This year is the second that I have watched Disney Channel’s Descendants trilogy. If you’re reading this, you might at least know what the movies are about: four children of Disney villains — Maleficent’s daughter Mal, Cruella’s son Carlos, Evil Queen’s daughter Evie, and Jafar’s son Jay — are selected to attend boarding school in Auradon. The villains live on the Isle of the Lost, and Auradon is for the royal good guys. Auradon Prep is run by the Fairy Godmother, whose daughter Jane is a student there, along with Lonnie (daughter of Mulan), Doug (son of Dopey), Chad Charming (son of the prince and Cinderella), Audrey (daughter of Aurora), and Ben (son of Belle and the Beast). I noticed that there is a character in Auradon who uses a wheelchair. I’m glad she is in the films, but I wish she had a more prominent role. I’m hopeful that someday soon, Disney Channel will include main characters who have disabilities.
These three live-action films were written by the Runaway Bride duo, Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon. Kenny Ortega directed the DCOM trilogy, and veteran production designer Mark Hofeling and music director David Lawrence were on board. The enchanting costumes were designed by Kara Saun, and I liked that they were varied for each installment. Understandably, the first movie sets up the world of good versus evil. There is a barrier over the sea dividing the Isle from Auradon, which serves as an accessible metaphor for inclusion and exclusion, the right or wrong side of the tracks, etc. Beauty and the Beast’s son, Ben, becomes king and falls in love with Mal, first through her spell and then for real. This is one of the most mature teen romances I’ve ever seen in a DCOM, and Dove Cameron and Mitchell Hope most definitely sold me on the idea that their characters are in love. Mal and her villain cronies have told us that they’re “Rotten to the Core,” evoking the imagery of the Evil Queen’s apple for Snow White. Mal is meant to retrieve Fairy Godmother’s wand for Maleficent, but she has a change of heart and ultimately turns her mother into a lizard instead. I have a choral background and enjoyed the music at the coronation. A choir sings “Laudamus Te” from the Vivaldi Gloria, which is unexpected for Disney Channel, but lovely.
The second movie continues Mal’s struggle between good and evil within herself, and the other villain kids develop romances with Auradon characters. Jay flirts with Lonnie, Carlos and Jane become closer, and Evie and Doug have feelings for each other. Ben dislikes Mal’s use of spells to do nice things for him. Hey, if I could conjure up a gourmet picnic with a spell book, I probably would, too. Most importantly, Descendants 2 introduces Uma, daughter of Ursula ( we don’t see Ursula, but she is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg). China Anne McClain establishes Uma as a venerable force and a foil for Mal. Uma casts a spell on King Ben so that he thinks he is in love with her. On a party yacht for the big Auradon Prep dance, Ben’s love for Mal wins him over, and Mal must transform into a dragon to fight Uma’s octopus form. Another big development is that the villain kids and King Ben want to bring more children from the Isle to Auradon. I enjoy the additional screen time for Lonnie in this movie, as she travels with the VKs and Ben to search for Mal over at the Isle. It’s too bad she wasn’t in the third. It’s also too bad Gil and Harry’s kiss was cut entirely.
There’s so much of Descendants 3 that makes it highly engaging. The music is electric, the characters are so well-established, and Audrey’s turn from Aurora’s “good” daughter to dangerous villain is a great twist. Audrey is jealous because she used to be with Ben, and he’s marrying Mal now. Evie, Jay, Carlos, and Mal are able to grant space in Auradon to four villain kids, so we meet Dr. Facilier’s daughter Celia, Drizella’s daughter Dizzy, and the twin sons of Smee. Uma and Mal must overcome their differences to work together and protect everyone from Audrey. Kind of like the portal to Halloweentown, there’s some discussion over the safety of Auradon with the barrier being opened. I like that the romantic developments continue between Carlos and Jane, and Evie and Doug — the latter two have an entire kissing song, which Sofia Carson does a great job with. Oh, the big reveal of this movie is that Mal’s father is Hades, and his ember is the only thing that can save Audrey after she tries to destroy everyone. Just like the first two films, the third ends with a dance party song. It’s even more celebratory this time, since the barrier is permanently opened. Tragically, Cameron Boyce passed away before the film’s premiere on Disney Channel. Cameron, Dove, Sofia, and Booboo Stewart made a perfect team. I can’t imagine how hard they worked learning all those dance moves and executing them in such a theoretical headspace. Fantasy films are sometimes harder for me to dive into, but it makes sense to explore the storytelling potential of Disney’s classic royal characters and their villainous counterparts.
Note: A previous version of this post stated that Mozart’s “Laudamus Te” from the C minor mass was in the first film. I mixed up my movements! Corrected to say that the music is from the Vivaldi Gloria. 🙂