Beneath its autotuned bubblegum pop Suicide Squad aesthetic, Disney’s Descendants 3 (2019) is packing a surprisingly pointed critique of Trump era politics
Disney’s Descendants movies are big deals in the Craggus household, at least in the under-10 demographic where this latest instalment has been awaited with an eagerness that was only surpassed by me in relation to “Avengers: Endgame”. And like that ultimate crossover, “Descendants 3” sees heroes and villains old and new come together to face an existential threat to their universe, bringing the saga to, if not an end, then a very clear close of a chapter.
As the Kingdom of Auradon prepares to welcome a new intake of four Villain’s Kids from the Isle Of The Lost, King Ben (Mitchell Hope) decides the time has come to propose to Mal (Dove Cameron). But this proposal doesn’t sit well with one person in particular and so they steal Maleficent’s magical staff and set about reshaping Aurodon to their liking.
In addition to the usual fodder about honesty, destiny, friendship and forgiveness, there’s an added poignancy to this third Descendants movie given the sad death of Cameron Boyce at the age of 20 shortly after completing work on the movie. It’s a sweet enough epitaph that, if nothing else, confirms that we’ve been robbed of an immensely likeable and talented young performer before he’d had a chance to realise his full potential. His character Carlos, son of Cruella De Vil, is fairly settled in this third chapter with the lion’s share of the drama going, as usual, to Mal who is forced into an uneasy alliance with former foe Uma (China Anne McClain) in order to save the day.
With the experienced hand of director and choreographer Kenny Ortega at the helm once again, the dance routines are as fresh and polished as you’d expect – a dance battle with enchanted suits of armour is a genuine highlight – and even the songs this time out are notably catchier than before even if the tendancy to over-produce and auto-tune some of the vocals means it can be hard to distinguish who’s singing in some of the ensemble numbers.
The story this time is a little more focussed and disciplined than previous instalments so it clips along at a decent pace as the gang race to find the magical artefacts and the power of cooperation that will allow them to save the day. It’s in its final moments, though, that it reveals a surprisingly mature take on its frivolous fantasy setting and, given the entire story could be seen as a cautionary parable about the obsessive fear of outsiders blinding people to the dangers of homegrown bad actors (the actual performances this time out are fair to good and an improvement on the previous films), there’s a welcome streak of mischievous subversion in the bold proclamation that the path to a better, happier, more just world is to tear down the magical barriers separating the two lands and allowing the people to come and go as they wish.
“Descendants 3” is a frothy, fairy tale piece of fluff that happily passed the time – and delighted its target audience – with a genuinely touching and emotional coda as it pays tribute to its very own lost boy.