MOVIES – Descendants: The Rise of Red

Descendants: The Rise of Red is the latest in the popular Descendants movie franchise from Disney. A continuation or spin-off of the original three movies, this new version is updated for a new generation of kids while keeping true to the original and what made the movies so popular for its original audience that have now found themselves to be teenagers. 

Descendants: The Rise of Red, Pictured: China Anne McClain as Uma. Photo: Quantrell Colbert/Disney ©2024. All Rights Reserved

Villain kid Uma, daughter of Ursula is now the headmistress of Auradon Prep and she is on a mission to make sure no villain kid feels left out. She invites the baddest of the bad, Red, daughter of the Queen of Hearts to join Auradon Prep. Craving to leave her evil mother and their home of Wonderland, Red is excited at the prospect.

Descendants: The Rise of Red, Pictured: Kylie Cantrall as Red. Photo: Kwaku Alston/Disney ©2024. All Rights Reserved

The Queen of Hearts hates Auradon and uses this opportunity to get revenge. When the Queen puts her plan into action it is up to Red and Cinderella and Charming’s daughter Chloe to save the day. They are tasked with stopping the events of the past to save their future. 

Descendants: The Rise of Red, Pictured: Malia Baker as Chloe. Photo: Kwaku Alston/Disney ©2024. All Rights Reserved

This new movie offers a musical extravaganza that surpasses the original trilogy in terms of sheer volume and quality of musical numbers but do not hold up as memorable songs like those of the original movies. There are different genres like rap, gospel, rhythm and blues, soul and some pop. The songs were heavy with the autotune which is a shame because the cast are very talented singers. Although the constant flow of songs might be overwhelming for some viewers, they are well-crafted musical sequences. While some effects shots retain the charmingly hokey feel of Kenny Ortega’s original “Descendants” movies, Jennifer Phang brings a legitimate cinematic eye to the film.

A standout sequence occurs at the midpoint of the film, where Merlin’s students sample Bridget’s (the original name of the Queen of Hearts) flamenco-feathered cupcakes. This scene showcases Phang’s ability to craft visually stunning and creatively choreographed numbers. The film is more visually appealing than its predecessors, featuring elaborate camera movements and inventive sets that expand the film’s world in a compelling way. In one particularly memorable moment, the camera moves like a dancer alongside the students, who perform breakdancing feats while their clothes turn pink, creating an absolute bravura moment. The rest of the film is similarly filled with inventive musical numbers  making it a visually rich experience.

The most anticipated and well worth the wait part of the film is the return of Brandy and Paolo Montalban as Cinderella and Prince Charming. The adults looking for some nostalgia will be happy to see them. However, their story was changed to fit this movie and there are no call backs to their movie from the 90s which is a let down. 

Descendants: The Rise of Red, Pictured: Brandy as Cindereall, Malia Baker as Chloe and Paolo Montalban as Charming. Photo: Quantrell Colbert/Disney ©2024. All Rights Reserved

The villain in this movie is Ulyana, Ursula’s younger sister played by Disney channel star Dara Renee. She is a powerhouse of a singer and I wanted to see more of her. It was a fun moment to see all the villains we are used to in this franchise as younger versions of themselves. Kylie Cantrall (Red) and Malia Baker (Chloe) are likable in their performance. 

Descendants: The Rise of Red, Pictured: Anthony Pyatt as Hades, Mars as Maleficent, Dara Renee as Uliana and Joshua Colley as Hook. Photo: Quantrell Colbert/Disney ©2024. All Rights Reserved

I was pleasantly surprised by Rita Ora’s Queen of Hearts. She is known for her singing so unsurprisingly her songs sounded very good. Her acting was not over the top and her performance was so well done that she may be the breakout performance for the movie.

Descendants: The Rise of Red, Pictured: Rita Ora as Queen of Hearts. Photo: Quantrell Colbert/Disney ©2024. All Rights Reserved

However, the story of “Descendants: The Rise of Red” is relatively simple and lacks tension after the initial setup of a thrilling conflict. As Chloe and Red travel back in time, the film heavily borrows from “Back to the Future,” leading to familiar and unoriginal time travel tropes. Consequently, the time travel jokes fall flat, and the premise of manipulating the space-time continuum feels less impactful, especially with the inconsistent logic surrounding Red’s stopwatch.

The rushed climax doesn’t help, either. A lively action scene is bogged down by a rapid conclusion, which immediately sets the stage for another “Descendants” film. Unlike the previous installments, which provided a sense of closure while teasing future adventures, the ending here feels incomplete. While Cantrall and Baker make a terrific pair, they lack the chemistry of the original cast, making it hard to match the dynamic of Mal and her gang.

Jennifer Phang, however, does pay a moving tribute to Cameron Boyce, who tragically passed away in 2019. The respectful closure of Carlos’ arc honors his legacy and maintains the emotional continuity of the franchise. The return of McClain’s Uma and Paxson’s Fairy Godmother roots the fourth installment in the same universe, though their presence is missed for a significant portion of the film. This leaves Red and Chloe to carry the plot, which focuses on preventing Bridget from becoming evil.

Descendants: The Rise of Red is a family movie night type of time and a must see for any die hard Disney fan. The younger kids will no doubt love this movie and will be singing the songs over and over. If adults are looking for nostalgia they may be disappointed while the kids that grew up with the franchise may find this new movie a bit lacking.

Want to chat more about the film? Leave a comment below and connect with me on X @jereereviews and we can keep the conversation going. 

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