In case you haven’t heard the latest buzz: the Disney Channel has an enchanting Original Movie, Descendants, airing July 31, 2015, at 8PM. This live-action musical film, helmed by award-winning director/choreographer Kenny Ortega (Xanadu, Dirty Dancing, This is It, and High School Musical franchise), picks up 20 years “happily ever after,” rockin’ with pure-driven entertainment. Under the monarchy of King Beast (Dan Payne) and Queen Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy), royals and heroes like Fa Mulan and her husband, Shang, roam the United Kingdom of Auradon. However, the most infamous villains such as Maleficent (Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth), Cruella De Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson), the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy) and Jafar (Maz Jobrani) are banished to the Isle of the Lost. More importantly, the fate of their teenagers is at stake. All eyes are watching these youth; Mal, Maleficent’s daughter (Cameron Dove), Carlos, Cruella De Vil’s son (Cameron Boyce), Evie, the Evil Queen’s daughter (Sofia Carson), and Jay, Jafar’s son (Booboo Stewart). I have 5 Reasons Why Descendants Reigns:
- Movie has Empowering Themes! “Descendants” is smartly written for today’s generation with wry humor and real-life situations, but doesn’t come off preachy. The screenwriting team of Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon (Runaway Bride) created this masterpiece, celebrating more than 30 years of partnering to create strong, character-driven theatrical releases. Characters organically develop, while pursuing various journeys in this twisted fairytale. As life would have it, the storyline demonstrates how the villainous teens are initially following their parents’ criminal behavior until destiny intervenes. While Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of King Beast (Dan Payne) and Queen Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy), prepares for his coronation ceremony, he makes one request that rocks the kingdom. Grant the teen villains admission and provide living quarters at Auradon Prep. Prince Ben believes these youth can make better life choices if given improved opportunities. Aha! Both the antiheroes and the “royals/heroes” have a blueprint for gaining an upper hand in this situation. Unfortunately, the adult criminals deny their children freedom of choosing good rather than evil.Instead, Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth) constantly pressures Mal (Dove Cameron) about stealing Fairy Godmother’s (Melanie Paxson) wand to regain magical powers on the Isle of the Lost. The Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy) is bent on convincing Evie to use her magic mirror to help locate the magical wand that’s hidden in the Kingdom of Auradon. At the same time, the Evil Queen influences Evie to use her outer beauty – not brains to find her own “Prince.” Cruella De Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson, “The Game”) takes advantage of her own disdain with dogs by teaching Carlos (Cameron Boyce) to be dangerously fearful. Along with being a petty thief like his father, Jafar (Maz Jobrani, “Dragonfly”), young Jay (Booboo Stewart) is extremely guarded and doesn’t make friends easily. However, the royals aren’t that innocent. Without spoiling the plot, you’ll find lots of turns in this fairytale. Prince Chad Charming (Jedidiah Goodacre) may not be a good catch for any princess-in-waiting. Two other precocious teens are Jane (Brenna D’Amico), daughter of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson) and Princess Audrey (Sarah Jeffery), daughter of Princess Aurora (Sarah Jeffery) and Prince Phillip (the couple from Sleeping Beauty). Jane (Brenna D’Amico) and Princess Aurora (Sarah Jeffery) give mischief a whole new definition. You’ll find plenty of defining moments in within this magical storyline, where every teen learns a thing or two about fate!
- I can’t stop Singing & Dancing! From the very moment we’re introduced to the slums in Isle of the Lost to the grand fireworks finale at Auradon Palace, my toes were tappin’ and fingers snappin’. There are several musical numbers, and each song escapes to another world. The first big musical piece, and one of my favorites, is an edgy Electronic Dance Music (EDM) number called “Rotten to the Core,” written and produced by Joacim Persson, Shelly Peiken and Johann Alkenas. We’re first introduced to the teen villains; Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart), who perform amazingly. Thanks to Kenny’s top notch choreography, the footwork is unbelievable, including a few “Thriller” movements if you look closely. As Maleficent, Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth performs a daring mother-daughter, Broadway-style duet, “Evil Like Me” with Mal (Dove Cameron).Written by Tony-nominated composer, Andrew Lippa (“The Addams Family” and “Big Fish”), this mesmerizing sequence is a show-stopper! “If Only” is a haunting ballad written and produced by Adam Anders (“Glee”), Nikki Hassman, Peer Astrom and performed wonderfully by Mal, while she picnicked at Lake Enchantment with Prince Ben. At the Auradon Palace, “Set It Off” is a dance-pop anthem written and produced by Sam Hollander (S*A*M*, “Train” and “One Direction”), Josh Edmondson, Grant Michaels, Craig Lashley, and Charity Daw. It’s performed at the end of the movie by Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce), Jay (Booboo Stewart), Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), Princess Audrey (Sarah Jeffery) and Jeff Lewis. This grand finale is sequenced amongst a crackle of fireworks, dancers and drumlines. “Believe,” the final song played during the end credits, is a chart-topping single by teen sensation Shawn Mendes. It’s also written also and produced by Shawn Mendes, Geoffrey Warburton, Glenn Scott, and Martin Terefe. All of the song and dance numbers are infectious.
- Costumes Made for Royals & Runways! First off, a huge round of applause to Kara Saun (“Project Runway,” and “America’s Best Dance Crew”) and her design team for creating more than 1,000 fashionable costumes! She nailed it! You distinctly experienced each of the main character’s natural evolution through every costume change. It’s no wonder Kenny describes Kara as his new favorite person. With styles ranging from edgy punk to couture fit for royalty, costuming this group might be considered challenging. However, Kenny says Kara was the perfect person, and such extremes are actually Kara’s specialties. “We came into rooms together and all of us sort of found the language of the movie,” says Kenny Ortega.Kara and her team then went about creating textures, colors and symbols for each teen villain, further distinguishing their development. She coined the “Descendants” Isle of the Lost’s iconic punk-style “dirty candy” colors, while comparing the Auradon Palace royal elegance as cotton-candy. One particularly stunning gown among the many regal pieces was this purple pleated lace chiffon with a long, flowing train worn by Mal (Dove Cameron) for the coronation ceremony. Purple followed the color swatch created exclusively for Mal (Dove Cameron) that includes a dragon symbol, along with the colors of magenta and “poisonous” green. The coronation was the high point for Mal (Dove Cameron), evolving from “punk to princess.” Kara was inspired by Prince William and Kate’s wedding for many of the costumes for coronation scene. Because Evie (Sara Carson) hoped to be a future queen and was the daughter of the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy), she was personified by crowns and hearts, with shades of blue and black. Jay (Booboo Stewart) has a hard edge, and is represented by cobras. He also wears lots of leather – until he joins the tourney team. Of course, Carlos (Cameron Boyce) donned dog symbols in the black, white and red swatch of mommy dearest, Cruella de Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson).
- Spellbinding Cast! You’d never know that many of the cast came to the set without true formal dance training. However, choreographer extraordinaire, Kenny Ortega, is known for conjuring greatness. His choreography team included assistant, Paul Becker (“Mirror, Mirror”), who’s currently in Toronto, Canada, choreographing the Pan Am Games’ closing ceremony. Along with Judy Taylor, head of Disney Casting, they selected and developed a phenomenal cast! The mother-daughter relationships were exceptional. Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth (Maleficent) paired with daughter, Mal (Dove Cameron, “Liv and Maddie”) was magnificent! Veteran actress Kathy Najimy (“Sister Act” franchise and “Hocus Pocus”) as the Evil Queen paired with newcomer Sofia Carson as her daughter Evie were also a great match. The relationships demonstrated the constant battles that moms and daughters often face during the difficult teenage years. Both Carlos (Cameron Boyce, “Jessie”) and Jay (Booboo Stewart, “Twilight” franchise and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) were believable as boys seeking parental acceptance and placement on the boys’ tourney team.Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), King Beast (Dan Payne, “Alice, I Think”) and Queen Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy, “Once Upon A Time”), were splendid as the royal family of Auradon. Again, Prince Chad Charming (Jedidiah Goodacre, “Tomorrowland”), and his precocious sidekicks, Jane (Brenna D’Amico) and Princess Audrey (Sarah Jeffery, “Rogue”) were indeed mischievous. Other heroes are simply kind-hearted, and fun like Doug (Zachary Gibson), the son of Dopey, and Lonnie (Dianne Doan), daughter of Fa Mulan and Sheng.
- Setting was Sensational! Though a banished placed for villains, Isle of the Lost was a colorfully desolate slum, while United Kingdom of Auradom pristinely glowed. Production Designer Mark Hofeling (“Teen Beach Movie” and “High School Musical”) and his team cleverly exposed the variants of both worlds: exemplifying further opportunities available once off the island. Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth) reigns on pauper’s row filled with graffiti, street vendors and farm animals. She, along with the other villains haggle and steal to survive. Magic is banned here until you get off the island. However, Evie (Sofia Carson) still has her magic mirror. Yet, Maleficent’s balcony has a grand view of Auradon Palace, which is a magical bridge ride away! Off the island, Auradon Prep was reminiscent of Yale or Harvard with stuffy uniforms and games like croquet and tourney. Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson) is in charge of magic at the school, and uses it at whim. Mal (Dove Cameron) has her own book of spells, and works with Evie (Sofia Carson) to locate another wand. While the United Kingdom of Auradon had an air of haughtiness, where you could slice goodness with a butcher knife, everyone eventually warmed to the villains. “Descendants” is a must-see family film!