Descendants (TV)
R1 - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (6th September 2015).
The Film

Although his coronation is days away, sixteen year old Prince Benjamin (Mitchell Hope) of the United Kingdom of Aurodon announces his first proclamation: the children of the Island of the Lost will be allowed to attend Aurodon Prep. Despite the disapproval of his father Beast (Dan Payne) and his mother Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy), Ben believes that the children are innocent and not responsible for the acts of their banished parents. He selects for the trial run "rotten to the core" quartet Mal (Dove Cameron), daughter of Sleeping Beauty's nemesis Maleficent (Kristen Chenoweth), Evie (Sofia Carson), daughter of the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy), Carlos (Cameron Boyce), the dog-fearing son of Cruela De Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson), and thief Jay (Booboo Stewart), son of Jafar (Maz Jobrani). Although the kids would rather not go to school with a bunch of goody two-shoes, Maleficent sees it as the perfect opportunity for them to steal the Fairy Godmother's (Melanie Paxson) magic wand so that she may achieve world domination. Although Ben and Fairy Godmother headmistress welcome the quartet to the school, others are not so pleased: particularly Ben's girlfriend Audrey (Sarah Jeffery), daughter of Sleeping Beauty. Given separate rooming and a brand new course in Remedial Goodness, the quartet are not interested in mingling and making friends, but Ben encourages Jay's interest in sports by getting onto the Tourney team where he impresses the coach (Reese Alexander) and teaches Carlos that dogs are man's best friend rather than the vicious pack animals his mother told him to fear and despise. Meanwhile, Dopey's regular-sized son Doug (Zachary Gibson) pines for Evie but she wants a prince, and Chad Charming (Jedidiah Goodacre) just wants her to do his homework for him. When the quartet are unable to steal the Fairy Godmother's wand from the museum where it is on display since she only uses it for special occasions preferring to foster inner knowledge and beauty Mal tries to get close to ugly duckling daughter Jane (Brenna D'Amico), giving her hair a magical makeover but telling her she needs her mother (and her wand) to give her the full Cinderella treatment. When Doug lets slip that the Fairy Godmother will be using her wand to bless Ben at the coronation, Mal decides to cast a love spell on him but it is she who is starting to fall for him as he continues to look for the good in her and the others. Mal's hairstyling abilities make her popular with the image-obsessed student body including Mulan's daughter Lonnie (Dianne Doan) Evie thinks she has her prince in Chad, while Jay and Carlos become Tourney team stars; however, their popularity is short-lived as Chad reveals his true colors and Audrey humiliated when Ben dumps her for Mal turn the student body against them and Audrey's grandmother Queen Leah (Judith Maxie) humiliates them in front of the other parents. As the coronation nears, Mal and the gang have to decide whether they really are their parents' children or if, as Ben says, they have the power to choose good or evil for themselves.

What happens when you give let choreographer Kenny Ortega, of Hocus Pocus and Newsies, direct a Disney movie? You get a lot of movie that is twenty minutes too long thanks to some terrible dance sequences and forgettable songs and Disney typically failing or outright neglecting to develop some potentially interesting themes and further explore the ambiguities of nature and nurture when it comes to good and evil. Performances are not so much bad as subject to the convenience of plot turns (and perhaps footage consigned to the cutting room floor to keep the film under two hours while retaining the tedious song and dance sequences), but some of the young performers coming across amiably (Boyce seems awkward at first until his puppy-like mannerisms become evident) while the older performers' screentime is cut to the bone so that Beast goes from intolerant to understanding from one scene to the next (making one wonder how he got to be king). Paxson, so annoying as quirky moms in television commercials, should be a better foil for Maleficent since Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters do not show up (nor does Cinderella for that matter), but she is also caring and wise or ditzy depending on the scene. Although she is playing a fairy tale villainous, Chenoweth's theatricality does not work on the small screen with the exception of the film's single good song number (Sister Act's Najimy, The Game's Robinson, and Jobrani strangely make no impression whatsoever). The production really should have been animated as the Disney Channel did not afford the film a healthy enough budget. The Island of the Lost looks like a third world industrialized sweat shop (with Maleficent's lair garishly decorated in drag queen chic) while Aurodon is Canada, with Hatley House overfamiliar to viewers of Smallville, Arrow, the X-Men films or horror fans for Poltergeist: The Legacy or The Changeling standing in as the prep school (they would have been better off with a unconvincing matte painting of a more storybook castle). The CGI effects are bearable although the Maleficent dragon is nicely-designed but poorly-realized, but animation might have made the choreography look more fantastical than pseudo-Parkour. In the end, Descendants is just another attempt to cash-in on intellectual property on which they have staked copyright claim, to cash-in on their own High School Musical franchise, and ultimately to sell related merchandise including books, wallet and phone cases, character dolls, T-shirts, backpacks, diaries, costumes, and sleep sets among other items (of which there are plenty for the film at the Disney online store).
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Video

Disney's dual-layer DVD provides an adequate if unspectacular progressive, anamorphic widescreen encode of this television production (if anything, an HD presentation might just bring out how much more tacky it can look). Colors are well-rendered without distortion but a softness in some of the exterior scenes, particularly the dance scenes, suggests production haste more so than moody filtering.
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Audio

Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 English and 2.0 stereo tracks in French and Spanish (as well as subtitles in all three languages). The 5.1 track has some okay surround effects and good separation but is, like the image, unspectacular. The musical scenes do not really have the umph one hopes for and only Chenoweth really seems as though she is singing (or at least able to believably lip-sync herself), but the music is not one of the elements worth savoring.
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Extras

#Mal (4:30) is a social media montage of highlights from the film and stills that will annoy anyone old enough to use social media. backstage dance rehearsals (7:31) finds director/choreographer Ortega, the cast, and dancer extras gushing about the production in between rehearsal video excerpts (which do include the actors actually singing on set). The bloopers (2:16) features a lot of goofing off and the actors laughing at things that only they find funny. The sneak peek for "Descendants: Wicked World" runs a mere nineteen seconds that reveals the sequel to be animated (and cheaply at that). Also included are a digital download code and a bracelet (made in China). This disc features the Disney FastPlay feature which allows the viewer to go from the start-up trailers straight to the film or to skip to the main menu before the trailers commence.
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Overall

The Film: D+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: D+ Overall: C+

 


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