There is a cuteness to the premise that is promptly killed by the awfulness of the show as soon as it opens. One where we have clearly abandoned the fairytale setting for a contemporary one and where the kids are engaged in a dance number choreographed to an utterly processed pop song about how badass they are. (That said, the actual badassery they demonstrate throughout amounts to no more than some petty thieving and using a magic mirror to cheat on a test. In other words, they are Disney juvenile delinquents ones who only need to clean their faces or the modern equivalent, realise their self-worth, in order to turn their lives around). You hate the kids and their self-absorbed glibness from the moment they open their mouths. Did the film really need to cater so much to this and make each of them into prima donnas delivering catty lines and sarcastic backchat to each other?
The main problem here is that the film has been placed into the hands of Kenny Ortega. A former dance choreographer, Kenny Ortega made one of Disneys worst live-action films Hocus Pocus (1993) but crucially also directed the huge hit of the Disney Channel tv movie High School Musical (2006) and its sequels, as well as the subsequent remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Lets Do the Time Warp Again (2016). Descendants is essentially High School Musical cast with the children of Disney villains. Ortega seems to care nothing about the internal consistency of the original stories. Nor even for that matter much in the way of continuity to the originals the very set-up, for instance, has to ignore the fact that most of the Disney films have the parents of the particular children killed off, whereas here they are all alive and imprisoned on an island. Walt Disney would surely be turning in his cryogenic suspension vat at some of the interpolations like seeing Snow White turned into a tv entertainment reporter.
Moreover, the film is shot on the cheap. There is a tatty CGI dragon at the end while the films displays of magic are the banal stuff of childrens live-action fantasy magic hair rearrangements and the like. While the originals take place in fairytale kingdoms that have not advanced beyond the mediaeval, Descendants is incongruously set in the present day where the various characters ride in limos, use laptops, watch television, play Wii games and the like. In other words, the film is no more than someone having gone and lazily obtained the use of contemporary locations and made the most minimal effort at venturing into fantasy because creating a period setting and imagining a teen self-realisation story there would have been too much work. Everything is run over with processed pop songs with meaninglessly bland lyrics that the cast dance and lip-synch their way through without the slightest feeling.
Descendants 2 (2017) is an upcoming sequel.
(Winner in this sites Worst Films of 2015 list).