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Disney conjures up evil’s next generation

David Martindale Tribune News Service

The bad apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway, regarding the four title characters in Disney Channel’s “Descendants,” which premieres today.

They’re the teenage children of Disney’s most notorious movie villains, and they mean it when they proclaim, in a spectacular opening song-and-dance number, that they’re “rotten to the core.”

Who can blame them for being bad? They’ve got dastardly DNA coursing through their veins – and cursing their existence.

Mal (played by Dove Cameron) is the devious daughter of Maleficent, the “Mistress of All Evil” from “Sleeping Beauty.”

Evie (Sofia Carson) is the Magic Mirror-gazing daughter of the Evil Queen from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Jay (Booboo Stewart) is the thieving son of Jafar, the sinister sorcerer in “Aladdin.”

And Carlos (Cameron Boyce) is the dog-loathing son of Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmatians.”

In the fairy-tale world of “Descendants,” vanquished villains have been imprisoned on the Isle of the Lost. No happily-ever-after for them.

As for their kids, growing up in this no-good neighborhood with these odious parents, the whole nature-versus-nurture debate is moot. They don’t stand a chance. They’re bound to be bad. Or are they?

We will find out when Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos, in an ambitious social experiment, are allowed to attend a squeaky-clean prep school in the idyllic kingdom of Auradon. For the first time in their lives, the bad seeds will have an opportunity to choose between good and evil and to determine their own destinies.

The result is Disney Channel’s most satisfying movie original in years.

“We’ve crammed so much fun stuff into this movie,” said Cameron, a Disney Channel favorite who plays twins in the sitcom Liv and Maddie. “We have music and dance; we have drama and comedy; we have romance and special effects.

“If we put anything more into it, I think it would pop.”

“When I first read the script, I was blown away to discover what happened after all the ‘happily-ever-afters’ that we know and love,” added Carson, one of Disney Channel’s up-and-coming stars. “It’s the continuation of the fairy tales, brought to life.

“And it’s fascinating to meet the sons and daughters of these four great Disney villains. On the outside, they seem to be just as bad as their parents because evil is all they’ve ever known. But on the inside, they have so much more to offer. Their story about growing up and self-discovery is beautiful.”

There’s nothing new about live-action revivals of old animated Disney classics. Glenn Close chewed scenery as Cruella de Vil in “101 Dalmatians” (1996) and “102 Dalmatians” (2000), and Angelina Jolie played the queen fairy of the Moors in 2014’s “Maleficent.”

But it is a fresh idea to introduce a next generation of villains and good guys (the movie also features the teenage progeny of Fairy Godmother, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Mulan).

The reinvention is complete when Mitchell Hope’s Ben, the teenage son of Belle and the Beast (and the future king of Auradon), performs an urban-pop rendition of “Be Our Guest” (an Oscar-nominated favorite from “Beauty and the Beast”).

The biggest scene-stealer in the cast, the movie’s not-so-secret weapon, is one of the parents: Broadway musical superstar Kristin Chenoweth plays a particularly wicked version of “Maleficent.”

As for Cameron, she had the time of her life being evil, at least until Mal’s better nature wins out.

“The bad guy is always more fun to play,” Cameron said. “Mal gets to show little glimpses of crazy throughout. She’s darker than any character I’ve ever played – and therefore I was the most excited to play her out of any character I’ve ever played.”

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