Friday, February 28, 2014

'Descendants' Movie Mirrors 'Ever After High' (We Hope...)


It would appear that the profitable 'Ever After High pie' has Disney drooling for a piece of their own.

Enter the 'Original Disney Movie, Descendants'. The show's development has certainly been boosted by the high anticipation surrounding the live action Maleficent as well. Clearly, the trend of villain stories and anti-heroes isn't going away any time soon for Disney. While it's been in development for a few months already (it was announced in December, I believe), we now have a release window and format: it's heading straight to Disney Channel, in live action form, and is set to air sometime during 2015.
The Descendants is going to be Disney's original movie that will feature the now teenage children of the heroes and (more specifically the) villains. 
Beast and Belle (of Beauty and The Beast) rule over an "idyllic kingdom" with a son of their own, who's waiting to take over the throne, according to Entertainment Weekly. In his first proclamation, the young prince looks to give some redemption to his not-so-well-behaved classmates Carlos (son of 101 Dalmatians' Cruella De Vil), Mal, (child of Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent), Evvie (daughter of Snow White's the Evil Queen) and Jay (son of Aladdin's Jafar).They all attend the kingdom's prep school with offspring of other Disney favorites like The Fairy Godmother (from Cinderella), Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Mulan.  

The children of Disney's villains are about to face a dilemma of whether to take the evil steps laid out by their parents or to follow the goodness in their hearts.
The famous High School Musical director will be directing Disney Movie Descendants with the script written by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott (The Starter Wife, Runaway Bride). Mark Hofeling, another High School Musical veteran will be in charge of the production design for the Disney movie "Descendants."

Disney Channel, despite some decent animation series in their offerings, doesn't have as stellar a track record with it's live action shows, other than High School Musical. Despite the credits of those involved being noteworthy, I still have my doubts about this. My guess is, if the movie does well, it may have the option to branch into a series.

The movie's redeeming factor - and the one thing that will set it apart - is that it will be focusing on the Disney VILLAINS' offspring, rather than all the possible offspring. It has good potential using this emphasis, but I'm very leery of the live action approach in comparison to the other Disney live action shows. Kitsch is just too easy a trap to fall into with whatever formula it is they use, but we'll see. Hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised.

But why, do you ask, am I hoping that Descendants will mirror Ever After High? (At least, in some respects.)

Far from first impressions, Ever After High is, to coin a phrase from critics of The Lego Movie*, "far better than it has any right to be". Seriously. The designs are crazy-girly, the animation has a lot of flash bopping about but the characters, their development, the writing and the story lines are ridiculously good. Even the designs have far more to them than first looks imply. It's yet another one of those things I've been dismissing, only bothering to give it another look because respected fairy tale author, Shannon Hale's name remains attached.

I'm really glad I did.

Here's the premise (from Wikipedia), in case you have no idea what I'm talking about:
The Ever After High storyline is based on the lives of the teen children of famous fairytale characters who are destined to follow in their parents’ footsteps in order keep their stories alive through the generations. If they do not, these stories will cease to exist and the characters will disappear. 
The main characters are Raven Queen (daughter of the Evil Queen), who is unhappy with her destiny, and Apple White (daughter of Snow White), who is destined to "live happily ever after." Raven would prefer to create a new destiny for herself, while Apple White believes that if Raven changes her own story. this will put her own "happily ever after" in jeopardy. The school gets divided into "Royals and Rebels". The Royals are supporters of Apple who also know they will have a "happily ever after" and are content (even enthusiastic) with their fates. The Rebels are supporters of Raven who prefer the idea of creating their own destinies. Many disagreements and fights result between the groups.

When I finally took the time to have a proper look, I was truly surprised that something so 'fluffy looking' had so much real fairy tale soul. In fact, I would bet that there are a LOT of fairy tale references in the dialog, plots and designs that are completely missed by those not up on their slightly-more-obscure fairy tales reading. And I LOVE that! For the EAH fandom (which is growing fast) who are really getting into the characters (and they really are!) there's always more to mine and if you take time to peruse the EAH fandom Tumblrs you see the discussions border on 'Buffyverse depth' at times (if you're not Buffy-savvy, that means it's a good thing).

The fandom are getting into the ideas so much they're looking up the 'original' tales for themselves so they can better speculate motivations, among other things, and discovering other lesser known tales they'd like to see explored as well. Here's an example in 'Ever After High Confessions' format:
I want a child of the princess and the pea, and I want them to either have insomnia or be a sleep walker. I feel like it’d work with the princess and the peas story line.You could even make that character constantly worried that because of his/her insomnia or sleep walking, they won’t be able to follow their parents story right. It’d be a super intense storyline. I’d LOVE IT! (Source)
HERE's my original post about the toy line and series before it premiered. You may notice the bit about "is it 'scarier' than Monster High?', meaning, are little girls everywhere in for another disturbing dose of pop-sexism? Surprisingly, the answer is 'no, they're not'. In fact, those 'out there' concerns, commented on by Tumblr people when they heard the announcement of the dolls (eg, "...this is giving me some serious NO REALLY THIS IS F***ING DISTURBING feelings regarding fate and free will and the fact that some of these kids are expected to have no choice beyond ultimately dying in unbelievably gruesome ways..." ), are specifically being addressed - smartly! - by the writing. And all this effort is primarily for A TOY LINE.
Clearly, someone understands just how influential dolls can be and has chosen to not only give them what they think they want (sparkle, girly, glitter, pink, SHOES!), but dose it liberally with real issues and embed it with some meaty tale explorations.

Thank you Ms. Hale!!

I discovered this by realizing I hadn't really given the series the time of day and that Ms. Hale's work deserved better attention than that so set up the Ever After High Valentine's Day special to record as a reminder. Cleaning out the DVR last week I let the special run while I was doing other things "just in case there was anything worth noticing, fairy-tale-wise". Boy was there ever! I went back to watch the whole thing without distractions and, although I couldn't stop wincing at the over-the-top sparkly-curlicue designs (and the thinness - although they are not as thin as the Monster High dolls - and the crazy high shoes) I was amazed at how layered it was.

How they/Ms. Hale, struck this balance, I have no idea. It feels as ridiculous on the surface as the 'pinkest' shows out there (I know, you know what I mean) and yet... we have a truly girl-empowering show (and - surprise - boys too!) that sneaks in really solid fairy tale motifs, themes, plot lines and archetypes with many a modern twist. While 'choose your own destiny' seems like a simple enough premise at first, the Ever After High treatment of the (very large) topic has more gravitas than much of what I've seen come out of Once Upon A Time on the same theme.

Take, for instance, the True Hearts Day special, in which Valentine's Day celebrations have been banned because of the danger that the kids might consider people other than their 'destined partners' as potential mates. This all comes across as 'our fun party has been sabotaged by the meanie school principal' but you look closer and realize a key antagonizer in this episode is Odile, the 'false', black swan from Swan Lake and you start to get an idea of the layering.

At the end:
-- SPOILER ALERT!!!!--
 (highlight the space below to read the text)
The kids are able to give their (physical) valentine tree hearts to the person of their choice and while it's completely expected that Cinderella's daughter (Ashlynn), who is in love with a 'rebel' (the Huntsman) instead of her destined Prince Charming, finally gets the courage to stand up to her friends and choose him no matter what their response will be, the surprise is that Apple White (Snow White's daughter, who has a serious problem with the Evil Queen wanting her own destiny instead of ending up Evil and thus guaranteeing Apple's preferred happy ending) gives HER valentine heart to her friend, Cinderella, saying "although I don't always agree with your choices, it doesn't mean you're not still my friend."
Gasp! I did not see that coming. Nicely done, Ms. Hale!
--END OF SPOILERS--

(Once again), I feel embarrassed by my initial dismissal of the show but even if it's too sparkly for your taste to sit through, you can be comforted in knowing that any girls (and boys) watching, will be getting good content. REALLY good content. And that the main things the girls buying these dolls are thinking about are not so much fashion and make-up but the issues of free will, destiny, responsibility and choice.

If you'd like to read more, you can currently get ebook samplings of the writing for free for the Kindle HERE by downloading various character stories (one link hooks you up to the others. There are six different character stories available for free download. To catch up you can watch the webisodes (which have already aired on TV) HERE (note: as girly as it looks, you may want to pay close attention to the various designs used. There's been a lot of research and thought about story going into all that as well), and, as of this week, you can also read the first two chapters of the second Ever After High novel, The Unfairest of Them All, for free on your Kindle HERE (the whole novel will be released on March 23rd).

Whether or not Descendants has any of the same type of substance as Ever After High has proven to have, remains to be seen, but we are hopeful... After all, once you start taking a closer look, fairy tales are rarely as dismissible as people are led to believe.

Additional source: HERE

*If you haven't yet seen The Lego Movie - see it. It has mythic aspects to it and is a wonderful, affirming ride to the land of make-believe.

9 comments:

  1. I'm assuming Descendants will likely spawn a doll line as well.

    I'm probably going to write a blog post about this stuff on my own blog soon since I tend to focus on both fairy tales and popular culture (geekily-ever-after.blogspot.com). I'm no expert in girls' toys (for good reason), but I will say that while fairy tale princesses are hardly new to the world of fashion dolls, it seems that it has never been done with this level of world-building attached before. I also didn't know Shannon Hale was attached. That's very interesting.

    I'll also say that I'm jealous. I had the idea of a "fairy tale high school" a while back and never did anything with it and now Fairy Tale High, Ever After High, Disney Descendants and the book The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chiani have beaten me to it. "He who hesitates is lost".

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  2. I'm addicted to ever after high

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  3. Disney's Descendants is just a rip-off of Ever After High
    And they dare to call it "Original movie"
    I love Ever After High and I doubt descendants is gonna be as good as EAH
    ����

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    1. The Descendants movie is a sequal to the book The Isle of the Lost by Melissa De La Cruz, in case you didn't know, and it is in no way a rip-off of EAH. Don't get me wrong, I love EAH, but I think you are being unfair. De La Cruz was probably writing her book before Mattel even started making the EAH franchise, let alone the series. Just because someone has an original idea that is similar to someone else's, doesn't mean that it's a rip-off or that they copied the other. Both parties probably weren't aware that of what the other was planning, let alone that they had similar ideas. Also, considering Descendants is based off of the Disney interpretations of classic fairytales, and EAH is based off the fairytales themselves, I'd say they are different enough to be sure that neither party copied the other in any way.

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  4. This is a big ripoff. I mean, really? They go to a school for the sons and daughters of fairytale characters, and don't act much like their parents. And their names are just lame. For example, Carlos.

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    1. Descendents is a sequal to a book by Melissa De La Cruz. She wrote the book before the EAH show came out, so I don't think it's a rip-off. And I happen to like the name Carlos, and the character himself. Not to mention that saying the name is "lame" is kind of offensive to people with that name.

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    2. Movie came first, book published in 2015 to act as a prequel to the movie. In terms of fictional timeline, book came first; however, the reality is movie first and EAH has been in circulation for several years.

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  5. Two of you folks are correct that Descendants rips off Ever After High. Honestly, is the Disney Channel that obsessed with making stuff out of teenage stereotypes? EAH (Ever After High) might somewhat have those closed-minded beliefs. But at least, it teaches children more lessons that Descendants ever could. Besides, that DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) seems to shove teen stereotypes and over-the-top humor down the throats of many undergrown people.

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  6. Glad that I'm not the only one who believes that Descendants rips Ever After High off. Can you believe that my brother obsesses over that Disney Channel Original Movie like he obsesses over many of those other DISN (Disney Channel) Original things with teenage stereotypes?! What's more is that that feature's now his favorite film of all. Pathetic.

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