Springing out of the same demographic impulse as the High School Musical series, the 2015 Disney Channel Original Movie Descendants is a loving tribute to the more camp aspects of Disney’s history. A tale based on the flip side of happily ever afters was pure meta fun, the irresistible playground that TV’s Once Upon a Time or the comic Fables plays in.
In this sequel, the four children of evil characters have settled in life in Auradon. However, faced with the pressures of being “engaged to be engaged to be engaged” to King Ben (Mitchell Hope), girlfriend Mal (Dove Cameron) dreams of being ‘wicked’ again. So she takes off to the Isle of the Lost, but soon falls afoul of Uma (China Anne McClain), the daughter of the tentacled Ursula.
Where the first film had an anarchic and fourth-wall breaking charm to it, DESCENDANTS 2 plays it completely straight. From a narrative point of view, this means a clean reversal of the first film, with the ‘bad kids’ returning to the island, rather than trying to be ‘part of your world.’ The other major change is the almost complete absence of adults, which means we lose the delightful scenery-chewing antics of Kristin Chenoweth and Kathy Najimy.
The young stars more than hold their own as the focus of this outing, even if their story framework is a little on the thin side. The talented Cameron Boyce (as Carlos de Vil) gets a meagre scrap of an arc than involves asking a girl to the Cotillion/prom, albeit one that involves an amusing talking dog. Sofia Carson makes the most of her screen time as Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen, but poor Booboo Stewart is sidelined almost completely, save for a subplot that introduces Dianne Doan as Lonnie, the daughter of Fa Mulan and Li Shang.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the new villains who steal the scene, with actress/singer McClain a terrific screen presence. They also get the best songs, with her introductory gambit “What’s My Name” a showstopper. The hip-hop based “It’s Goin’ Down” is a similarly upbeat showcase for McClain, even if it is an ensemble piece. Having said that, Cameron and Carson’s “Space Between” is a strong torch song for the original stars, although we struggle to remember any of the lyrics.
Culminating in a CG monster battle that shows the limitations of the television budget, DESCENDANTS 2 may not be as consistently strong as the original, but it has a lot of charm in its own right. As the closing song fades out into its own party remix, we get more than a few hints that a third chapter is in the works. If its half as fun as the first two films, that couldn’t possibly be a wicked thing at all.