Saturday, June 30, 2018

Descendants and my thoughts


I'd heard about the Descendants movie for a while (I mostly remember hearing about the first more than the sequel). How it was based off of a book series (which I have yet to read), but it's taken me this long to give it a try. Because honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it'd be a little cheesy, a little too young for me.

Yes, it is a little cheesy. And maybe at times a twenty-five year-old woman is not the target audience.

But did I find both of these movies adorable and precious? Yes.

Was I delightfully surprised to find deeper messages under the cheesy adorableness and catchy songs? Also yes.

The first thing I noticed was how the Villain Kids' (VKs) parents treated them, and how it affected their children's behavior. The movies don't just have these elements and not carry through the long-term results/consequences. They slip in little hints. Maleficent exploits her daughter, and Mal, though she's a little hesitant at being controlled the way she is, wants to make her mom proud. We see similar patterns with the other three, but in different ways. Carlos' mother (Cruella de Ville) bosses him around in between mothering him like he's a fragile lamb. It's a twisted mix of controlling and caring, and it was interesting to see how it affected the kids.

At first it was just an interesting dynamic between parent and child, but then when I watched the sequel I noticed the long-term effects that kind of treatment had on the VKs, or at least with Mal, Carlos, and Evie.

Mal struggles to maintain her "good girl" status in the sequel, but her facade cracks and shatters until she can't stand another minute of it, convinced she can't be good. She reverts to who she once was, and it takes a lot to convince her that she doesn't have to be evil.

Evie is similar to Mal, but kind of the opposite. She seems to fit the good of the world better than Mal, but she also seems to be uncomfortably aware that she could easily slip back into old habits, ingrained in her by her mother. She makes Ben promise, before they go after Mal, that he won't let her stay on the island again. She fears she will, and she doesn't want to go back. She doesn't like what her mother had turned her into.

Carlos' behavior is a little more subtle, not quite as up front as Mal's and Evie's in the sequel. He, like Evie, seems aware of how he could easily slip backward. When Mal rants at him about her struggles, she asks him if he ever feels the same, if he just needs to yell at someone.

His answer: Not really, because he knows what it feels like to be on the other end of the yelling.

I swear my heart just melted for that precious boy no lie

His mother's treatment of him became traits he won't use with people he interacts with. His mother yelled at him. He doesn't want others to feel like he did. Like Evie and Mal, Carlos still struggles with the things his mom did.

We even see this with these three in the opening number in the sequel:

Mal: Mother always knows best
Evie: Show her. Pass every test
Carlos: Hear her voice in my head

The tones and inflections they use hint at the weight of this expectation, or this struggle in themselves (despite the song's topic, of course XD). That despite being evil, it's already taking its toll on them in different ways.

But despite the mistreatment from their parents, the potential emotional hurts that are still healing, they fight to become something better, because Ben saw their potential. He saw that they aren't their parents. He sees the feud, the bitterness between their parents and his, and the parents of all the other heroes. He recognized that the VKs are not their parents, and he is not his. He gave the VKs a chance to prove themselves on their terms, and in a way, he gave the same chance to his peers too. He still does this in the sequel too, with Uma (who is also experiencing poor parenting from her mother, though we only see a second or two of that).

Just some thoughts after seeing these movies. It was interesting, a pair of movies that seem Disney-level light and fluffy, complete with music and dance numbers, but it also has deeper messages. Even stories meant for younger audiences can have important themes like these seem to, ones that take things a little deeper, a little darker than you'd expect.

But I think that's okay. Descendants handles it well, weaving these elements in subtly, so they only just peek out, but still affect the characters and their behavior, their fears and struggles, and more importantly, carries through with it. Even the fluffiest of movies can have a grain of truth. They don't have to, but it does add an interesting layer of complexity, and food for thought.

Thoughts? :D What other books/movies do this? Does Descendants have anything else like this I missed?

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