It’s hard not to love the Descendants movies. They’re cheesy as hell, Disney fan fiction in excessively vibrant living color, but they’re just so delightful. I aged out of Disney Channel Original Movies long before High School Musical (2006) came around, and it seems only right that Descendants is what brought me back. This is a franchise for adults who grew up with the Golden Age of Disney as much as it is for kids and pre-teens still growing. Even more than the first, Descendants 2 is designed to make you smile from start to finish. I dare you to try not to.
Directed once again by Kenny Ortega (also of High School Musical fame), Descendants 2 picks up where the 2015 original left off, with the sons and daughters of Maleficent, the Evil Queen, Jafar, and Cruella de Vil successfully rehabilitated at a school for the children of Disney royalty. They’ve successfully shed the baggage of their villainous parents, but Mal (Dove Cameron) is still struggling with her identity. She runs back to the Isle of the Lost, a prison for all the villains and their children, because she believes that she is not good enough for her kingly boyfriend and her no-longer-rotten-to-the-core friends. It’s a simple but very relatable character arc for anyone, teenagers and beyond, who has lived through or still struggles with insecurity and low self-esteem.
By the end of the movie, Mal learns that the self-doubt she experiences will never really go away, but it becomes manageable with the help of her friends. The sequel also provides Mal with a compelling foil in Uma, Ursula’s piratical daughter (China Anne McClain), who ultimately wants the same thing as Mal and the other formerly bad kids (i.e., freedom for the inhabitants of the Isle). Despite Mal and her boyfriend’s best efforts, Uma refuses their offers of empathy and clings to the power that villainy gives her. Honestly, she’s a bit like a watered-down Disney version of Cersei Lannister, trapped by a family legacy and insisting that she’s thriving, when really she’s falling apart in a cage of her own making.
Needless to say, Uma and her first mate, Harry Hook (an upsettingly alluring Thomas Doherty), are excellent additions to the Descendants cast. The sequel wisely pulls back from the hopelessly boring “good kids” (with the exception of Dianne Doan’s Lonnie, daughter of Mulan, who was barely a blip in the first movie) to give the new villains time to shine. This movie is better for it, a rare sequel that learns from its predecessor’s mistakes.
Also better? The songs, by a league. The musical component of Descendants left a lot to be desired, but Descendants 2 amps up the quality and gives us a soundtrack that is a thousand times catchier than it has any right to be. Highlights are Uma’s killer villain song, “What’s My Name,” and the smoothly educational “Chillin’ Like a Villain.” I also really appreciate the fact that this movie’s big ballad number, “Space Between,” isn’t a duet between two love interests but rather two best friends who know their paths are diverging but will always have each other’s backs. It’s surprisingly touching, and much more engaging than a boilerplate love song.
For those without cable (like me), it’s certainly worth catching Descendants 2 on DVD. The movie itself clocks in at a little under two hours and flows well without commercial breaks, while the bonus features also include about two hours of content. The longest is the first season of Descendants: Wicked World, an animated show that takes place between movies. With its three-minute episodes, it’s a fun supplement featuring a handful of new characters that didn’t make into the sequel, undoubtedly making it a favorite among the smallest and most obsessive of the franchise’s fans. Both the “Cast Secrets” and “Bloopers” featurettes are disgustingly charming, giving the curious a little peek into the movie-making process and some of the antics the teenaged cast got up to on set.
Meanwhile, the “Deleted Song & More” section provides an extended version of “Space Between,” a couple short alternate endings that hint at sequels to come, and a deleted song called “If Only,” performed by Cameron and intended to take place before the movie’s climax. Cameron’s solo ballad in the first movie was its weakest and most plodding song; this one is no different. Even though it’s barely a minute long, Ortega made the right decision cutting it.
Descendants 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and it has just enough content for both children and adults to make it a family favorite. Just don’t be surprised if your kids start teaching you the dance to “Chillin’ Like a Villain.” You can return the favor by teaching them “The Time Warp” when they’re older.