On Friday, the Disney Channel premiered Descendants, a TV movie about the children of Disney heroes and villains. No surprise, it is basically a mix of Once Upon a Time and High School Musical. Sober, it is a rough sit. Drunk? It is a delight.
Here’s how the plot works: After they got married, Beauty and the Beast united all the fairy tale lands of Auradon. Then the Beast got elected king (... I know) and he and Belle had a son, named Ben (... I know). And once Ben turned sixteen, they decided to abdicate the throne to him (... I know). Ben decides that his act of benevolence is to bring four children of villains — who have been all exiled to a prison island because I guess Auradon doesn’t abide by the whole “Sins of the father” stuff — to Auradon to go to high school.
Among the many, many sins of Descendants, we have to spend some time on the background of these four kids. Mal is the daughter of Maleficent and, basically, her mother raised her to help her take over the world and not to be an actual daughter. Evvie is the daughter of the Evil Queen and was raised to be beautiful and marry rich and powerful. Carlos is the son of Cruella — and, look, I don’t know how you bring Cruella into the same time and place as the others either — and he’s ... afraid of dogs. That’s it. That’s his character. Finally there’s Jay, the son of Jafar, who was raised to be a thief. WHICH MAKES NO GODDAMN SENSE SINCE JAFAR WAS A POLITICAL MASTERMIND AND A SORCERER. Aladdin was the thief. Which, did Jafar just go with “if you can’t beat them, join them” as a life philosophy?
Here’s another question we never get answered: how did these villains have these kids? We never see them with other halves, did the lonely villains adopt? Have one night stands? Tragic deaths? Reproduce asexually?
Anyway, Maleficent tells the kids they have to get the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand and bring it to her so she can take over the world. In the process, the four find love, acceptance, and friendship and reject being evil.
The good news is that if you can make it through the first six minutes, you are golden. The opening is by far the worst part of Descendants. I’d already seen it, and I was prepared. The poor friend I conned into watching it was not. Three minutes in, and she was slack-jawed at this:
Note: At the end of this scene, Mal literally takes candy from a baby. SUBTLE.
Anyway, the kids go off to Auradon Prep. Jay says he “doesn’t do uniforms unless they’re leather,” which was some innuendo that was definitely unintended but will stay with you every time you see mini-Taylor Lautner on screen.
At the school, the Fairy Godmother is the headmaster who will also teach the children “Remedial Goodness.” Here are the actual questions the Fairy Godmother asks in Remedial Goodness:
If someone hands you a crying baby, do you:
a) curse it
b) lock it in a tower
c) give it a bottle
d) carve out its heart
You find a bottle of poison. Do you:
a) put it in the king’s wine
b) paint it on an apple
c) turn it over to the proper authorities
They have trouble with the first one. I’d say they should give up.
Anyway, the four try to get steal the magic wand from where it is on display. Along with some wax figures of the kids’ parents. Because why not, I guess. It’s the “Museum of Cultural History” by the way. It seems to just house magic artifacts and terrifying wax figurines of notorious, still-living criminals. BUT, I’m kind of okay because Mal hallucinates the one of her mother coming to life and singing. And since Maleficent is Kristin Chenoweth, this is the best song by a large margin:
We cheered when this number started. I was many alcohols in by then.
Not only Chenoweth having the time of her life here, this is also the only song in this entire thing written as an actual musical number and not a mediocre pop song.
Since the kids fail at getting the wand, they have to stick around. To learn that the wand will be out and about for Ben’s coronation. And that only his family and girlfriend will be close enough to grab it. So, of course, that means Mal has to seduce Ben. She uses a love spell in the book of spells her mom gave her. (“This is the best reviewed love potion” is a thing actually said.)
They also all get things to help them fit in. Mal uses her magic book to do makeovers — yes, this does mean that Maleficent’s spellbook has hair spells. Jay turns out to be a savant at a Jousting Lacrosse — a magic sport that is Quidditch’s sad, uninspired, unflying cousin. Carlos gets a dog. That’s it. He gets a dog.
Evvie tries to land Prince Charming jr., who has the classic asshat name of “Chad.” Chads are never good dudes in these shows. They’re always white fratboys with a penchant for using women. Which, hey! Is exactly what happens. Evvie has a mini-magic mirror from her mother. It shows her whatever she asks for. She uses it for an answer in class, and Chad asks it where his cellphone is.
Here’s a question this brings up: How useful is a magic mirror in a world with computers and smartphones? The kids use it to find the wand. But they also could have just googled “Where is the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand?” and gotten the same answer. The whole modern timeline here is confusing as all get out. There are oil lamps ... and cars. The villains’ outfits are pretty much their cartoon outfits, while the heroes are just in normal modern clothes. And we know that the time between them all getting exiled and now is only 20 years — Maleficent says so.
In a related point, can you guess which one of these kids is Lani, Mulan’s daughter?
If you guessed “the girl in the ‘Chinese’ Halloween costume,’” you win! What do you win? Well, a couple of hours trying to figure out just how many ways this dress is offensive.
We also learn from Lani that apparently Mulan’s the kind of mother who teaches her daughter how to bake. I hope she also teaches her daughter how to kill invaders.
Mal’s love potion has the horrible effect of forcing us to sit through another song. Enjoy the nominal compliment of “Did I Mention I’m in Love With You?”
Before the song, Ben makes the crowd spell out her name and my soul curled up and died. This is when I started chugging straight from the wine bottle.
So Mal and Bland Ben date. He takes her to an enchanted lake and delivers an anivllicious speech about how we don’t have to be what our parents are, we have choices, etc., etc. He goes for a swim while she does some horribly synched lip synching. She’s ahead of the chorus pretty much the whole time:
I did a wine spit take when she synched parts of the chorus that her voice wasn’t even audible on.
Bland Ben disappears in the water for a bit, so Mal wanders in looking for him. But she can’t swim and he ends up having to save her. Which — why did she go into the water in the first place? Get help, you moron.
Ben also tells her he loves her, and asks her how she feels. Now, if she were doing her job to further her evil plan, she’d JUST SAY YES. (My friend yelled, “You’re supposed to be an evil genius! This is a make it or break it moment!”) She says she doesn’t know what love is.
We’re also treated to height of modern comedy as Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella struggle to figure out how to use Skype. God, I thought we’d moved on. Chenoweth saves the day again by throwing shade at the Fairy Godmother: “Still doing your eggplant trick? You couldn’t have given Cinderella until 1 AM, really? Did the hamsters have to get on their wheels?”
Mal uses an obvious code to tell her mother that she’s going for the wand at the coronation. The kids are very bad at subtlety. They constantly say things like “where’s you wand?” “Ask your mother to use her wand,” and “hey, how close can you get me to the wand?”
Mal makes an unlove potion because she thinks betraying Ben and leaving him in love with her is a bit too cruel. At the coronation, he says the lake washed off her first spell and he just assumed she was afraid of his ex — Aurora’s kid. So, you know, he’s just in love with her. Oops.
I will admit, the fake out with the wand was well set up. One of Mal’s ploys was to tell the daughter of the Fairy Godmother that she could only make her really beautiful with the wand. So it’s that daughter who grabs it during the poorly-CGIed ceremony. Just grabbing it takes down the barrier of the island the villains are jailed on (god, Auradon has a shitty justice aparatus) and Maleficent shows up just after her daughter convinces the others they can be happy without doing what their parents expect. If you weren’t sure she was coming, the line “Your parents can’t reach you here” was the cue for Maleficent to freeze everyone in the room and mess with them.
Maleficent dragons up, but Mal manages to “shrink her down to the size of her love” so Kristin Chenoweth is now a newt. And Mal and co. are really happy to go back to school, ensuring that they cannot be relatable to any child watching. One more abysmal pop song — and a tease for a sequel in the form of Mal literally saying it’s “not the whole story” — and we’re free.
You know how coronations usually end in a high school dance?
Here’s the thing: messagewise, it’s actually not that bad. It’s basically, “You can be who want to be, despite your parents. Even if your mother is a literal dragon who tries to kill you and your friends.” And the way the four are close friends who accept each other’s growth is nice. Finally, I actually liked Evvie’s arc better than Mal’s. Evvie likes designing and sewing clothing, which she learned to make herself beautiful for her mother’s goals. At school, she learns that the prince is a jerk and that she’s proud of her academic achievements. While also designing the gown Mal wore the coronation. She didn’t reject everything she learned from her mother, but she did grow into herself.
The bad stuff though, the bad stuff makes those good parts hard to find. It is so cheap looking, The beast’s crown is so obviously plastic. Ben enters the coronation hall with the worst greenscreened door I’ve ever seen. The fact that the songs are not synched to the lip movements is a constant distraction. The names of every single character are abominations unto God. And I haven’t yet shared with you their take on “Be Our Guest”:
Jerry Orbach this kid is not.
The premise barely works. The love story fails on a couple of levels, but I’d have forgiven those if the guy playing Ben wasn’t made of cardboard. And every royal hero child but Ben is so awful, you kind of end up rooting for Maleficent. The premise of the kids of villains learning that they don’t have to be evil is cliched, but it could have worked. If the movie had been about 150% less lazily made.
You know what I want from my fairy tale BS? Costume porn. This is what we got instead:
Two of these characters are supposed to be nerdy and less popular. And their costumes — by virtue of looking more normal than like a bargain costume bought from a bin on November 1st at Party City — are way better than the two princes, one princess, and daughter of Mulan here. GOD. At least get this part right.
Also, as the villain kids start fitting in, they lose the pleather outfits, which at least were distinctive, in favor of outfits toned down to fit in better. Death to this.
Armed with a cocktail, a can of beer, and half a bottle of wine, I was much more amused than infuriated. Chenoweth was so good, and newting her means any sequel is losing the only actual actor who had any screen time.
Of course, 6.6 million people watched the premiere. Get ready for a sequel that will likely be rushed into production and end up even worse than this one. So, at least there’s that?
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