Two years ago, someone at the Disney Channel had the brilliant idea to do an original movie about the children of classic villains, with Hocus Pocus and High School Musical 's Kenny Ortega directing. In case you haven't already gathered, it was aptly titled Descendants. To give you a semi-brief synopsis, all "V.K'S" (a cute, villainous spin on the acronym for "preacher's kid") and their parents are banished to the Isle of the Lost, created by Belle and Beast (yep, that Belle and Beast). Their son, Ben, invites 4 V.K.'s to participate in his reform program of sorts, in the celestial land of Auradon. Maleficent (played by the always magnificent Kristin Chenoweth) sees this as an opportunity for her daughter, Mal (Dove Cameron), to attain Fairy Godmother's wand to break the isle's barrier. Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy) encourages her appearance-obsessed teen Evie (Sofia Carson) to find a prince, while Cruella De Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson) urges her son Carlos (Cameron Boyce) to stay away from dogs. Jafar (Maz Jobrani) wants his thieving spawn, Jay (Booboo Stewart), to come back with some goodies. Each youth feels immense pressure to live up to their parent's iconic wickedness; Mal in particular. Executing Maleficent's plan runs accordingly, but the kiddos warm up to Auradon. Mal develops feelings for Ben, Evie learns she can rely on herself, Jay successfully channels his aggression into sports, and Carlos grows an affinity for dogs and explores his aptitudes in technology. The so-called "good kids" antagonize and snobbishly turn their backs on them though, including those that seemingly befriended them. This gives the quartet affirmation in their plot, and you're ready to see them succeed. However, they choose Auradon when push comes to shove. Mal goes on a tangent about how amazing love is, which whiffs of Disney's history with problematic romance tropes. To boot, she turns her mother into a small reptile. The rest of the parents are left watching their offspring party at a coronation on television. This is supposed to be the "right" outcome, but it doesn't feel that way. You're a little disgruntled the kids abandoned their parents and neutered themselves to stay where they weren't wanted. Then, before Mal's eyes glow green, you hear the hopeful final line: "You didn't think this was the end of the story...did you?"
Descendants 2 (written also by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott) opens with our V.K.'s turning Auradon's citizens out with "bad" apples, but it's just a daydream of Mal's. Her trademark purple hair has been dyed blonde and her leather duds have been swapped out for frilly, bright-colored dresses. Her high-profile romance with Ben has escalated to her impending status as a Lady of the Court, which is described as an "engagement to be engaged." She tries to confide in her friends that it's all making her skin crawl, but they've blissfully assimilated. Evie even admonishes Mal for not handing over her spell-book to the local museum, like Evie did her magic mirror. The museum...where there's an exhibit dedicated to the exile of their parents. *Shakes head* Instead of making mischief, Mal's been using the book to shape herself into a cookie-cutter Stepford girlfriend, but that doesn't matter to Ben. He makes it clear he wants no part of "Mally from the Block:" "I was giving you props for fitting in so well...this isn't the Isle of the Lost!" Prince Not-So-Charming doesn't realize how condescending his remarks were until he gets Mal's "Dear John" letter, relaying that she's gone back to her 'hood. He enlists her squad to help him find her and apologize. Mal ends up having to save his tail, as he's been kidnapped for wand ransom by Uma (China Anne McClain). Uma's the daughter of Ursula, and she has a long-standing beef with Mal. Her henchmen--I mean, pals--are the sons of Captain Hook and Gaston, Harry (Thomas Doherty) and Gil (Dylan Playfair).
Doherty "hooks" you (see what I did there? Velveeta!) with his frenzied and deranged portrayal, making you wish his role was more pivotal. McClain briefly over-acts, but quickly settles in nicely as a nemesis. Uma is defiantly unyielding and isn't looking to be "saved." I especially enjoyed it when she responded to Ben's pity tactic with a reminder that life on the isle is only dismal because of his family, and "rescuing" 4 kids solves nothing. Ben later says that Uma helped him see that the isle's inhabitants are his people too, and he asks for Uma's guidance on making a difference. Adults will appreciate the real-life implication here, as social "reconstruction" efforts are often near-sighted, smug and covertly supercilious. Further, the creators of such efforts often fail to consult those they seek to assist. Another worthy socio-political undertone is Jay's advocacy for a female to join an athletic team, disregarding gender-biased statutes.
My irritations with the falling action aside, Descendants 2 was an entertaining and wicked-cool (see what I did there again? Haha) follow-up. There were great additions to the cast, aesthetical and musical upgrades, and valuable story "morals" (despite detractions). I can't wait to see the next one. Until then devils, stay "rotten to the core."