Even villains deserve a second chance at Disney (DIS), and soon their offspring will get a shot to woo viewers.
Disney has announced that production will begin in a few months on “Descendants,” a Disney Channel original movie that will premiere in 2015.
The story takes place in Disney’s universe where the son of Belle and Beast proclaims that the children of iconic baddies Cruella De Vil, Maleficent, the Evil Queen and Jafar — who have been imprisoned on a forbidden island — will get to go to prep school with the children of Disney heroes. Naturally they will need to decide if they want to follow in the footsteps of their parents or if they want to aim for redemption.
I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way
It’s a clever premise, and despite the animated nature of all of these movies, this Disney Channel original will feature live actors. And, despite the serious moral undertones, it will also be largely a comedy.
Disney’s push for original teen-oriented movies that it can continue to rebroadcast has served it well in the past.
The success of “High School Musical” spawned a pair of sequels. This summer’s “Teen Beach Movie” was magnetic enough to attract 13.5 million Disney Channel viewers during its first week. That was enough, according to Variety, to make it the most-watched cable TV movie since “High School Musical 2” that came out five years ago.
As fate would have it, Disney’s turning to the director of the “High School Musical” trilogy to work on this one. That may not sit well with older Disney buffs hoping for a less cheesy production, but there’s no point in arguing with the success that Disney Channel has had with this type of movie.
Cut to the Opportunities
Critics will argue that these Disney Channel movies are too formulaic. “High School Musical,” “Camp Rock,” and “Teen Beach Movie” take attractive casts of fresh faces, inject infectious pop songs, and phone it in with predictable scripts.
There’s little reason to expect “Descendants” to be any different, but the real secret sauce here will be viewer familiarity with the characters. They will know the parent characters, increasing awareness of the film’s stars before they start watching. This should help establish a larger built-in audience than Disney Channel’s earlier releases.
This could naturally open up new merchandising and theme park opportunities given the new characters that will be introduced. It may be trickier to work Disney’s well-oiled machine for non-animated characters, but think about what the media giant is doing here: Disney is promoting the arrival of at least a dozen new characters in this movie.
No one is better at milking value out of a character portfolio than Disney. It spent billions to acquire Pixar, Marvel, and more recently Lucasfilm. The appeal in each of those deals was access to beloved character franchises. Now it gets a shot at dreaming up characters from scratch.
Theme parks shows geared around “Descendants” will be no-brainers, but we can’t dismiss the potential of more elaborate attractions and patron interactions. This is what Disney does for a living. It knows how to turn modest properties into powerhouses.
“Descendants” seems to have all of the right ingredients to succeed. Something good can come out of villains after all.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney Co. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney.
Filmmakers have used zombies to symbolize everything from faceless corporations to the inhumanity of the military industrial complex. In this early offering (and, to a lesser extent, in its remake), it isn’t particularly hard to figure out the greater symbolism of a bunch of mindless, shambling zombies swarming into a shopping mall.
Speaking of mindless shambling, “Shaun of the Dead” used the same conceit to symbolize office work.
Everybody remembers Janet Leigh’s death scene in the classic slasher flick. What they forget, though, is why she ended up in the Bates Motel in the first place: She was on the run after stealing a small fortune from her employer. As for the motel itself, it was facing hard times because the recently-unveiled highway drove away business.
For a funnier take on a similar story, you might try taking a peek at “Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies“, which manages to brilliantly combine cannibalism, serial murder and Pat Morita.
On the surface, this 1981 classic is the tale of super-evolved wolves preying on New Yorkers. Scratch a little deeper, though, and another story emerges: The tale of wealthy Manhattanites preying on poor people in the Bronx, then being themselves preyed upon by wolves. In other words, NYC in the 1970s was truly a dog-eat-dog world.
If you want another fix or two of class-based horror, check out “CHUD” and “Street Trash,” both of explore the plight of New York’s invisible homeless.
Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man character is one of the more unnerving monsters in filmland: Not only does he steal the bodies of the dead, but he also steals the souls of towns. As Reggie and Mike travel cross country, it isn’t hard to pick up his trail — they just have to look for boarded-up stores, deserted streets and abandoned homes. Of course, for 1988 audiences facing the effects of outsourcing, the monster emptying out their towns was a little harder to explain.
For another take on the “monsters-as-suburban-economics” metaphor, take a peek at “Poltergeist.” Between the unethical developer who didn’t bother to relcoate a graveyard and the mindless TV that saps your soul, the Tobe Hooper classic manages to hit a host of cultural touchstones!
A whole subset of horror films is dedicated to rural families living off the land … and the miserable travelers who happen across their path. It isn’t hard to see why it might be an attractive premise: After all, there’s no lack of people clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and it isn’t hard to imagine that they may be one paycheck away from having to make their own clothes and hunt their own meat. What happens afterward … well, that’s where it gets really ugly.
If you want even more tips on living off the land (and curious teenagers), you might check out “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Wolf Creek” and “Mother’s Day.” For a funny take on the same premise, try “Tucker and Dale Versus Evil.”