Sofia Carson takes on being teenage daughter of the Evil Queen in ‘Descendants’

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

“Descendants” review: Fun Disney TV movie takes up the tale of famous villains’ kids.

The 21-year-old senior studying communications at the University of California, Los Angeles has been balancing a budding acting career and her academics for years and it’s all been paying off. Kenny Ortega’s Disney Channel movie Descendants revisits some of the studio’s most notorious villains — and introduces their born-to-be-bad kids as they navigate the wicked world of high school.Kenny Ortega directs this new musical about four teenage children (Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart and Sofia Carson) whose parents are some of Disney’s most infamous villains.You can pass along everything you’ve learned, steer them in all the directions you want them to travel, and sometimes they still grow up good instead of evil.

In the film Carson plays Evie, the teenage daughter of the Evil Queen from “Snow White,” who has been allowed to leave the island exile with the children of other Disney villains for a new boarding school. Ahead of its July 31 premiere, the 65-year-old director and choreographer recalls the moments that shaped his career, from parties in the gym to dancing with Gene Kelly. Between lessons about being yourself without regard to peer pressure and parental expectations, you get performances from Kathy Najimy and Kristin Chenoweth.

Citizens of the idyllic kingdom of Auradon, who long ago exiled the villains to the Isle of the Lost, decide the villains’ kids should be allowed to attend school in Auradon. Michael Monday Since 1997, the cable network has churned out nearly 100 original movies for kids and preteens, from early pacesetters Halloweentown and Johnny Tsunami to feature-length spinoffs of series such as The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Wizards of Waverly Place.

Carson said working with the man who brought “High School Musical” and “Dirty Dancing” was a dream. “I was such a fan of Kenny … so when I stepped into the audition room [and saw him], cause they hadn’t told me that he was directing the movie — my jaw was on the floor,” she said. “To be able to work under his guidance and dance his choreography and be directed by him, as an actress, and learn from him was really an amazing experience. Apparently you can’t keep a good — or desperate — man or woman down, especially not when the actual goal is not long-lasting romance but fleeting TV fame.And so, 16 former Bachelors and Bachelorettes gather in Mexico, where a “mystery woman’s” arrival apparently shocks them. But none have come close to the pop-culture ubiquity of 2006’s High School Musical — lightning in a bottle the channel has tried replicating with musicals Camp Rock (starring the Jonas brothers and Demi Lovato),Teen Beach Movie and Lemonade Mouth. He had such a vision for the film.” Carson, who began her career with a guest spot on Disney’s “Austin & Ally,” said Ortega has such a strong vision of how the film was going to turn out that he pushed the actors – “in the best way possible to be the best version of yourself” – to achieve it. Or, as is more likely the case, they were told to look shocked and they complied, because one does not get to be a Bachelorwithout learning to be compliant.

Set at an elite prep school attended by the heirs of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and princesses Belle and Aurora, the fairy-tale musical has all the ingredients of a Disney Channel Original Movie hit: Splashy song-and-dance numbers, a fresh-faced cast and High School director Kenny Ortega in his channel return. No disrespect intended to Columbus, which is a great, vibrant American city — but when it comes to aspirational, acquisitive fantasy TV, “man-made Ohio lake” leaves something to be desired. Signing on, “I felt a great sense of responsibility — these are major Disney heritage characters, those aren’t just given to anyone,” Ortega says. “Now that it’s done, people are like, ‘Do you think you’ll do another?’ or ‘Will it branch out and have all these other lives?’ I can only say I hope so. I think they embrace so much the fact that I am Latina and that I am bicultural … I feel so honored and proud to be Latina and be on Disney Channel.”

That franchise, starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, set channel records with the premiere of its 2007 sequel (17.2 million viewers) and had one of the best-selling albums that year. After landing her first acting gig last year in a guest role on Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally, she was cast as the Evil Queen’s blue-haired daughter, Evie. (She will also star in the network’s 100th original movie, Adventures in Babysitting, an adaptation of the 1987 Elisabeth Shue comedy premiering next year). Starting out, “Disney is all that I’ve really known,” Carson says. “I would love to do more with the channel.” Now working on her debut album, she hopes to follow similar career trajectories to former Disney stars Selena Gomez and Lovato. “They both managed to have acting and music careers, which I’d love to do. Music was my first love, so I’m really thankful that acting opens doors to (that) world for me.” Her songs will undoubtedly get a boost from the network, as part of its well-oiled cross-pollination machinery, dating back to Hillary Duff, Miley Cyrus and the Jonases.

What’s it been like for Maleficent to be trapped on an island with a protective barrier over it for 20 years, still looking for that crack in the ceiling, that way out? It’s all part of a strategy to promote in-house talent, says Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide. “We tend to cast talent from our current series, so that’s an opportunity for us to broaden the familiarity and appeal of our current stars,” Marsh says. Descendants, for example, stars Dove Cameron (Liv and Maddie) and Cameron Boyce (Disney XD’s Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything), with Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing” artist Shawn Mendes featured on the soundtrack.

At the end of the day it’s a combination of intelligence and theatrical ability, and you hope for a fine actor who’s going to bring something to the party, who’s going to get excited, do the research, and come in every day with ideas and be a partner — and all of these kids were ready for that. Although Disney Channel usually produces three to four movies a year, Descendants is the only one with a recognizable link to its parent company’s existing characters, Marsh says, with plans for inevitable merchandise tie-ins. We had a magnificent workshop and put all of this together and on its feet in three weeks, including recording the music, rehearsing the choreography, rehearsing the script. It also continues Disney’s penchant for spinoffs from its animated catalog, with live-action theatrical remakes of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book scheduled for release in the next two years, with many more in development.

But could this built-in brand recognition help take Descendants to High School Musical-level heights? “It’s possible that it’ll happen,” says Gregg Witt, chief engagement officer at Immersive Youth Marketing, who calls it “an example of relentless experimentation. If Descendants is executed well, it’s going to have huge potential, in the way that they’re going to grab every age demographic and there’s going to be interest in every one of these characters.” While the network certainly hopes Descendants has legs, building a movie franchise wasn’t the goal. Instead, it was to put a fresh spin on the Disney classics, incorporating different musical styles, modern gadgets and social media. “It doesn’t really start with, ‘If we have this, this and this, we can build a franchise.’ It’s a sure path to mediocrity if you start to reverse-engineer these things,” Marsh says. “I tell the team, ‘Make the best movie you can. The teacher pulled my mother aside and said, “You know, I’d love a boy in my class, I’ll give him a scholarship.” And that was the beginning for me.

I did that for over a year and then joined the national touring company, which took me out of California for the first time in my life at age 19, and traveled me all over the US and Canada. They were a fantastic group of artists and musicians that pioneered early music video, and we were the first people to really bring theater into our concerts. And everyone points at me and he says, “Where’s the room?!” So we get into this little room and he said, “I’m not gonna dance, you know.” And I said, “I know, Mr.

Kelly, you just wanted to meet me.” And he goes, “What if I was gonna dance, what would you have me do?” So I started showing him a few things, and he loosened up and laughed. The chaperones would make announcements before the dance and say, “if there’s any dirty dancing the lights are going to come on and the music’s going to stop.” And it’s not that dirty dancing was a genre of dancing, they just actually meant, if you’re grinding, if you’re touching, if you’re lewd, that’s it. When I talked to [director] Emile Ardolino about the music and dance, I took [writer] Eleanor Bergstein in my arms and started to show them some steps, and they said, “That’s it.” Eleanor imagined it on paper.

And my partner, Miranda Garrison, and our partner Doriana Sanchez — it was a real choreography partnership with these ladies that enabled us to come up with this mix of traditional ballroom, dirty dancing, Latin rhythm, popular dance, and lifts. You know when you’re in the midst of them that something special is happening, but you also know that it’s going to take a whole lot of people to not just get it out there but to know how to represent it so it can take wing.

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