‘Descendants: The Rise of Red’ Review: You Didn’t Think Episode 3 Was The End Of The Story, Did You?

‘Descendants: The Rise of Red’ Review: You Didn’t Think Episode 3 Was The End Of The Story, Did You?

It didn’t take me long to become a complete professional. Grandchildren Watching the original trilogy for the first time in preparation for the release of the series’ final installment, Descendants: The Rise of Red. It’s easy to get caught up in its flawed, if instantly simmering, heroes, and their chemistry jumps off the screen as soon as they’re introduced for their final scene together in the third installment. Director Kenny Ortega wisely builds on elements that didn’t work in each film, adding entirely joyful storytelling arcs in the second and third installments that heighten our appreciation of the magical world of Auradon. Getting Dude the Dog to talk in the second and third films is a simple—but powerfully effective—moment that makes both sequels better than the first.

With Descendants: The Rise of RedJennifer Phang takes over from Ortega as director and immediately dazzles, crafting musical numbers with a striking vibrancy and visual whimsy that wouldn’t have been possible on the made-for-TV budgets of Robert Rodriguez’s first three action films. Spy Kids 3D: Game Over and dull camerawork that overshadows the energy brought by lead actors Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, Sofia Carson and Mitchell Hope.

But with a bigger, made-for-Disney+ budget, Phang does his best to portray Auradon as a much more advanced country than we last left it. In the third film, King Ben (Mitchell Hope) and Queen Mal (Dove Cameron) break down the barrier between Auradon and the Isle of the Lost for good, welcoming both princes/princesses and humans who are “rotten to the core” but want a chance at goodness. Several years have passed since the events Descendants 3and the Fairy Godmother of Auradon Prep (Melanie Paxson) has accepted a job at a University. She hands the reins over to Uma (China Anne McClain), who wants to finish what Mal and Ben started so that they can have a chance at redemption by inviting everyone to Auradon, just like she did in the third film.

She writes invitations to Cinderella (Brandy, reprising her role from the 1997 television film as King Charming, opposite Paolo Montalban) and the Queen of Hearts (Rita Ora); both agree to send their children, Chloe (Malia Baker) and Red (Kylie Cantrall), to school. Red does not believe her cruel mother’s intentions are sincere, as she will not allow her to do anything with her life outside the confines of Wonderland. She is eventually proven right; the Queen of Hearts reveals herself to Uma and the Fairy Godmother as she stages a coup to take over Auradon and kill Cinderella; she has never forgiven her for a prank that took place years ago.

This leads Red to turn back time via the White Rabbit’s chronometer, and Chloe inadvertently joins her as they discover what Auradon Preparation was like before the Beast united all the kingdoms. Under the watchful eye of Merlin (Jeremy Swift, in another great performance from this ace character actor), Red and Chloe are now stuck in time and must investigate what happened on that fateful day that caused her mother (played in the past by Ruby Rose Turner, Cinderella by Morgan Dudley) to turn evil. It’s a simple plot that’s executed quite well, with plenty of fun musical numbers to keep the energy moving.

The whole Descendants: The Rise of Red‘s 91-minute running time could pack more musical numbers than the original trilogy. The songs never end, which might be a deterrent for many, but not when they’re as well put together as they are here. Some effects shots retain the campy feel of Ortega’s original Grandchildren movies, but there’s a legitimate cinematic perspective to how Phang creates the numbers, such as a scene in the middle of the movie where Merlin’s students try Bridget’s (the Queen of Hearts’ original name) flamenco feather cakes. It’s also a more visually pleasing film than past films. Grandchildren films expand our knowledge of the film’s world in a much more engaging way, with elaborate camera movements and inventive sets. For example, the students perform breakdancing tricks as their clothes turn pink while the camera acts as its own dancer. This is an absolute bravura moment in the aforementioned cake scene, and the rest of the film is filled with incredibly inventive musical numbers and catchy tunes.

The same can’t be said for its fairly straightforward story, however, which sets up an exciting conflict in the first act but offers little tension once Chloe and Red travel back in time. Return to the future is the main inspiration for all time-travel stories today, and it’s equally evident here, with every cliché stolen from Robert Zemeckis’ groundbreaking picture. As a result, none of the time-travel jokes land, and the conceit of disrupting the space-time continuum itself doesn’t feel as relevant as it should, especially when Red’s stopwatch has a strange way of manipulating time itself. How does that change the present? Who knows, and it doesn’t even feel like it so also a concern.

It also doesn’t help that the runtime inhibits the climax, with one lively action scene being interrupted by a rushed conclusion that immediately sets the stage for another film. Grandchildren movie. I’m not against another movie, but the end result doesn’t feel as complete as Mal and the gang completing an adventure in each Grandchildren installment. There was a sense of closure while always hinting at the promise of more, as the adventures in Auradon would always continue with or without the audience. And while Cantrall and Baker are a great couple, no matter what they do, they’ll never match the chemistry of the main cast. However, Phang, Grandchildren It concludes Carlos’ story on a satisfying and respectful note, paying a touching tribute to Cameron Boyce, who tragically passed away in 2019, before the third film in the series was released.

The presence of McClain’s Uma and Paxson’s Fairy Godmother keeps the fourth installment grounded in the same continuity, but they are unfortunately missing from a large part of the picture where Red and Chloe must put aside their differences to change the fabric of time so that Bridget doesn’t turn evil. However, the presence of the veteran stars doesn’t feel as important as it does in other legacy films, as the characters are fun to watch on their own and promise to be developed further if more episodes come out. As a result, Descendants: The Rise of Red finally stands on its own two feet as a fun spin-off of the main series Grandchildren Part of the series and a fun expansion of the vibrant world of Auradon, the film features plenty of music to distract us from its thin script and rushed time travel plot.

But more than that Grandchildren movies are probably on the way, perhaps we’ll see the grand return of fan-favorite characters, hopefully in a much bigger production than what we have now. But only time (pun intended) will grant all our wishes…

Descendants: The Rise of Red premieres on Disney+ on July 12.

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