Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Disney Descendants Adoption Movie Review
Belle and Beast have united all of the Disney fairytale worlds into the Kingdom of Auradon, and in their 20-year reign they have banished all villains to the magicless Island of the Lost. Now that their son, Ben, is an adult, they are preparing to cede the Kingship to him. As his first royal act, Ben reaches out to the Island of the Lost, hoping to make a bridge to the children of the villains. He invites four to come to Auradon – Carlos (the son of Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations), Evie (the daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White), Mal (the daughter of Maleficent from Cinderella), and Jay (the son of Jafar from Aladdin). Before the kids leave the Island, Maleficent orders them to steal the Fairy Godmother’s wand so that the villains can extract revenge and return to prominence. The children of villains then must live side by side with the children of the enemies of their parents.
The Adoption Connection
Government officials take teenagers away from their ill-thought-of parents and bring them into an upper-class community where they are welcomed by some, but viewed with suspicion by others. These teens must decide whether their parents’ past actions will dictate their own future ones. One character admits that she is “sometimes” afraid of her mother, and expresses that her mother “gets so angry when I disappoint her”. The parents encourage their children to misbehave in their new environment. Kids in foster care might see a connection to their perceptions of their own circumstances.
This film does show that kids can make better choices than their parents, and also portrays the importance of trust and kindness to kids in situations similar to foster care; when they are treated poorly, the teens – already in an unfamiliar and not-yet-comfortable situation – fall back to negative behaviors.
The film shows the power of positive expectations.
Prince Ben asks a just question – even though the villains have been rightly banished, “Their children are innocent – don’t you think they deserve a chance at a normal life?”
The teens have to work through an unhelpful – and untrue – lesson that they’ve been taught by their parents, that mischief runs in their blood. They feel pressured by their parents to misbehave in their new environment (which will, unfortunately, be familiar to some kids in foster care.)
A character is told, “Don’t focus on the past or you might miss the future.” Ideally, a teen would be able to understand and integrate their past, present, and future. The best antidote to a mournful longing for the past isn’t just to be told to forget it.
A character suggests to another that her mother must not love her, since she hasn’t given her a gift that she particularly wants.
For the kids who do see a connection to their life story, it might be unhelpful to have the teens’ parents characterized and portrayed as “unloving.” There’s also a looming, implied threat that the teens will be significantly harmed by their parents if they fail in their mission.
The shallow fairy-tale “love-at-first-sight-aided-by-a-love-potion” storyline seems to be a few steps back from the more balanced portrayal of romance in Frozen.
Descendants seems to be aimed at kids ages 8-11 or so, and it seems more likely to appeal to girls than to boys. It is probably well-suited to kids of that age. I didn’t spot anything definitely traumatic. This film could help parents open a conversation with their pre-teens about how their past and their parents’ pasts do not necessarily have to define their future. Parents will want to make sure that their kids don’t come away thinking that their own birth parents are evil and unloving. Kids much older than 11 will probably find this film boring, and kids much younger than 8 might be triggered by the concept of threatening, unloving parents.
Questions for Discussion
What kind of a person do you want to be? Who makes that choice?
Have your parents – or any adult – ever said something that scared you?
What do you think would happen to you if you disappointed your mom? Your dad? Me?
How do you think Mal, Carlos, Evie and Jay felt when they arrived at Auradon? Why did they choose to stay?