Posts Tagged With: Descendants

Rise of the Isle of the Lost

If a movie is based on a book, the book will always be better.  It’s just a Rule.  So what about when a book is the prequel to a movie?

I always read the book first because it enables me to enjoy both, but I stay away from novelezations at all costs.  Melissa de la Cruz and Descendants managed to find a middle ground: a prequel novel that gave the movie context.  In that way, The Isle of the Lost prepared readers for what came next.  It gave an insight into the characters and their friendship that added layers to the final production.

The movie was a phenomena (despite its gaps in logic).  It was watched by so many people that the second (coming out Friday) is going to air on every channel the Disney corporation owns.  When I heard they were doing another book in between, Return to the Isle of the LostI wasn’t surprised.  I was even excited to see how our heroes fared being, well, the heroes.  And (if you read my post, you know) I hated it because it lacked the darkness and edge that made them Villain Kids.

Rise of the Isle of the Lost did a better job.  It shows Mal’s dark side and dependence on magic as well as the contrast between her and Evie.  It shows Carlos and his terror at the idea of returning to his abusive mother.  It shows Jay’s struggle between rogue and prince as he learns to channel his energy into a new sport instead of thievery.  Basically, if Return to the Isle of the Lost had never existed, this book would be perfect.

It shows every way the Villain Kids have changed and all the ways they haven’t, which is a fine and difficult line to walk in a sequel.

Knowing there were two books between the movies concerned me at first, at the first book (second total) didn’t help.  Reading the new book, however, eased my fears.  The second sets up the movie, especially Mal’s insecurities and Uma’s fury, but ends at a spot where someone could jump in without prior information and still understand what’s going on.

It’s a good book to read if you enjoyed Descendants and are looking forward to its sequel.  Give it a chance.  As sequels go, it’s definitely worthy of the title.

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You Can’t Go Home Again (Even When You Do)

I debated whether or not I would read The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz.  Once I did, I loved it and the movie so much that I knew I had to have Return to the Isle of the Lost as soon as it was released.  I found it at an independent bookstore on Wednesday and had finished it by Friday.

It starts by showing how our precious Villain Kids are doing at Auradon Prep.  This was my favorite part.  The best thing about sequels is seeing how the characters have grown while still remaining true to themselves.  It also continues the theme that shows the difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn’t all black and white.

The relationships have also developed.  It’s not that she did this incorrectly, but I liked some of it more than the rest.  The quartet’s friendship (and their friendships with Auradon kids) keeps getting stronger.  In the last book, this friendship was just developing.  In this one, it is a solid frame for the rest of the story.

The only romance that is significant to the plot is Ben and Mal’s.  Even when separated it’s obvious how much they care for and respect each other.  When Mal reminds Yen-sid that Ben is king now, its fierceness comes from her faith in him.  And when Ben sees Mal is heading into danger again, he shows his concern but never thinks to stop her, knowing how capable she is.

The other romantic relationships are barely mentioned, but I would have preferred they be left out completely.  While Doug and Evie can be cute, I felt her being single goes more with her character development in the movie.  The sudden implications of Jay and Carlos crushing on Jordan and Jane respectively felt like a Disney response to the Internet wanting the boys with each other instead.  Honestly, Carlos seems too young for any romance just yet.

The plot was intriguing and original until about chapter 35, and Melissa de la Cruz knew it because she prefaced it with the quote from Peter Pan saying, “All this has happened before.”  The sequence that follows echoes the one in the last book where each of the four must face their personal demons.  The twist is that their demons are meant to come from the darkness in each of them instead of their parents this time.

The problem is that Cruz focused more on how they are like their parents instead of their own inner struggles.  The emotions just aren’t vibrant or authentic, which is why it feels like an echo instead of a peek into the characters’ hearts and minds.  It’s disappointing because, both before and after this sequence, Cruz demonstrated her understanding of these characters and their growth.  These scenes, which focus on the individuals in a way the movies can’t, were an opportunity to explore who they were beneath the glamor.  Evie could have truly acknowledged the witch in her while Mal embraced her dragon blood.  I hope this is a storyline that the movie picks up because their backgrounds deserve more. In the same way, the audience should see Carlos struggling with the scars his mother left him.  Instead of showing us how Jay rejects his father’s dream, she could have shown his true heart’s desire.

The parts of the book set in Auradon are fun and interesting, but the section wherein we actually Return to the Isle of the Lost suffers from a lack of the darkness omnipresent in the last book.  We can blame it on the difficulty of marrying a “happily ever after” with these characters’ dark backgrounds or on the pressure to conform to a Disneyfied world view, but one thing is certain: this fear of the darkness makes what could be a bold, compelling story fall flat.

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Descendants

On Book Club Thursday, I told you all about my reading of The Isle of the Lost.  Friday, we watched the movie Descendants on Disney Channel.  Spoilers follow.

I’m glad that I read the book.  It seemed like the movie jumped immediately into the story, and having that background was very helpful.  There were several things about the character’s backgrounds that weren’t mentioned in the movie but gave a deeper reading.  For instance, if you had only seen the movie, you may have laughed off the initial interaction shown between Carlos and Cruella, but from reading the book we see just how abusive she is to him.  It makes the moment when he stands up to her (and the moment at the end when he mentions how mad their parents will be) even more powerful.

For a musical, it wasn’t very…musical.  There were only a few songs in the movie, and while they were good, catchy songs, they didn’t do anything for the plot.  They showed good characterization, but some of them seemed redundant rather than moving things forward.  But all of the actors have great voices and the lyrics are thoughtful and either beautiful or amusing depending on the moment.  And the only unoriginal song is a hip hop mix of “Be Our Guest” which left THIS Beauty and the Beast fan flailing.

Besides just singing, the actors could definitely act.  Possibly the most impressive, in hindsight, was Mitchell Hope.  He plays the son of Belle and Beast and has a definite “good guy/prince charming” coloring to him.  And yet, his acting choices are subtle and revealing.  About halfway through the movie, he is put under a love spell by Mal.  His infatuation then is over the top and dramatic.  At the end of the date and moving forward, it seems to be more toned down and more sincere.  By the end of the movie, it is revealed that the change occurred when the spell actually wore off, though this was unknown both to Mal and to the audience.

As for the actual story: It’s mostly predictable as well as having a ton of plot holes in regards to just getting to the start of the movie.  And yet, it’s really great too.  It will make you laugh, it will make you cheer as the villains’ kids learn to be good, and it will break your heart in ways you didn’t imagine.  Also, there is a pretty great twist at the end that I did not see coming.  I love that so much focus is put on Evie being talented and intelligent because her whole life her mother has wanted her to be beautiful and she’s learning that’s not all there is in life.  In fact, all of the kids discover they have certain traits they didn’t realize they had and they are stronger and wiser because of it.  Even Audrey learns to be a little bit empathetic and give the villain kids a chance.

All of that being said, there were a few things I did not like.  They probably should have made a bigger deal about the fact that Mal practically roofied Ben, but it’s a Disney show so sex isn’t a thing meaning sex crimes also can’t be a thing.  They still just called Belle’s husband King Beast!  He had a name before he was cursed into being a Beast guys!  And there still isn’t an identity for the camerawoman in the School of Secrets videos.  (I did DVR the Sunday showing that is supposed to reveal “seven secrets,” so maybe it will come out then.  I’ll watch it as soon as I’m home from Pittsburgh.)  Oh, and, at the end, Mal totally should’ve turned into a dragon for a massive showdown against her mother, especially after it was such a big deal in the book that she had some dragon in her.

So yes.  I will be watching the movie again.  I have already purchased the soundtrack.  And it’s cheesy and predictable and occasionally unbelievable, but you know what?  It’s also magical and heartfelt and beautiful.  Because it’s Disney.  What were you expecting?

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Isle of the Lost

This book does not qualify for my 2015 Book Club Challenge.

Tomorrow, Disney’s Descendants premieres.  I went back and forth on whether or not I would read the prequel, Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz.  In the end, I’m very glad I did.

The Isle of the Lost is a prequel, so its the backstory to the new movie.  At the beginning, Jay, Mal, Evie, and Carlos go to the same school but are not what you call friends.  They want to become better villains in order to please their parents, who constantly think of them as a disappointment.  To this end, they go on a quest to find Maleficent’s scepter, because the barrier blocking magic to the island was broken for just long enough for it and her friend Diablo to awaken.  Meanwhile, in Auradon, Ben is trying to work out what kind of king he wants to be and how he’s going to manage to do it.

Despite the lack of pictures, Cruz paints the location in all of its decrepit glory.  She does the same for her characters, showing their dreams, their weaknesses, and the little things that make them individuals.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective so that, in the end, we hear the story from every side so that we love them all.  By the time they become each other’s friends, they also feel like our friends.  Based solely on seeing Ben’s girlfriend Audrey in his scenes and hearing what is going on the villain kids’ heads, we are forced to begin questioning the difference between good and evil.  This question will play an important role in the movie experience.

My most favorite thing about this book: I love Mal.  But I also love the relationship between Belle and Beast. I hope that is held up in the movie as well.

My least favorite thing about this book: We never hear who the other parents are.  Who knocked up Cruella?  Or Maleficent?  We do hear that they don’t like to talk about them, but we don’t know who they are.  They have to be villains, but which ones?

Who I would most like to recommend this book to: Disney fans, obviously, but also anyone who likes a little bit of bad in their fairy tales.

Where this book sits on my bookshelf:  Between Jurassic Park and Bud, Not Buddy.

A memorable quote: (When the daughter of the Evil Queen, Evie, says her mother doesn’t think she’s pretty enough.)  “Really?  But you’re gorgeous,” Jay said.  “I mean, you’re not my type sweetheart, but you’ve got to know you’re good-looking.”  (Proving that just because someone is not attractive to you personally doesn’t not mean they are not attractive period.)

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