03 August 2015

+JMJ+

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 so nobody would be making cracks about single mothers for balance. Aside from being the only father, he is also the only undisputed non-European character and the only one from a "Disney Renaissance" movie. But if they hadn't gone with him, they could have used Captain Hook. (Oh, gosh, now I wish they had used Captain Hook . . .) Anyway, Jafar's son Jay is kind of a cross between him and Aladdin: a street-smart thug with a talent for thievery and a temper that gets him in trouble. I would have envisioned him as more of a worm-tongued politician skilled at manipulating people . . . but then he would have ended up the leader and The Descendants wouldn't be one of those Girl Power propaganda pieces, which I'm sure was the first goal.

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 . . .

How many of their parents can you identify, just by looking at them?

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 America Auradon had to offer . . . my second reaction was to be happy that Lonnie, who could have so easily felt like an outsider, is perfectly at ease in the world her parents helped to create for her. If you think about it, chocolate chip cookies are more her inheritance than anything traditionally Chinese. And we see that if our four "bad" kids want in on her world, they'll have to experience a similar break with the past. (How is that for a moral?)

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:

You are Olaf! Fun, silly, and lots of heart: that's you!

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

10 comments:

Belfry Bat said...

#8 ... an Island called "Neverland"?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

That would be a logical place to put them, but I think Neverland is part of Auradon. The villains' home is called the Isle of the Lost.

And now I'm racking my brains for another Disney movie which already has a place they could have been banished to . . .

MrsDarwin said...

When one has five children going through the dentist, one spends a lot of time in the reception area watching dumb tv, and so I saw, between episodes of the most execrably unfunny half-hour shows, a lot of hype over Descendants. A music video, several making-of featurettes, interviews with the cast members, something about costumes, etc. So, blatantly judging this production by the cover marketing, as Disney seems to intend you to do: this is a cheap cartoon done in live action. The snappy one-liners, the cheap dialogue, the single costume which signals everything the filmmakers want you to know about the character, the paper-thin characterization. It looked like an excuse for merchandising (yep, saw several commercials). Apparently there's a book, which I believe preceded the movie? One of the featurettes showed the actress who played Mal doing a reading at a bookstore.

Disney certainly isn't interested in producing intelligent, clever, musically literate programming on its namesake channel, nor it is interested in fostering the next generation of actors by teaching them any craft, so I have to assume that Descendants is part of the only program for which the Disney Channel showed any real skill: grubbing money.

Sheila said...

Okay, this isn't Disney, but .... I could totally be the child of Westley and Buttercup. In fact my parents are JUST like those two. And I definitely take after both of them.

Funny thinking of them as parents though. Does their brand of "true love" leave room for paying attention to their kids? Would Westley be able to give his kids a stable home, or does he go back to piracy? Hmmmm.

Sheila said...

The villains could be banished to that snowy wasteland Jafar briefly banished Aladdin to.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Mrs. Darwin -- I didn't see any of the promotional spots for The Descendants and hadn't realised, until I was scrounging up images for this post, that it was meant to be Disney Channel's Next Big Thing. Sigh . . .

"Cheap" is the perfect single word to describe the whole thing. It also highlights how insulting this production is for riding on the coattails of some true treasures.

Sheila -- Well, yours is a better answer than mine, at least! I occasionally see characters who remind me of my parents, but have never found a couple who can remind me of both of them at once.

Now I'm imagining the events of Aladdin and the events of Frozen taking place at exactly the same time . . . ;-)

Sheila said...

Oh of course!

I have heard the theory that Aladdin takes place in the far distant future -- because the Genie has been in the lamp for 10,000 years and keeps spouting pop-culture references. Also the shipwreck that kills Elsa and Anna's parents is the same one that kills Tarzan's parents (because the scene appears the same). So ..... I think something won't quite fit there. But perhaps it can be made to, somehow!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Hey, wasn't that an After Hours episode? =D

The Disney universe could also be like the new Narnia and the new earth at the end of The Last Battle: both worlds once more full of all the things they had lost to time, as long as those things were loved by someone who lived there. And if you have to ask how everything manages to fit, then you've missed the point. ;-) But if the new Narnia and the new earth are Heaven, Disney is some other kind of world outside of time. I believe the After Hours crew opined at one point that the Genie was preserving Agrabah inside some magic bubble, which only he could leave at will, bringing things into it from the outside world. The Disney universe could be in exactly that sort of bubble . . . which now begs the question of which characters get to step in and out! Hmmmmmm . . .

Sheila said...

Only comic relief characters voiced by Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy, that's who. ;) I guess most people like the random talking animal who brings up anachronisms constantly .... I kind of hate it. Like that dragon in Mulan. (Though he wasn't the only offender -- that one soldier sang "Wasn't I a fool in school for cutting gym?" and I felt the whole song was ruined! This is ANCIENT CHINA, they do not have gym.)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The Genie was the reason I didn't care too much for Aladdin when it came out. I do love Jasmine and the song A Whole New World, but all Genie's pop culture references were just too much for me. I prefer the "purity" of the films which came before. There's no need to wink at us over the heads of the characters to get us to like you! Just tell us a good story!!!