Descendants 3 (2019)

It’s Good to be Bad!

Everyone’s favorite Villain Kids are back for the third and (supposed) final installment of the Disney Channel’s Descendants, which splashed its way onto our screens back in July of 2015. With Kenny Ortega at the helm — the dude responsible for breathing new life into the Disney Channel Original Movie with the High School Musical series — this kid-friendly musical-fantasy-adventure was destined for Mickey Mouse greatness, Ortega wholly in tune with what the channel’s audience was eager to see — pretty people, flashy song-and-dance ditties, and an overall cheerful, feel-good vibe. And, voilà, it was a Disney-sized hit.

‘You can’t sit with us!’

With Ortega donning the director’s cap for the third time, Descendants 3 doesn’t stray too far from the trodden formula (it’s pretty much what we’ve come expect), giving us plenty of light drama and laughs, kid-friendly action, and a stack of upbeat tunes, also managing to squeeze in some positive and timely messages for youngsters. The film’s chief theme, this time, is that of ‘tearing down barriers’ (both literal and figurative); throughout its 106-minute runtime (slightly over-long if you ask me) characters learn that people from all walks of life should be free to ‘live the dream,’ as we humans are all capable of doing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ deeds no matter what side of the railing we hail from: the initial premise is that the Isle of the Lost, a cut-off landmass surrounded by an enchanted barrier, prisons all of Disney’s devious felons — think Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook and Gaston — along with their offspring, while just a stone’s throw away is the United States of Auradon, a peaceful kingdom that’s homeland to all of Disney’s classic heroes, such as Queen Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy) and King Beast (Dan Payne), who govern the land.

This new picture (surprise, surprise) opens with a pulsating musical number, ‘Good to Be Bad,’ which sees VK’s Mal (daughter of Maleficent — played by Dove Cameron), Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen — Sofia Carson), Jay (son of Jafar — Booboo Stewart), and Carlos (son of Cruella de Vil — played by the late Cameron Boyce, whom this film is dedicated) visit the Isle of the Lost just before recruiting four lucky villain kids to take to Auradon Prep, in turn giving them a chance to ‘be good,’ despite their parents’ nefarious history.

Bad Apple

Of course, the proceedings are rudely interrupted by a barrier breach by none other than Hades (Cheyenne Jackson), the blue-flame-haired Underworld Ruler, which causes Mal to re-think her whole ‘reforming young kids’ strategy, the soon-to-be queen — who, literally minutes ago, accepted a proposal from squeaky clean Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope) — still living in fear of Uma (China Anne McClain), Ursula’s little girl, who vowed to one day return to wreak havoc on all of Auradon at the close of the former film.

Thus, with a heavy heart, Mal contemplates the unfathomable, closing the magical gateway for good; however, little does she know that, right under her very nose, within the confines of their safeguarded walls, a new threat emerges in the form of the jealous Princess Audrey (Sarah Jeffery donning a new hairdo and outfit), Ben’s fiery ex-girlfriend, who declares war on the rehabilitated Mal for taking away what was rightfully hers: the chance to rule the realm beside Ben — she was, after all, born on the right side of the mystical fence, being the descendant of Aurora and Prince Phillip.

‘Villain hair … don’t care!’

Directed with the same gusto and flair as the previous two outings, Descendants 3 is a great time (that’s if you’re into cheesy musicals); sure, it’s obvious that the majority of the movie has been shot on soundstages, and the acting is daytime soap opera level (for the most part, anyway), but Ortega makes the most of his modest budget — the CGI, unfortunately, is so-so at best — delivering when it comes to next-level dance numbers and catchy pop tunes. With a playlist that features eight new tracks (or thereabouts), the musical portions are what really comes to mind; noted, some of the vocals have been auto-tuned so heavily that the performers are no longer recognizable, but the songs are still catchy and boppy in their own right — so who really cares?

The apex is the track ‘Night Falls,’ a song-and-dance act set against a choreographed sword-fight, which sees protagonist Mal and her VK pals team up with villain Uma, along with her sidekicks Gil (Gaston’s boy — played by Dylan Playfair) and Harry Hook (Thomas Doherty), in order to face-off, well, dance-off against an army of magically animated castle knights — this one is a lot of fun. And just like the aforementioned, most of the show-stopping musical bits are accompanied by intricate, top-notch dance routines — Ortega serves as the choreographer on all three Descendants pictures — along with vividly colored sets, props and striking costumes, each with enough visual intensity to burn their way into audiences’ retinas.

It’s goin’ down …

Other noteworthy musical stops include Sarah Jeffery’s big, bad solo, ‘Queen of Mean,’ in which our antagonist, lured by Maleficent’s wicked scepter, gets to smash up the Auradon museum and steal the crown (well, a tiara really); then there’s the rock-y daddy-daughter duet ‘Do What You Gotta Do,’ performed by Dove Cameron’s Mal and Hades, who’s revealed to be her father — does anyone else hear a sample of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s ‘Takin’ Care Of Business’ here?

A ton of old faces return along with a handful of eager newbies — there’s undeniable chemistry between the young stars, enough to forgive some of the corny delivery. Making a welcome return, Uma and her lackeys have been neatly woven into the narrative — China Anne McClain is admittedly on par with Sofia Carson as the flick’s strongest vocalist — while Dove Cameron’s ‘M’, a character that’s grown and matured over the trilogy, looks steller in her luminous locks (velvet purple with streaks of cobalt blue this time) and tight leather getup — yes, I dig Cameron, and this is her best turn as Mal to date, crafting a strong, edgy, self-possessed heroin that young females everywhere can look up to. Anna Cathcart’s Dizzy Tremaine is sidelined (bummer), with the film’s biggest new role going to young’un Celia (Jadah Marie), the daughter of Dr. Facilier (Jamal Sims) — the Shadow Man from The Princess and the Frog (2009) — who gets to sing, dance, and muck about in some of the action scenes.

Wicked moves

With energetic direction by Kenny Ortega, and returning female scribes Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott capping things off rather nicely, the story coming full-circle — the final moment is a fitting send-off, paying homage to the very-first musical number, ‘Rotten to the Core’ — Descendants 3 is sure to be gobbled up by the thirsty fanbase (has anyone come up with a name for this fandom yet?). While certainly not the crown jewel in the all-singing, all-dancing fairytale saga — that title still belongs to number 2 — the Disney Channel have really sketched out something special here, the Descendants being the first DCOM to have conjured up two sequels since the days of High School Musical — that’s gotta count for something, right? (Shame one wasn’t released theatrically, though.)

Those desperately wishing for a fourth chapter, however, might probably be out of magic fairy dust as D3 is the first in the series not to conclude with the line, ‘You didn’t think this was the end of the story, did you?’ So, I’m guessing this may be Happily Ever After for our VKs.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by S-Littner

Descendants 3 is released through Disney Australia