Disney’s latest foray in to live-action entertainment finds the studio dipping back into their vault, but they pull out something entirely unexpected and quite inspired. The alluring conceit in this original feature finds the most evil (and popular) villains from Disney lore have long since been exiled far from present-day Auradon where King “Beast” (from Beauty and the Beast) and Belle are getting ready to allow their son to give his first royal decree. What he says surprises them as he plans to give the exiled kids, who have done nothing wrong, a chance to grow up in Auradon. It’s true, they may be innocent, as it is their parents who are guilty of mischief and villainy, but the kids are not exactly saints. Yet their upbringing has been built on misunderstandings.
These days, you can’t have a Disney movie that’s not a vehicle for song and dance – some of the numbers are catchy (point Kenny Ortega) and do right by the legacy. Further, don’t expect Kristin Chenoweth (the tinsy thespian she is) to make an appearance in a movie chock full of musical numbers and not let wacky side out. But all that is par for the course, so the biggest surprise is that, as mentioned above, this story is live-action.
All of these characters stem from legendary animated tales, from different eras, and yet here they are in 2015, living and breathing, walking and talking. ABC’s Once Upon A Time probably had a lot to do with this as it, being part of the Disney umbrella, showed how effective adults would respond to live action characters, so why not a movie about their kids, and one aimed at kids?
This Disney original feature, which stars Booboo Stewart, Cameron Boyce, Dove Cameron, and Sofia Carson as the offspring of Jafar, Cruella de Vil, The Evil Queen and Maleficent tackles things like prejudices and redemption. Specifically, it shows that it’s all too easy to judge and misunderstand someone due to shadows cast by their parents. So it’s nice to show that bloodlines don’t exactly make someone evil, it’s very much about the environment (which Beast and Belle’s son was aiming to highlight). Change the environment and you can very easily change the person.
The kids are not scared of their parents because they’re evil, they’re scared of disappointing them which speaks volumes to kids everywhere. Also, being told one thing about the world, they soon learn that it’s not everything they were exposed to in their small environment. Mal, Carlos, Jay and Evie are all 16, they are only children, and have only ever lived in one place. Also they are the product of a single parent household.
Little by little, they learn to trust which is something entirely new to them. Without coming across defiant or disrespectful, the story teaches the kids that they can find the strength to stand up to their parents. They have a voice, they can be heard, and they can chart their own course.
Granted these are surface level concepts and mean well, but it just gets a little muddied by the colorful zaniness that might have played better if this were an animated feature. The songs are a mixed bag of styles – from flash mob (with a dub step back beat), to teen pop love songs, to expected songs that just have “we’re evil” written all over it – but they actually are the best parts of the story. It all plays up the story beats about teenagers fitting in at a school they don’t belong. In the end, people let their guards down and become the better for it. Give it a chance, and it may win you over. The story isn’t particularly good, but the message is what’s important and that comes across very well.