Twelve Things about The Descendants
12. High School Musical will always be the best Disney Channel movie of all time, but The Descendants can get the award for the Disneyest Disney Channel movie of all time, because no other studio could possibly remake it. Yeah, anyone else could still produce some sort of fish-out-of-water, rags-to-riches, high-school-set, coming-of-age, opposites-attract story with show-stopping numbers (Let me know if I've missed a hyphenated cliche!) . . . but they couldn't also pepper its world with beloved Disney characters you'd know if you met them on Mars. This is the sort of movie you make because you can.
11. But those beloved characters don't take center stage here. As we can tell by the title and the DVD cover, it is their children who get to grab the spotlight. Whose parents can you identify just by looking at them? Answers after the jump!
10. Or perhaps you'd prefer to to match our "bad" protagonists with the Four Cardinal Virtues? It may seem odd to pair villains with virtues, but we could say that each of them learns the virtue that he most needs when he becomes a student at Auradon Prep, the school for the heroes' children. If you haven't seen The Descendants, maybe something in my descriptions of the four will still give you ideas for combox discussion! (Hint, hint!)
9. So how many did you guess right? =) I'm sure you identified Maleficent as a mother immediately. She was one of the most recognisable Disney villains long before she got her own live-action movie--and for good reason. Anyway, that's her daughter Mel, who is as overshadowed by her mother's reputation, ambition, and desire to even the score as the DVD art suggests. (Third best line in the whole movie: "And now you will be making your own memories . . . by doing exactly as I tell you!") I think the writers envisioned Mel's character well, but the direction and acting don't quite follow through.
The Evil Queen is there, too, with a daughter of her own, named . . . Evie. (I can't believe it, either.) And that's an interesting twist, isn't it? For the archetypal Wicked Stepmother comes in two forms: the one who is jealous of her stepdaughter's youth and beauty and the one who sees her stepdaughter as a threat to her own daughters. Evie was a tricky stunt to pull, and I think the filmmakers kept both mother and daughter as two-dimensional as possible because they knew they had no room to do anything more.
At first, I found Cruella de Ville's inclusion a little surprising; but then I remembered that she was dramatic enough to drive the first live-action remake of a Disney animated classic. Now I also wonder, a little more cynically, whether she was also the only white villain who would have been believable reimagined as black. Her son Carlos is afraid of dogs. Yeah, that's his whole personality right there.
Then there's Jafar, who was possibly included only
8. So you may be wondering how the children of villains from different continents and eras all grew up together. Well, think of it this way: you wouldn't bat an eyelash if you ran into all their parents in a single 160-acre area. This is art imitating amusement park.
But of course there also has to be a backstory. And what happened was that the Beast and Belle, after their wedding, were able to unite all the scattered Disney realms and banish all their villains to a single island. This twist creates all sorts of other problems, but it's not even the worst one in the story, so let's all just suspend disbelief and go with it, okay?
7. Villains presuppose heroes, and now that we're this far down the list, I should mention that the latter had children of their own. Goody-two-shoes children, apparently . . .
Hint: some of them are the progeny of supporting characters. When you're done guessing, use your Secret Decoder Ring for the answers. From left: Doug, son of Dopey; Jane, daughter of the Fairy Godmother; Ben, son of Belle and the Beast; Audrey, daughter of Aurora and Philip; Chad, son of Cinderella and Prince Charming; and Lonnie, daughter of Mulan and Li Shang.
6. And would you look at how many of them were raised in two-parent families? If The Descendants had suggested for only one second that this was a factor in which kids turned out "good" and which ones turned out "bad," it would be a far more interesting movie. ;-P
But for all my shiznit stirring, my final word is that good and evil come from within, rather from any external influences (among which I include genetics). I've thought this way ever since I read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess--which, in all truthfulness, came to mind several times while I was watching The Descendants.
If you're "bad," it's because you freely chose to do immoral things; if you're "good," it's because you freely chose to do virtuous things. The accidental things about you can make matters more complicated, but they ultimately have no power to bind you. I'm happy that this is also Disney's moral, but not so thrilled that it is delivered with heaping helpings of "listening to your heart" and "what makes you happy."
5. Yet this is probably the only time I'll give Disney a break for turning teenage rebellion into the virtuous path. For the The Descendants asks some really deep questions, even if it does do so with vocal fry. How much can we say anyone is like his parents--or his ancestors? How much of what we have is inherited (or otherwise beyond our control) and how much is what we have made for ourselves? If our parents have done some incredibly villainous things, how does that affect our relationship with them? How does it affect our relationship with the rest of society? There's a Platonic dialogue that addresses this somewhere; I just know it!!!
You know what they won't get a pass for? Depicting the conflict between virtue and villainy as a struggle between the Haves and Have-Nots. The Prosperity Gospel according to Disney.
4. It's always nice to find complexity where you don't expect it, and that was the case with the character of Lonnie--a fantastic counterpoint to our "evil" four. I was struck by the scene in which she tells her new classmates about the chocolate chip cookies her mother would bake for her whenever she felt sad. Since when does a Chinese girl feels more nostalgia for chocolate chips than for, say, congee? Yeah, I know that her mother is hardly the traditional type, but you'd think food would make it to the next generation. I mean, Lonnie will clearly bake chocolate chip cookies for her own children someday.
This isn't the only way in which Lonnie's Asianness is allowed to be totally accidental to her character. And while my first reaction, as a fellow Asian, was to feel miffed that "our" culture had been dumped so easily for what
3. Lonnie also says my favourite line in the entire movie: "Even villains love their children, right?" (How's that for a six-word memoir?)
2. The only truly unforgivable thing about The Descendants was the decision to turn it into a musical. I'm not embedding any music.
1. You probably already know "which Disney character you are," even if you only took an online quiz like Which Disney Character Are You, Part 1?. My result:
Well, now that I think about it, THIS IS SO TRUE!!! If I had been part of the Frozen gang, I could have said all of Olaf's lines and fit right in. I just would have said them much more sarcastically. I'm a sultry sort of snow(wo)man. (By the way, have you seen my Twelve Things about Frozen?)
But (BAGS!) my father once told me I was Belle, so that is SO TRUE, too.
Anyway, we all know who we would be as Disney characters, but do we know who we'd be as Disney descendants? My mother swears that Merida had me after she finally got married . . . but that's so loaded coming from her that I'm not even going to think about it after this. Instead, I'm going to say that I'm the child that Milo and Kida would have had. And you?
Image Source: a) The Descendants DVD, b) The Descendants cast, c) The old Auradon Prep students, d) The new Auradon Prep students, e) Alex and his Droogs f) Olaf from Frozen