Boyce, Mitchell Hope, Melanie Paxson, Brenna D’Amico, Zachary Gibson, Jedidiah Goodacre, Dianne Doan, Dan Payne, Keegan Connor Tracy, Anna Cathcart, China Anne McClain, Thomas Doherty, Dylan Playfair, Bobby Moynihan
Descendants 3– Starring Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, Booboo Stewart, Cameron Boyce, Mitchell Hope, Sarah Jeffery, Melanie Paxson, Brenna D’Amico, Zachary Gibson, Jedidiah Goodacre, Dianne Doan, Dan Payne, Keegan Connor Tracy, Anna Cathcart, Jadah Marie, China Anne McClain, Thomas Doherty, Dylan Playfair, Cheyenne Jackson, Bobby Moynihan
In 2011, one of my favourite TV shows ever debuted. The ABC show Once Upon A Time debuted to strong ratings, and you can view my thoughts about the series here, and read about the show on Wikipedia. In essence, I think the reason I connected with the show that much was because it took the fairytales we know and love and give them a modern spin, and twist you could never see coming, and also showing us that good and evil aren’t necessarily back and white. We’re taught that these people are good and these people are bad- and that there are no people that are in between. But in Once Upon A Time, characters like Regina (The Evil Queen), Killian Jones (Hook) and Rumpelstiltskin, were all redeemed by the end of the show, while at various points in the series we saw the heroes (such as Snow White, Prince Charming and Emma their daughter) undertake pretty unspeakable things. Through this show the main takeaway I’ve found is that no one is black or white, and we reside mostly in the grey… but once we each realise that we all have the capacity to be good or evil (each one of us now, I’m not just talking about characters in moves and series!)- well then that’s a game changer right here!
When we all realise that the choices we make has consequences for our actions, and that sometimes ‘evil people’ are just people who are at times misguided and ill-informed, making decisions on the fly and hence acting or reacting out of emotions and feelings and fear of this or that; then I guess empathy for our fellow man can occur. I’m not saying that we should condone every unspeakable act ever, because ‘they weren’t ‘evil’ to begin with, and if we show them love, then they’ll change’; but I believe that at the core, people want to be loved, seen, acknowledged, accepted and included. There are the odd few who will never change- and these people are a lost cause- but generally my rule of thumb is to give people the benefit of the doubt, to extend love and grace to others, like Jesus has done for us. And Once Upon A Time incorporated those themes of love and acceptance so, so well- but with the constant plot holes and the flip-flopping of villains to heroes and vice versa; perhaps if you want to binge watch a TV show (because we all have time during COVID-19, don’t we?) that speaks about the positives of humanity, and about the hope and general goodness in the world- then Once Upon A Time may be enjoyable if you have the patience to endure 7 seasons. And if you can keep up with who’s the villain of the season and how they relate to the main characters. For me, I see the show for what it is- fun entertainment with somewhat of an inspiring message- and no matter how many plot holes there are (there are aplenty!), I look past them. But if you’re the one who is nit-picky, then Once Upon A Time probably isn’t for you.
What then are the alternatives, you ask? If you want to know more about people and how to treat people with respect and dignity, and remind us all to give people a chance in general to want to change; well which show represents that? These days if shows are too real or reflect real issues, or are too based in the real world- well then viewers would retreat- because after all TV and movies is escapism at its core… Anyway, throughout my time at home and stuck because of quarantine, I’ve been recently impacted and challenged by a series (a movie series, not a TV series!), that I reckon any of you can enjoy. With the films having already been released for a number of years (2015, 2017 and 2019), I’ll keep this ‘review’ short and let the films speak for themselves. But what I will say is that the concept of good and evil, and the concept that you can change what you once were, that you can choose good over poor choices; well that is a concept that isn’t said often enough. Having premiered on The Disney Channel in 2015, 2017 and 2019 (I hear a collective groan you guys, because… it’s a kid’s movie?), the movie series The Descendants tackles the lives of four teenagers and how they adapt to a change in their lives. From isolation to in community with the biggest heroes. On the same wavelength as Once Upon A Time, Descendants is a fairy tale inspired film series that is sure to resonate with you. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s the good kind of cheesy.
Mal (Dove Cameron) the daughter of Maleficent, Evie (Sofia Carson) the daughter of the Evil Queen, Jay (Booboo Stewart) the son of Jafar, and Carlos (Cameron Boyce) the son of Cruella DeVil, are the core four VK’s (villain’s kids) turned heroes of the film series, and the first movie in 2015 starts with Ben (Mitchell Hope), the son of Belle and the Beast giving a lifeline and a chance for the four to live life on the mainland (in the fictious land of Auradon) as opposed to the Isle of the Lost, where anarchy reigns supreme and whereby evil begets evil. The four kids have a side mission from their parents as well, unbeknownst to Ben and the heroes, and that is to acquire the Fairy Godmother’s wand so that the invisible barrier between Auradon and The Isle can be removed, and all of the villains can invade the mainland and take it for themselves, wrecking as much havoc along the way. With the bulk of the first film being the four kids trying to complete their mission, but along the way changing their perspective and ultimately rebelling against their parents and choosing good; the subsequent two films focus on more kids from the Isle travelling to Auradon to live in peace and harmony, while also the four former villains take on adversaries from the Isle (Uma [China Anne McClain], daughter of Ursula); and a former hero (an unhinged and bitter Audrey [Sarah Jeffery], daughter of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip). With a number of parallel stories happening at once, and with the story of redemption of people being quite basic and simple (because it is for children and teenagers!)- you don’t really need to read my ‘review’, as it’ll be one in a sea of many thoughts online. But you do need to know from the outset that these three films are musicals. Yep, like Frozen, Descendants delivers plenty of powerful and jaw-dropping moments- and if you’re not resonating that much with musicals- perhaps this film series isn’t for you; but I say give it a try, because I am positive that you will gain something from the films.
I first found out about Descendants when I was cleaning up one day at home on a day off from work. Finding the 3-disc movie collection DVD in my library of DVD’s from over the years, I took a chance in watching the film not really expecting anything. And I was blown away. I think I saw all three movies within a 24-hour span, and though I’m not really the targeted audience for this series; I stuck around because of the strength of the vocal performances (of Dove and Sofia especially!), the growth of the four main characters, and the general fun nature of the movie- which didn’t take itself too seriously sometimes, but still had moments of reflection and introspection. With Once Upon A Time becoming moody and all ‘doom-and gloom’ very quickly (during the 3rd season when it was discovered that Peter Pan was Rumple’s father!), there were at times when I felt that show was becoming too depressive and not hopeful enough. This is why the film series The Descendants felt so much like a breath of fresh air to me, as we were met with a relevant message of choosing your own path rather than one your parents have set for you, a message of making the best choices you can and being the best version of yourself that you can; while also showcasing the talents of almost everyone. Though this series isn’t a series where every actor is well known; every actor does shine here, and reminds us that the future of Hollywood is bright- at least in the realms of music and Disney productions and things like that. Some of you may not agree with me and proclaim that The Descendants series is preaching heresy (because you do not choose your won destiny, but rather God does!) and may say that the films are too- Disney-fied and sanitised to be taken too seriously. Yet I say that as God has used Moses, a stutterer and a murderer, to part the Red Sea and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and as God has used Paul to preach his Word, who previously was Saul, one of the most feared anti-Christians in the world; so too can He use a movie about fairies and witches, for His glory. I know there are no such things as good fairies and good witches, of which Mal and Evie are portrayed to be respectively. But this movie is symbolic- the fact that the kids rebelled against their parents is fitting, as we ourselves are presented with the notion that our walk in life and our faith and our morals and our beliefs, need not to be tied to our parents’, just for the sake of it. Just like how Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos all chose good at the end of the first film (and the subsequent films were about their wrestling with their dual identities!), so can we choose to be different that who our parents want us to be and with what is expected of us. Can we ever step out of the shadow of a successful older sibling, or defy (or gently let down) the expectations of being a doctor or a lawyer from a parent that is ‘hovering’ and vicariously living their own lives through us? Descendants is saying ‘yes we can’, and although there can be friction if we choose for ourselves versus do everything our parents say- I am positive that when parents and children with differing viewpoints watch this movie and its sequels, they’ll gain a better appreciation of the other side and start to learn without judgement.
If you’re a murderer or a liar or a cheater, or even if you are prideful, lustful, egocentric, narcissistic or even the littlest bit envious; then that is it for you…right? What you are is what you are for eternity, and there is no room for error, no margin for alteration, nothing in the world that can make you, or persuade you to change your behaviour, or change the reason for your behaviour. But is that really the case? Can a person who has made bad choices really change for the better? Can they be a hero to others and inspire, even when they still struggle with their demons and their better judgement? If I were to tell you that everything that I just mentioned above was wrapped up and presented to us in the form of a superhero show, what would you say? Would you laugh and think I was crazy? Probably. But that exactly is what has come to light, with the seemingly frivolous Legends Of Tomorrow being one of my favourite shows of late- a superhero show with tons of action, and a lot of issues being touched upon, including the notion of people changing for the better.
Taken verbatim from my TV show review of Legends Of Tomorrow (Seasons 1-3), this above statement of people changing for the better can easily be relayed to Descendants. And when we as people recognise and remember the fact that all it takes for us to deviate from our vices and bad habits is one person believing the best about us- well that is a game changer. Because no longer are we son/daughter of so and so, thus we’re like that too- but now we are just so and so. A person in our own right. I know the film series is far-fetched… but it’s an allegory to how the world should be lived- with no judgement and with unconditional love- similar to how Jesus forgave the woman who committed adultery.
The Descendants film series will forever be bittersweet, because of Cameron Boyce’s passing in 2019 shortly after the third film released. Yet the film series is as iconic as any other film series out there, and has a massive cult following, with novels (9) and prequel series (Descendants: School Of Secrets) and animated series (Descendants: Wicked World) spun off the three movies as well. Three soundtracks were released as well; and the films were the launching pad for the career for many- the roots of many actors- especially Dove and Sofia in their acting and music careers. China Anne McClain went onto have a starring role in the CW show Black Lightning, while Sarah Jeffery co-headlines the reboot series of Charmed, and Booboo Stewart recurred in Westworld and Julie & The Phantoms. So in terms of staying power- this franchise has plenty of legs, with a proposed musical being developed inspired by the three films (obviously to be performed once restrictions have been reduced!). But it is still the messages of love and acceptance and a heart transformation that still rings true today- and if there’s ever a time where we need to hear goodness and mercy and forgiveness and understanding, it’s now. And though Descendants may not be your cup of tea- I’d say watch all three movies at least once. You’ll be amazed at how catchy the songs are, but more than that how resonating the themes of forging you own path are, especially in today’s current climate of hate and distrust and animosity. So as I leave you all with various behind the scenes videos and music videos of the songs; let us remember that it is possible to do good things even if you aren’t ‘inherently good’. It is possible to break free from your past, and it is possible to start anew. With God by your side and with you family and friends- anything is possible. Well done Dove, Sofia, Booboo, China, Mitchell, Sarah and everyone else involved. I may have jumped in the bandwagon a bit late- but Descendants is a franchise I’d gladly watch again and again- for the feel good messages and the songs and the emergence of some of the most talented actors and singers of this generation!
Dove Cameron on The Descendants franchise and Descendants 3:
So a lot of wherever Mal is; is very heavily based in wherever I am because sometimes you can’t really keep those things from mixing. I would say that she’s developed, basically, alongside how I’ve developed.
In the first film, she was really a kid, really scrappy and defensive and very fear-based, and then in the second film, she was unbelievably lost, we’ve all been through those phases where we just don’t even have a clue left, right, up or down or who we are, how we feel about anything.
In the final movie, I know it sounds presumptuous and arrogant and silly to say they’ve developed – because who’s really ever developed – but for as long as I’ve lived, I definitely feel the most sure of myself that I have, and I think that’s very much where Mal is as well.
The most evil you ever see Mal is in the first film where she’s a bit more defensive and angry, and then I would say in the second film at the very top when you see her do ‘Ways To Be Wicked’ and she’s lost in her fantasy of what it would be like to be wicked again and be the kid she knows herself to be.
It is quite difficult as an actor because, originally, the role was the ultimate of all evil so you have to sneak that in as impulses and brief moments, while also being a credible leader and someone who fights for justice and someone who’s very human at the end of the day. As well, she’s so rewarding and fun to play and you sneak those evil moments in, for sure.
We also wanted to give our characters a moment to feel they were going back to their roots. To play evil characters that basically become the good guys, we really enjoy the villain aspects of it and we wanted to keep their integrity of who they were and where they came from, and not completely strip them of that.
I don’t think we ever asked Kristin to come back for the third, or any of the parents really, but I do know that she would love to be involved in the franchise more. She’s a very good friend of mine and I know that she enjoys the franchise so much, as well as Cheyenne Jackson, and there’s definitely possibility for that in the future.
The relationship with the franchise from the actors’ perspective, I think is worlds apart from the relationship with the series in terms of a fan’s perspective. While we share common ground, I think we can appreciate the same things the fans do, it’s something we actually can’t relate to.
We’ve never been outsiders to the franchise, it’s always been something that’s like a language we speak. It’s kind of like if someone’s like, ‘Why do people like you so much?’, you’re like, ‘Errr, I don’t know, I can’t see myself’. We couldn’t fully tell you.
I think because we have the absolute luck of having Disney corporate, big overall Disney, grant us the permission to dip into, and mess with, the origin stories of historical characters, I do think that that land is very appealing to everybody. It’s why people love Disney in general, these big characters that they love so much.
I also think they did this amazing job at creating this, almost like in the way JK Rowling did with Harry Potter, this world is so detailed. Our set decoration, our costume designers, producers, Disney and Kenny did this incredible job of fleshing out this world with so much detail and love that it feels like a real world you could escape into.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think that the cast has this unbelievable, next-level closeness that when you watch it, you really believe that these characters love each other and have this chemistry in the way that they do because we do. I think so much of the love and feelings that we have towards each other really reflects in the films.
To be completely honest, as an actor who is not beholden to Disney, I would say that I think it would be smart for them to capitalise on the brand that they created. I think it would be smart to do maybe a spin-off with maybe the younger characters.
Also, I may or may not have heard something about something that I might be doing involving the franchise. I would never say that it’s over, but I also would never confirm anything at this time. I would be open to doing more.
Did you guys end up watching one of or all of the three Descendants movies? Are you planning on subscribing to Disney + (where you can now view each of the three movies here, here and here); or will you buy the DVD of the films? You can stay connected to all things connected with the movies on the official website; facebook; twitter; and YouTube! Hope you enjoy/enjoyed the movies! And please stay safe while COVID-19 is still hanging around like a parasite!
RIYL: Inkheart, Into The Woods, High School Musical, The Brothers Grimm, Shrek, Jack & The Beanstalk: The Real Story, Dinotopia