Welcome back to Fangirl Film Rambles!
Ale: This time around we’ll be discussing Disney Channel’s hit trilogy The Descendants. I’m Alejandra, but you can call me Ale.
Molly: And I’m Molly! We’ve got a fun one today folks.
Ale: Music! Camp! Hair in all kinds of colors!
Molly: This trilogy comes to us from the hands of one Mr. Kenny Ortega, a filmmaker whose name you might not recognize, but whose work you definitely will, from films like Hocus Pocus and the High School Musical trilogy.
It tells the story of a set of four friends, children of four of Disney’s most famous villains, as they struggle with society, their own self-images, and romance.
Ale: These children happen to live in the Isle of the Lost, a place where all the villains and their associated were exiled after all the Disney kingdoms united. Quite a measure, that… but don’t worry, we’ll talk about that more.
Molly: Indeed we shall because…whoo boy, someone didn’t really think that through until the sequels.
But before that, let’s talk a bit about the very first movie, simply titled Descendants.
The kingdom of Auradon is preparing for the crowning of a new king, Ben, Beast and Belle’s son. For his first act as king, Ben has chosen to invite four children from the Isle of the Lost to live in the kingdom and study at Auradon Prep: Mal, Maleficent’s daughter, Evie, daughter of the Evil Queen (Snow White), Carlos, Cruella de Ville’s son and Jay, son of Jafar. Maleficent devises a plan to use the kids for her advantage and sends Mal and co. to Auradon with a plan. But as the kids adjust to their new life, make new friends and learn about all they’d been missing, they begin to question if they should follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Molly: I’m a big Disney fan, and a big fan of fairy tales in general. And while seeing depictions of the children of famous fairy tale figures is nothing new, exactly (Once Upon A Time, Ever After High) this is certainly an interesting take on the concept.
Ale: It sure is different than any other fairy tale continuation. The concept in itself has interesting implications: should we judge children by the sins of their parents? This is a question the film addresses, albeit with colorful musical numbers and over-the-top costumes.
I had never seen it before, and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed how much fun they had with the concept. They didn’t shy away from the ridiculousness of it, which is a rarity in the grimdark era we live in.
Molly: Agreed. The opening song of this first movie, ‘Rotten to the Core’ is…kind of terrible, to be honest, but the actors are having so clearly having so much fun with it that it’s hard for me to care. Even the absolute worst song of the trilogy, a…very white hip hop cover of ‘Be Our Guest’ is just…so absurdly but cheerfully awful I don’t mind.
And the fact that so many of the actors just decide to go full Tim Curry and chew the scenery like bubble gum is just so great. Kristin Chenoweth, in particular, has a ton of fun as Maleficent, though sadly this is her only appearance as the character.
Ale: It’s fantastic that they got her to do it in the first place. She clearly enjoyed herself making this movie, and it shows. Something I found interesting is how clearly Descendants is aimed at tweens, and how well they know them… As I told Molly after I first watched it, it brought me back to the types of scenarios I dreamt up for fun when I was younger. At some point along the way, some of us lose that, and it is nice to know there are people out there willing to embrace the silly and fun.
That said, the cover of ‘Be Our Guest’ really was so. Cringey. *shudders*
Molly: That’s what makes it so delightful! Sure, I was saying ‘Oh NO…’ the whole time it was happening, but I was saying so while laughing and grinning.
Ale: You have a point. Ultimately I think the film makes a very good argument about choosing our own path while still loving our parents for what they are. It’s a message that is so simple and sounds so obvious but is very valuable, especially for younger audiences.
I do have a legitimate complaint about this film, which is basically the same one I have with many Disney Channel films. And it’s Ben. Come on, Disney, do you have to have a carbon-copied white pretty boy as a love interest every time?
Molly: Yeah, Ben is…not great. Better than most DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) love interests, he actually changes and admits his flaws and mistakes and even privilege to a higher degree than one would generally expect, but still, he’s not great.
Ale: He’s peaches if you compare him to his dad, for sure!
Molly: …and surprisingly, we’re talking about Beast after his curse got broken, sadly.
The Isle kids have adjusted to Auradon life. Being girlfriend to the king, Mal is soon to be named an official Lady of Auradon, and the pressure is mounting. When it becomes too much, Mal decides to return to the Isle, only to discover that Ursula’s daughter Uma has taken over her old turf. Things get complicated when Ben comes to rescue her, and Uma’s gang takes advantage of the situation to get what they want.
Molly: While I enjoy the first movie, I won’t deny that the second is where the trilogy hits its stride. Things get much more…not necessarily more serious I suppose, since there’s a talking dog (that I kind of hate to be honest) but certainly more thoughtful. Things are examined more closely than they were before, to good effect for the most part.
Ale: Wow, what a step-up! As you said, the characters are more developed (especially Mal), there is a less superficial look at the Isle of the Lost, and the music is so, so much better. The highest point for me though was the introduction of Uma. Ursula’s daughter channels her mother in her resentment of the privileges Auradon enjoys while leaving them in the dark. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Uma is my child!
(Yes, I’m Ursula. Surprise! LOL)
Molly: Uma is just…delightful. So well written, so well acted and just…she’s great.
Ale: ‘Say my name’ is a fun song, probably one of my favorites. But can we talk about ‘Space Between’ for like two minutes? What kind of Quality Gay Content… How did they get away with this?
Molly: By putting in even more explicitly gay stuff throughout the movie, leaving this in as a compromise, if the rumors and leaks are to be believed. But yeah, it’s…well, it’s Very.
Ale: Very is right.
I do feel like I have to mention Hook’s son, Harry, just because I found him delightful. Also, I love a Scottish accent!
Molly: Gaston’s son Gil is a delight too, honestly. He’s so simple and good-intentioned, despite his father.
Ale: I suppose he’s the perfect expression of the premise. All that “sins of the father” stuff… Gil’s just a kid who’s paying for his father’s (admittedly loathsome) crimes. And why should he be punished? If he is anything other than good, is Gaston to blame, or is the Isle itself to blame? Or Auradon, a society that marked him as “lost” since before he was born? We’ll discuss this further in the Isle section. For now, let’s move on to–
After an attack on the barrier puts the continuation of the Isle Kids operation into question, a new threat rises, one no one saw coming. Mal and co. will need to recruit the help of Hades’s magic as well as Uma and her pirates to save Auradon, causing everyone to question the divide that exists in their world.
Ale: This movie is packed. There’s a lot that is good in it, but it’s also just a lot. From Mal’s feelings about the dangers of the Isle to Aurora’s daughter rising as the villain, Uma’s story being resolved all the way to Mal’s daddy issues. Crammed is one way to describe it. I enjoyed it, though I did feel like the main theme maybe got a little lost amidst everything that happened.
Molly: Don’t forget Evie’s totally real and not at all a beard romance with the son of Dopey! That was totally essential and valid, and not just an excuse to give Evie a solo!
In all seriousness, however, yeah, this third movie might be a bit overstuffed. And by a bit, I mean a lot. There really is a lot going on in this movie, not all of it essential (looking at you Mal’s daddy issues) but at the same time, I never found myself really getting bored, annoyed, or otherwise unhappy with the film. In fact, I’d go so far as to call this my favorite of the trilogy, musically and story-wise.
Ale: I’d give that to number two myself, though I appreciate that this one did give Mal the agency and decision in the end. It is enjoyable to watch beginning to end. I particularly enjoyed Uma and Mal’s relationship and how it progressed in this film–In fact, I would have been thrilled if all of the films had been focused on that. I love Uma, you guys.
“Night Falls” is my favorite musical number from this one in large part for Uma and her crew. Though the part where the suits of armors dance just ‘cuz was cringy and hilarious more than anything.
Molly: Dancing just ‘cuz was this trilogy’s aesthetic I feel. Especially when it comes to their tradition of a big, campy, over the top number to open each movie.
I don’t think I can really pick a favorite song, I love too many of them, but I suppose if I had to choose it’d likely be the finale.
Ale: Them High School Musical vibes are back!
Something I feel we ought to talk about is Audrey’s rise as the film’s villain. I feel like if there was a point to be made with the Descendants Trilogy, Aurora’s daughter becoming a villain like the ones they tried to hide away is On. Point.
Molly: I can agree with that (gave her a good villain song too as an added benefit). Villains aren’t born, they’re made, and they’re not made due to any single, universal reason.
Ale: Perhaps it is time to talk about the huge, lime green elephant in the room…
Molly: No, no, this is a Disney franchise! All elephants are pink, and they don’t stay in rooms, they’re too busy being on parade!
Ale: Isn’t lime green, like, the official Disney color for evil? That’s how you know none of the Isle Kids are truly evil…
Molly: Huh, never noticed that about the green I mean. Interesting.
The Isle of the Lost
Molly: So…this is a concentration camp, right? Or at least a ghetto. I mean, okay, it’s an island, but still. A group of people, placed in an isolated area with no hope of escape or freedom, simply because of who they are? I mean, sure, okay, the villains, maybe. But the fact that it took the ‘heroes’ 16 years before anyone thought that they were being unkind to the children of said villains is just…disgraceful.
Ale: Here is where I have to give props to Ben. He might have invited the kids to Auradon as a way to seem magnanimous, and he was definitely short-sighted about the privilege he enjoyed, but he at least had the humaneness to think “hey, maybe we shouldn’t punish these kids because of who their parents are.”
I just don’t understand why they didn’t build a prison’ to lock up the villains who actually committed the crimes in them.
Molly: I don’t really know either. I mean…I guess the idea is that a whole island would be more humane than locking them up in cells for the rest of their lives? That’s the best I’ve got on the Watsonian front anyway. Doylist is probably just that nobody thought too deeply about it and just wanted the shenanigans that would ensue.
Ale: Oh my God, you’re right: prison isn’t really very humane either. And you’re also right that this is a lighthearted movie that’s just about the fun. Yet I can’t help but have BIG THOUGHTS on it… I’ll get them out of my system:
All of these children had nothing to do with what their parents did. Yet they are punished and denied opportunities–and cake–and then have the audacity to think they’re hopeless. But they essentially let them live locked up with criminals and threw away the key. They live in poverty, and some under the abusive thumbs of their parents. And they’re surprised when they grow up and form gangs, and steal, and cheat?
Who’s more to blame? Their parents? The environment of the Isle? Or the people who marked them as “lost” before they were even born?
Molly: Seriously. Beast and Belle decided that letting Gaston raise a child would be a morally just action.
Ale: Beast and Belle do come off as the most inept royals in the history of fairy tales here.
Molly: Yeah, for the films’ insistence on focusing on them, it…kind of doesn’t go well for the pair.
Ale: What are they even doing all day after passing down the crown to their sixteen-year-old?
Final Thoughts on the Trilogy
Ale: Descendants is a fun and secretly poignant journey of movies. It is sickly sweet and over the top and campy, and I was surprised at how many times I, a grown-ass woman, found myself giddy watching these movies. I was also surprised at how much that made me cringe. It made me a bit sad for a minute because we shouldn’t find sweet, fun things embarrassing. Yet that’s what happens, isn’t it? We’re taught to lose that sense of wonder, that capacity to enjoy things unabashedly.
I have decided to take a stand against it! Not everything needs to be serious and dark to be interesting, much less valuable. We should let ourselves enjoy sweet, silly things, damn it!
Molly: I agree. Sweet, silly things are just what the doctor ordered sometimes, and I’m genuinely quite fond of these movies! They’re fun, surprisingly well thought out at times (and surprisingly poorly at others) and genuinely just…pleasant.
Ale: And isn’t that just what you want sometimes when you sit down to watch a movie? Good old heartwarming fun.
Molly: It’s what I want, more times than it’s what I don’t!
Ale: * proceeds to play ‘Space Between’ on repeat for a week *
Molly: *Copies you shamelessly*
Fangirl Rambles Rankings
In Fangirl Film Rambles (one-month-old) tradition, we’ve got some rankings for you!
BEST MAL LOOK
Molly: …first movie. I like her outfit in the second movie, but her hair is at its best in the first movie.
Ale: I mourned Mal’s first movie hair all through 2 and 3.
BEST OPENING SONG
Molly: Third movie. Much as I enjoy the other two, ‘Good To Be Bad’ is the best put together, and has a decent message and in character reasoning to it.
Ale: I am very partial to ‘Ways to be Wicked’ from two. Even though the song doesn’t really match the overall theme of the movie that well, it is the one I most enjoyed.
Molly: …why is this here? I’m going to say ‘Space Between’, you’re going to say ‘Space Between’, we know what’s going to be our verdict.
Ale: I just wanted more excuses to mention it. Don’t judge me. *Continues on listening to ‘Space Between’ on repeat.*
BEST HEARTFELT BELTER
Ale: I love ‘Evil Like Me’ from one, but I’ll have to give this one to Audrey’s villain moment in ‘Queen of Mean’. She knocked it out of the park.
Molly: ‘Queen of Mean’ is just a great song, yeah.
BEST SONG OVERALL
Ale: I’ll let you take a guess.
Molly: I’ll even be kind enough to give you a second guess!
WORST SONG OVERALL
Molly: Much as it pains me to admit it… ‘Be Our Guest’, from the first movie. It’s a delightful trainwreck to be sure, but it’s still a trainwreck.
Ale: I honestly say I could not watch the screen. Someone should have photographed my face during ‘Be Our Guest’. Make it stop. Though Ben’s love declaration to Mal in the first one was pretty cringey to me, too.
Ale: Audrey takes the cake here, too. There is just so much in her eventually becoming the biggest bad they faced. Uma was never really a villain, and Maleficent is, well, already Maleficent.
Molly: Same. I…yeah, no, Audrey is great, don’t have much to say beyond that I’m afraid.
WORST BELLE AND BEAST MOMENT
Molly: We never see it, but whenever they decided to create the Isle of the Lost.
Ale: Who proposed it? Who sanctioned it? Where were all the heroes to stop it from happening? Though I guess Auradon is an absolute monarchy because we never see Ben take counsel before making a decision.
Family Day at Auradon Prep was a terrible moment for Beast and Belle as well, from number one.
Ale: Um. Hello? ‘Space Between’ is so gay I thought Evie and Mal were going to elope right then and there.
Molly: That song is…pretty damn gay, but I don’t know. There’s the part in the first movie where Mal remarks that she’s never had a boyfriend because she doesn’t want one, immediately after calling Evie’s eyes pretty and while Evie is grinning at her. And then there’s the part in the third movie where all the other heroes have been turned to stone, and Mal refrains from touching Ben but grabs Evie’s hand like it’s her lifeline.
Ale: I’d also have to give honorary mentions to Jay’s scenes with Harry in two.
Molly: This is true, Jay and Carlos get some good moments. Carols awkwardly asking Jay for advice on asking someone out to dance, for example.
Molly: Evie. Lots of different times, but Evie is definitely the most fashionable.
Ale: Word. Evie makes the trends. I’d like to also take this moment to say Evie is a delight, and I wish she had more screen time and agency. Long live Evie in her starter castle!
Molly: May it have all the mirrors she desires!
Ale: For me, this Hades, for sure! I don’t know what was up with that punk-rock look they went with.
Molly: While I agree that punk rock isn’t an aesthetic I’d ever pick for Hades personally, I can’t really say that I found him all that offensive. Sorry, lesbians are infamous for our poor fashion sense, it’s why there’s no lesbian equivalent to Queer Eye.
Ale: I do find Beast’s lack of formality at royal events very weird. Who’s dressing him?
Molly: …no clue. Weird.
Ale: He also passed down his weird kingly fashion to Ben. Motorcycle gear is not armor! You’ll get skewered!
Well, folks, that’s all for today! We hope you enjoyed Descendants as much as we did. We invite you to watch the films and tell us what you thought in the comments!
Join us next month, when we will be talking about the two most influential adaptations of classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast: La Belle et la Bête (1946) and Disney’s 1991 animated classic.
Molly: Yep, a black and white French movie friends!
…please don’t call us snobs.
Ale: Nous sommes… how you say… not snobs? 😉