Disney Writers Spark Conversation via ‘Descendants’

DESCENDANTS - The teenage sons and daughters of Disney's most infamous villains star in Disney's "Descendants," a live-action movie that - with a knowing wink at traditional fairy tales -  fuses castles with classrooms to create a contemporary, music-driven story about the challenges in living up to parental and peer expectations. Made for kids, tweens and families, the movie premieres FRIDAY, JULY 31 (8:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney Channel and Friday, July 24 to verified users on the WATCH Disney Channel app and WATCHDisneyChannel.com. (Disney Channel/Jack Rowand) SOFIA CARSON, CAMERON BOYCE, DOVE CAMERON, BOOBOO STEWART
Sofia Carson, Cameron Boyce, Dove Cameron, and Booboo Stewart star in the Disney Channel’s Descendants. Photo: Disney Channel/Jack Rowand.

Of course, we all love our kids. However, those awkward, drama-filled teenage years can be brutal. Now, just imagine having to parent one of Disney’s Descendants!

Believe it or not, there are some very familiar themes in the upcoming Disney Channel original—as well as some familiar faces and a whole lot of new music. If it sounds a little like the fairy-tale version of High School Musical, that’s no coincidence; the live-action movie was helmed by Kenny Ortega, who serves as director, choreographer, and executive producer.

Set in the idyllic kingdom of Auradon, the film starts off with Ben (Mitchell Hope), the teenage son of the Beast and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Just as he’s about to take the throne, Ben offers a shot at redemption to the spawn of Disney’s most infamous villains. Mal (Dove Cameron) is the daughter of Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth), Evie (Sofia Carson) is the daughter of The Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy) from Snow White, Carlos (Cameron Boyce) is the son of Cruella de Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson) from 101 Dalmatians, and Jay (Booboo Stewart) is the son of Jafar (Maz Jobrani) from Aladdin. After being banished to the Isle of the Lost for 20 years, the four are invited to attend prep school alongside the teenage progeny of the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Mulan. Will the teens follow in the wicked footsteps of their parents?

DESCENDANTS - Stars of the upcoming Disney Channel's movie "Descendants" and its director Kenny Ortega were the guests of honor at a screening party held at Disney Studios in Burbank, California on Friday, July 24.  The contemporary, live-action adventure tells the story of the teenage sons and daughters of Disney’s most infamous villains. "Descendants" premieres Friday, July 31 (8:00 p.m. ET/PT) on Disney Channel. (Disney Channel/Image Group LA) JOSANN MCGIBBON (WRITER/CO-PRODUCER), SARAH PARRIOTT (WRITER/CO-PRODUCER)
Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott are writers/co-producers for the Disney Channel’s Descendants. Photo: Disney Channel/Image Group LA.

Not if writers Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon have anything to say about it. Okay—maybe I should have included a spoilers tag. However, this is a Disney movie, people.

And that’s pretty obvious, if you’re paying attention. In fact, families should try to spot all of the Disney references throughout the film. Sara and Josann, who are currently celebrating 30 years as writing partners, have pointed out a few favorites, including the use of “hi ho” as a greeting and the spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty. There are also a whole bunch of nods in the Fairy Godmother’s “Goodness” class, which the kids have to take when entering Auradon Prep.

There’s plenty to talk about after the film as well. Besides encouraging your kids to watch some pretty cool Disney classics, Descendants weaves the topics of self-confidence, finding the beauty within, freedom of choice, personal responsibility, teamwork, justice, and empathy into the film’s 112 minutes. To help fuel a little post-movie chatter, Sara and Josann gave GeekMom six topics to spark conversation between families and kids watching Descendants.

Sara says:

  1. “You have to choose to be good. Circumstances or background may influence you, but in the end, one needs to choose to be good.”
  2. “Do not let people label you, nor should you label others. It’s very easy to buy into a label—Evie thinks her label is ‘beautiful,’ but she learns she is so much more. Carlos thinks dogs are ‘vicious pack animals’ until he encounters Dude.”
  3. “You can change. Things can get better. It takes reflection, strength, and support, but you can overcome circumstances to become the person you want to be.”

Josann says:

  1. “Listen to that voice inside you that is telling you right from wrong. More often, this is going to apply to peer pressure or other personal impulses. Remember you have a choice to do the right thing.”
  2. “There is true pride in accomplishment, especially from hard work.”
  3. “Face your fears. Some fears make sense and are smart to have. But some fears really cut off your options and make life less fun. When Carlos finally meets a dog, he realizes how wrong he’s been to be afraid all his life. Maybe there’s something you can learn more about that will make you less afraid.”
DESCENDANTS - With a knowing wink at traditional fairy tales, Disney's "Descendants" fuses castles with classrooms to create a contemporary, music-driven story that introduces Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay, the teenage progeny of Disney’s villains. It premieres in Summer 2015 on Disney Channel U.S., followed by Disney Channels around the world. (Disney Channel/Jack Rowand) DOVE CAMERON, KRISTIN CHENOWETH
Dove Cameron and Kristin Chenoweth star as mother/daughter team Mal and Maleficent. Photo: Disney Channel/Jack Rowand.

Descendants airs Friday, July 31 at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on Disney Channel. The Descendants DVD will be released the same day.

History Geek: Golden Age of Hollywood

On the last day of my history camp, I used a projector to have the kids partake in one of the favorite past times of The Great Depression: Going to the movies.

One of my all-time favorite books is Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade because I love knowing the inside stories about movies. Several birthdays ago my husband bought me an enormous bag of truffles and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. It was a great present. I loved how the movie business was shaped; the image of Hollywood that still persists: glamour, drama, endless possibilities.

The 1930s are firmly in the Golden Age of Hollywood, though I would say it’s more the Setting of Cliches Age, from plotlines (invention of romantic comedies) to music (composition of Adagio For Strings). Or maybe it was called “golden” because movies were so much a part of American life. Comparing the 1930s to today, weekly American movie attendance has dropped from 77% of the population to 11%. I asked my campers why they thought this was so, and we started a good discussion about movies and entertainment in general. They could not imagine a world in which you had to leave your house and buy a ticket in order to get any visual news, sports, cartoons, or comedy shorts. That ticket may have only been twenty-five cents, but it was still a lot of money, especially during The Great Depression.

What I (and the student campers) were most surprised about learning, was censorship. Until the 30s, there wasn’t much; the movies reflected sex, violence, and language in everyday situations. Then came the Legion of Decency which threatened to boycott the movies if the production companies didn’t abide by their demands. A code was formed prohibiting many things including: nudity, profanity, white slavery (yeah…that’s interesting), and “excessive and lustful kissing.” Before the code, there were movies in which single women had sex and were not considered sluts! After the code, that was a no-no. So many people think that movies from long ago reflect what the actual people were like. But they were doctored up as much as “reality” TV is today.

I also had fun asking the kids to guess what the most popular movie of all time was. They kept naming recent films, but Gone With The Wind blows every movie out of the water.

We watched clips of films including The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, and Shirley Temple movies. They enjoyed the short cartoons much more than they thought they would. And I enjoyed showing them one of my all-time favorite movie scenes.

If you find American culture and arts just before World War Two as fascinating as I do, check out a General Cultural History or, with a focus on movies, The Golden Age of Hollywood. If you have a young one in the house, the American Girl Series has an excellent character set in the 1930s: Kit Kittredge.

One of the reasons I chose the 1930s as a subject for a children’s camp was because we are currently in a recession, and the kids around me are feeling it. By looking at a Depression, they can learn from the past, and understand that SERIOUSLY, it’s not that bad now! When we discussed why movies were so popular back then, I pointed out that one of the industries in the past few years that has actually gone up during our recession is the movie theater business. They realized that both during the Depression and our current recession, movies are an escape. TV and the internet have certainly cut into movie time, but theaters will never go away.

There is something about leaving the house, sitting in a dark theater with a large group of people, the big screen, sweeping music…we forget who we are for awhile. That experience will always be golden.