Descendants 2 (2017) Review

Stretching the definition of ‘Original’ almost to breaking point, Disney Original Movie “Descendants 2” takes us back to the world where all the Disney Classics have been reimagined and remixed into a glossy tween fantasy soap opera.

As Mal (Dove Cameron) struggles to acclimatise to a life of being good, back on the Isle of the Lost, resentment is growing amongst the villains left behind, particularly Uma (China Anne McClain), daughter of Ursula the Sea Witch. When the pressure gets too much, Mal rashly decides to return to the island. King Ben (Mitchell Hope) and her friends travel in disguise to the island to bring Mal back but Uma is waiting for them and puts her plans into action.

This bright and breezy sequel was actually one of the most anticipated movies of 2017 in the Craggus household, at least in the four-year-old audience quadrant. Returning director Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical”) doesn’t want to mess with what apparently worked the last time. He sticks to the status quo, so we get more syrupy, overproduced, auto-tuned musical numbers and a cast of colourful characters dressed from the “Suicide Squad” wardrobe department’s reject bin. Rather than the start of something new, the story sees Mal gradually drifting back to her old ways. We know she’s starting to succumb to her evil instincts because as she slowly returns to being a bad hombre, her newly platinum blonde hair develops a really bad ombrée. The theme of being bad by birth yet being given a chance to bop to the top is what powered this exploitation of Disney’s back catalogue and the sequel looks at what it takes to stay there while giving another protagonist the task of breaking free from their circumstances.

The performances are a little better this time around, although not all of the cast have made the same amount of progress. Dove Cameron’s performance is still a little flat but Sofia Carson is much much better. Of the newcomers, it’s China Anne McClain who impresses the most, stealing the movie from the returning cast in every scene she features in. Side stories about the other ex-evil teens seeking dates for the forthcoming Cotillion provide opportunities for the some of the background characters to step forward a little with Mulan’s daughter Lonnie (Dianne Doan) getting a much more prominent role. Carlos (Cameron Boyce) gets a fun storyline with a magically talking dog but the film doesn’t use it nearly enough.

There’s a sense of cost-cutting in much of the early scenes – many of the streets of the Isle Of The Lost are clearly redressed studio corridors but the money’s clearly been saved for a lavish pirate ship set – admittedly used for a well-choreographed rap battle and swashbuckling battle – and some ever so slightly ropey CGI as the movie keeps trundling on past its natural endpoint (it’s one minute shorter than the first one but feels about half an hour longer) to deliver a SyFy Original-style rehash of the ending of “The Little Mermaid”.

“Descendants 2” is every bit as twee and derivative as the first one, albeit now cynically confident that it’s a viable franchise rather than a lavish one-off. It may leave this Disney fan cold, but it was a smash hit with its target audience which means the promised but thus far unconfirmed threequel is almost a certainty.