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Featured DVD Review: Descendants

August 17th, 2015

Descendants - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Video on Demand

Descendants

Descendants is the latest Disney Channel Original Movie and the channel is on a roll with their previous such release, Teen Beach 2, doing well with critics and with viewers. We already know Descendants was a hit in the ratings (there's even a TV spin-off in the works). However, did it earn this success? Or is it a case of hype more than quality.

The Movie

The movie begins as most Disney princess movies begin, with a storybook. Although this time it has been updated as the book is a tablet. We hear in a voice over by Mal what happened after The Beauty and the Beast. The Beast married Belle and the pair united all of the Disney kingdoms under the name United States of Auradon and Beast was elected the leader. (I know what you are thinking, "Shouldn't it be United Kingdoms of Auradon?" Yes. Also, he was proclaimed king, not elected, as we are about to kind out.) All of the villains, sidekicks, and assorted bad guys were rounded up and exiled to the Isle of the Lost with a magical barrier there to prevent them from using their magic and escaping. However, Beauty and the Beast's son, Ben, is about to turn 16 and will be the new King. (I know, this makes no sense either. Just go with it.) His first official proclamation is to give the children on the Isle of the Lost a chance to live in Auradon. This of course horrifies his parents, but he is adamant. While the villains did terrible things, their kids are innocent and should be given a chance to show they are not like their parents. He even picked out the first four as part of a test case. He has chosen the four that need the help the most. These four are Mal, daughter of Maleficent; Carlos, son of Cruella de Vil; Jay, son of Jafar; and Evie, daughter of the Evil Queen.

We are introduced to these four characters in a song and dance number, but this is interrupted by Maleficent, who tells them of Ben's proclamation. At first the kids have no interest in leaving their home and going to a boarding school; however, Maleficent convinces them they have to go. They have to go, so that they can steal the Fairy Godmother's wand. With that magic and Maleficent's staff, they would be able to break the magic barrier holding them there and preventing them from ruling the world. With that, the four leave the Isle of the Lost. When they arrive they are greeted by the Fairy Godmother, as well as Ben and Audrey, Ben's girlfriend. Ben tries to be royal and important, but Mal quickly shoots that down, but Ben responds is an upbeat way that intrigues Mal.

After the four are shown to their dorm by Doug (son of Dopey), they get together to try and steal the wand from the museum where it is kept locked up. The heist is interrupted by a song with Maleficent and Mal, but ends in failure when Jay sets off the alarm. They decide they will need another approach. That's where Jane comes it. Jane is the daughter of Fairy Godmother. Mal and Evie give Jane a magical makeover to gain her trust. Jane tells them that the Fairy Godmother will be blessing Ben during the upcoming coronation and will be using her wand. It will be the only time it is out from the protective field. But in order to be close enough to grab the wand, Mal will have to be dating Ben. They have a solution for this: Magic. More specifically, a magic love potion.

It seems like a great plan, except for one small problem. ... They start to fit in and like it there. Jay becomes one of the athletic stars of the school and even helps Carlos fit in with the team. Carlos gets over his fear of dogs, after seeing a dog for the first time. (His mother had convinced him they were bloodthirsty killers.) Evie begins to do well in school and that helps her self-confidence, something her mother picked away at constantly. Finally, Mal goes on her date with Ben. She's just there to use him to get the wand and the magic love potion means she doesn't have to try and woo him. However, she actually has fun and wonders if being a good person is better than following in her mother's footsteps. There is just one problem here, if she doesn't do what her mother says, she and her friends will be in a lot of trouble.

Descendants is not exactly an original story and you can probably guess the main plot points well in advance. Worse still, it has a weak opening. Out of the adults in the movie, only Kristin Chenoweth and Melanie Paxson are given anything to work with. The rest of the villains are poorly written and can be cringe-worthy. And unfortunately, the beginning of the film spends more time with these poorly thought out characters than it does with the main cast. Fortunately, that's only true for the beginning.

Once the plot moves to Auradon, the kids are given the vast majority of the airtime. Dove Cameron leads the cast and she is definitely one of the highlights of the film. She has charm and charisma and made the movie engaging while the other characters struggled. Later on, Evie, Jay, and Carlos has some character growth, but Mal starts out feeling like a fully formed character. Additionally, Mal and Ben have good chemistry together; although one could argue she had more romantic feelings towards that strawberry.

The movie is directed by Kenny Ortega, who has built a career on musicals like this. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that the movie sports a number of big song and dance numbers. Not all of them work; "Be Our Guest" just reminded me that the original was a classic and that this was a pale imitation. On the other hand, "Rotten to the Core" and "If Only" both charted and are good songs.

The Extras

Extras begin with a 4-minute look at Mal's social media account. There is an eight-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that focuses a lot on the dance rehearsals. There are also 2 minutes of outtakes. There is also a preview for the computer animated TV series based on Descendants that is coming this fall.

The Verdict

Descendants started off slow, but as the villains were given more opportunity to grow as characters, it became a solid film. The extras on the DVD are better than most similar releases and I think buying it over over Video on Demand is the better option.


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Filed under: Video Review, Teen Beach Movie 2, Descendants, Cameron Boyce, Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Najimy, Kenny Ortega, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Keegan Connor Tracy, Booboo Stewart, Maz Jobrani, Melanie Paxson, Dove Cameron, Dan Payne, Mitchell Hope, Sofia Carson, Sarah Jeffery, Brenna D'Amico, Zachary Gibson