Recs & Reviews

A Feminist Watches Disney’s “Descendants”

descendants

I know what you’re thinking, “You’re a college student, don’t you have better things to do than criticize a children’s movie?” Well, the philosophy paper I should be writing aside, I think it’s important to evaluate the messages being sent out to the youth through media. In our electronic-heavy society, looking at the things our children and/or siblings are watching and seeing what values they’re instilling is a smart move. So this summer I sat down with my friends and watched the newest Disney channel original movie, Descendants.

The plot of the movie is interesting, actually. When I heard about it months before the movie actually came out, I was ecstatic. It’s a next generation film, all of the villains and their children have been exiled to the Isle of the Lost, the good guys and their kids live in Auradon. Ben, son of Belle and the Beast, is about to be crowned king. His first decree is that kids from the Isle of the Lost be given the chance to live in Auradon and be good. He argues that the children are innocent, they are not their parents. The kids in question are Carlos, son of Cruella, Evie, daughter of the Evil Queen, Jay, son of Jafar, and Mal, daughter of Maleficent. I’ll be focusing on Mal and Evie in this article, as they are the recipients of the most misogyny.

So other than the cheesy names and costumes, we get into the meat of the movie. Right off the bat, the feminist in me is unimpressed. We quickly get a scene where the Evil Queen tells her daughter that there is nothing more important in life than finding a rich husband, and that her looks are the most important thing. Yes, this is supposed to be the “evil” point of view, but I was still disgruntled. This is a recurring theme throughout the movie: Evie dumbing herself down to female stereotypes to try and get men her mother would approve of, even saying lines like, “I’m not smart, but I can cook, clean, and sew!” I know the point of this is to show her development later in the movie, where she learns that she can be smart and doesn’t have to rely on a man, but I still shouted at my TV a bit.

And then there’s Mal. Mal has issues with her mother from the start, Maleficent wants her daughter to be just like her, and Mal cannot live up to her standards. Going to Auradon and learning that she can be good and worthy didn’t help this internal battle. Had she figured this out on her own, or at least with her friends, I would have been happier. Instead, she mostly figures this out by falling in love with a guy. It’s when he finds her worthy despite her past that she decides she is good enough to stand up to her mother and be good. Sigh. There’s also problems with viewing other women as competition here. Audrey is the daughter of Aurora, and is dating the boy Mal wants to be with. The whole plot between the two of them is that Audrey is bad because she’s seen as shallow and is dating the boy Mal wants. So Audrey needs to be out of the way. Ugh.

There are a lot of other problems I had with this movie, including race (good job, Disney, you hired POC. Too bad Jafar’s son is Asian/Native and not Indian…) and how they deal with heavily coded sexuality and abuse, but that’s left for another article.

In the end, when I put my Angry Feminist and Social Justice Warrior aside, I have to admit that liked the movie. It was funny, cute, and written for children, and that’s important to remember if or when you decide to watch it. (The same director did High School Musical, and man did our generation love that one.) The songs are catchy to boot as well. Rotten to the Core has been perpetually stuck in my head since…

Photo credit: Cover, 1, 2

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