I've been skeptical of Descendants ever since it was announced. To me, the idea of any movie linking together all of these different Disney stories and providing information on what "happily ever after" had in store for many of my favorite characters is horrific. The fact that it was a Disney Channel movie doing so made me dread it even more. That being said, I tried to watch this movie with an open mind, I really did. But I just couldn't like it, no matter how hard I tried.
When I know that I want to review a movie I try to take notes during it. Usually I fail at doing that, because I just get lost in the story and want to dive into the film wholeheartedly. This time, however, I never stopped taking notes until the last five minutes of the movie. Some of those notes include:
- Why did they make the castle look like Cinderella's if it's the Beast's?
- Why the comment about Mrs. Potts that's awful.
- OMG Beast has his beast face on his crown, WHAT?
- Why are they slut shaming Evie?
- Jay seems much more like Aladdin's son than Jafar's.
- Kristin Chenoweth can do better than this.
- Why do Maleficent's henchmen look like rejected lost boys?
- How would Doug of all people not know all of the dwarfs' names?
- Why would the Fairy Godmother give up her wand to a museum?
- Why do they all wear heals all the time?
- This is the worst thing I've ever seen.
- "I'm not hideous" because even cool, seemingly confident and proud girls have to be self conscious about their appearances.
- "I hope you like bikes." THAT IS A SCOOTER.
- "We get to choose who we're gonna be" finally something good thank God.
- Wow a bad montage sequence with footage we just saw, great.
- Be Our Guest is the worst thing they could have done I am personally offended.
- Why is Snow White a news anchor?
- Let's just completely reinforce how important it is to be beautiful according to conventional standards, fantastic.
And again, that's just some of my comments (some of which were edited for comprehension and to take out not-so-Disney-Channel-safe language).
I strongly believe that this movie could have been a cute and campy musical full of fun, if not kind of stupid, references to the Disney classics that we all love, but there were many aspects that kept if from reaching that potential. For example, the musical numbers seemed very forced. It felt like they were merely a way to showcase Dove Cameron's voice, with a couple by Mitchell Hope thrown in to make it slightly less obvious. The dance routines were rather weak also, failing to pick up the slack of the less than impressive songs, two things which I never thought would happen in a Kenny Ortega movie. Mal, while at times a relatable and interesting character, also annoyed me because she seemed to have sudden moments of doubt for no reason when she had just been extremely sure of her status as either "rotten to the core" or better than what people assume of her.
My main problem with this movie, however, was that it sent such awful messages toward its viewers, young girls--its target audience--especially. Throughout the film we're bombarded with stereotypes of girls. The idea that physical beauty, as defined by society, is of the upmost importance for girls is repeated tirelessly. Mal's transformations of everyone's hair being the way for her to gain popularity and Jane's unhappiness with her appearance driving her to act horribly both contirbute greatly to this exceptionally problematic idea. The portrayal of Evie is especially upsetting to me, as she is constantly judged for her interactions with boys and with the assumption being shown that she is stupid because she is beautiful. While she does come to find and embrace her intelligence, that is shown to be some giant surprise to everyone, including herself. It's as if no one could believe she had a brain to start with, let alone a bright one. Also upsetting are the ways that the Isle of the Lost and Auradon differ. The "good" people of Auradon are shown to be conventionally beautiful and rich, while the evil inhabitants of the Isle of the Lost have unique styles and appearances and outdated, broken electronics. These portrayals only reinforce the ridiculous and harmful notion that rich, pretty people are good and poor, ugly ones are bad.
The central theme of the movie, that everyone can decide for themselves whether they are good or bad, is a wonderful message. It's a shame, though, that it is delivered in the midsts of awful stereotypes and misconceptions.
(Also let's never forget the disaster that was that Be Our Guest remix. I wouldn't be surprised if Alan Menken leaves Disney forever and Howard Ashman rises from the grave just to slap Kenny Ortega across the face.)