MOVIE REVIEW: Descendants 3

written by David Steffen

Descendants 3 is the third in a series of musical action Disney Channel original movies, and was published on The Disney Channel in August 2019. The kingdom of Auradon is perfect, and populated entirely by Disney movie heroes and their kids (who are somehow all within a few years of each other in age, despite the Disney movies being set in significantly different technological time periods and regions). All of the Disney movie villains and their kids are exiled to the gloomy Isle accessible to only a few, except the few VKs (villain kids) who were allowed out of the island to integrate with Auradon society a few years ago.

Mal (Dove Cameron), daughter of Maleficent, is the most famous of those, since she is dating King Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of Beauty and the Beast. Her VK friends who were released before are Evie (Sofia Carson), daughter of Evil Queen from Snow White (and they never thought of a better name for that character), Carlos (Cameron Boyce, who passed away before the movie was released), the son of Cruella de Ville, and Jay (Booboo Stewart), son of Jafar.

Mal and her friends visit the Isle in an official capacity to pick a few more VKs to integrate into Auradon society. As they’re leaving, the powerful villain Hades (Cheyenne Jackson), attacks Mal with his magical ember, and appears to almost succeed, starting a new panic among the citizens of Auradon who are afraid that they will never be safe, and Mal proposes closing the Isle forever.

Meanwhile, back in Auradon, Audrey (Sarah Jeffery), daughter of Aurora, after years of always feeling second best to Mal, takes this opportunity with so many of the rulers being out of Aurodon to visit the Isle, and steals several magical items from the museum where they’re stored and starts to make her own power play.

The music in this movie was the best of the three yet, and was more varied in style–the other movies went for a kind of uniform pop aesthetic with a bit of a punk flavor (an approximation of it, I should say, it is still the Disney Channel), this one mixed in some different styles like 80s rock ballads.

I found the plot harder to get into than the other ones, because there wasn’t a clear villain. You find out quite early on that Hades is Mal’s dad and it becomes pretty clear that he wasn’t actually trying to kill her when they faced off at the boundary of the Isle. And the conflict about sealing the Isle is so artificial I found it hard to relate to–as Hades points out, he’s not even a regular villain, he is literally the god of the Underworld, they should just let him out and do his Underworlding. And never in all of this do they consider just… finding a way to provide the Isle with more resources to live on. Auradon is the land of plenty, but the villains and their kids are literally starving within their enclosure, and though there are those sympathetic to the VKs, everyone in general blames the villains and their kids when they really seem to just be surviving as best they can in general.

And especially given that Mal was a VK, and knew what it was like to live there, it was very hard to relate to her in this movie, when she decides to close the barrier for good, especially given that it’s her Dad, which she doesn’t really think was trying to kill her, gets in a skirmish with her. It appears that her whole stance on this was set up entirely so that she can have a change of heart to give the story a moral, but at this point, and given her history, the moral is sort of a “duh” moment that she had already reached two movies ago and only reverted for plot purposes.

So, I wouldn’t expect big things from the plot, especially in terms of Mal’s character. The soundtrack is probably the best of the three. And I think this is Cameron Boyce’s last movie if you want to remember him fondly, he passed away at an unusually young age.

MOVIE REVIEW: Descendants

written by David Steffen

Descendants is a 2015 Disney Channel original live-action musical movie based in the United States of Auradon where each kingdom is based on an iconic Disney movie, but 20 years later.  Twenty years before marked the end of ALL of the Disney movie stories, when the now-united kingdoms all apparently vanquished their biggest villains simultaneously, and locked them away on a magicless prison island to leave Auradon safe.

Prince Ben’s (Mitchell Hope) coronation is near.  He is the son of Belle and Beast, the rulers of the Aurodon, and Ben has decided that his first official proclomation will be that he will start giving the second generation of the island a first chance at a decent life–the villains have had children on the island and those children are likewise confined.  As part of a pilot program, he chooses Mal (Dove Cameron, of Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie)–the daughter of Maleficent, Evie (Sofia Carson)–the daughter of Evil Queen of Snow White, Carlo (Cameron Boyce, of Disney Channel’s Jesse)–son of Cruella DeVille, and Jay (Booboo Stewart)–son of Jafar.  The reluctant teenagers are invited to become students at Auradon and try to rehabilitate there, and they’re pressured by their parents (especially Maleficent) to accept the invitation in order to find a way while they’re in Auradon to unlock the barrier securing the prison island.  But soon they find that there are things that appeal to each of them about living in Auradon.

This movie is reasonably fun, and has plenty of eye candy for teenagers, whether you like boys or girls.  The songs are decidedly pop, but some of them are quite catchy, especially “Did I Mention”.  The main quartet of actors are very likable–we initially watched it because we like Dove Cameron on Liv and Maddie–while being just rebellious enough to chafe at the standards of Auradon which is sort of a utopian fairy tale world especially with all the villains locked away (and apparently no new villains presenting themselves in that vacuum).  I particularly like Evie and her playful smartass attitude.

It’s… not a premise that holds up under close examination, or… even casual examination.  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for all of those Disney movies to be coincidental in time while also being geographically located close enough that uniting them makes any kind of sense.  Jafar being present implies one geographical area and time period, while Mulan implies a completely different one, while Cruella DeVille implies much more modern and a different location again.  Maybe you could explain this all away with some kind of unprecedented collision of parallel worlds, but otherwise the premise makes no sense whatsoever.  And the fact that all of these heroes and all of these villains all have kids at the same age, despite the villains and heroes themselves very often not having been the same age–i.e. Maleficent is a fairy, and I always got the impression she was a pretty old one, so why does she have exactly one daughter who happens to be the same age as everyone else’s kids?

Along the same lines, the backstory is pretty muddled.  It makes offhand references to the origin movies of the characters, such as mentioning poison apples or Maleficent not having been invited to Aurora’s christening.  But there are also a lot of details that don’t fit in with the original continuity–particularly the survival of villains who died in the original films.  So it’s not really clear to me how I’m supposed to accept the original movies as their backstory when there is clear evidence that that’s not the case.  I’m sure I’m overthinking it, but that’s what I do.

Bit of a spoiler: This one also depended pretty heavily on one of the main character’s using a love potion, which is an element that’s creepy as hell–maybe it’s understandable since she has been pushed her whole life to be evil, but it did bother me how little a consequence for slipping the soon-to-be-king a magical drug that robbed him of choice had. (note that the song I mentioned as being particularly catchy was an immediate reaction in the plot of the movie to the love potion)

But, anyway, if you like catchy pop musicals that are heavy with Disney camp, but you don’t care too much about backstory and continuity making sense, then you might like this movie!

There is also a sequel released in 2017, and another in production after that.