It probably requires having a child under 12 to appreciate just what big business a Disney Channel movie like “Descendants 2” is, which makes the numbing nature of this sequel puzzling. Because while the first exhibited flashes of inspiration, the second feels entirely phoned in, as if it could skate by on the title alone.
Perhaps it can, at least in terms of mollifying the target audience, which will be corralled via a six-network simulcast across Disney-owned channels, including ABC. Their parents, however, will find this latest musical harder to tolerate, as the wholly generic nature of the songs largely offsets the energetic choreography.
The original came outfitted in a highly marketable premise, with the teenage sons and daughters of the Disney villains — raised on an island separate from their heroic peers — being mainstreamed into the high school attended by the progeny of heroes like the Beast, Mulan and the Seven Dwarfs. Moreover, it tapped Kristin Chenoweth as Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis Maleficent, offering a Broadway belt to class up the joint.
“Descendants 2,” by contrast, completely forgoes any adult supervision, relying on the youthful stars to carry the load. And while they might have the talent for that, it then strands them within a tedious, drawn-out plot, after a jaunty opening number that isn’t equaled for the next nearly two hours.
Without belaboring the plot, Maleficent’s daughter Mal (Dove Cameron) has gone legit but feels stressed out and insecure as she prepares to attend the Royal Cotillion with the Beast and Belle’s bouncing boy, King Ben (Mitchell Hope). Her efforts to fit in finally snap, sending her retreating to the Isle of the Lost, with her pals Evie (Sofia Carson), the Evil Queen’s girl; Cruella De Vil’s son Carlos (Cameron Boyce); and Jafar’s kid Jay (Booboo Stewart) in hot pursuit.
The isle introduces a new assortment of post-pubescent demon seeds, led by Uma (China Anne McClain), a chip off the old tentacles of “The Little Mermaid’s” Ursula.
Unfortunately, the inevitable feel-good message takes forever to roll around, while the movie — directed by Kenny Ortega, a musical veteran whose credits include the first “Descendants” and “High School Musical” — gets tied up in trite romantic subplots involving various characters.
The music and scale notwithstanding, this doesn’t just play like any old episode of a Disney Channel live-action comedy, but a mediocre one at that.
Again, it would be easier to dismiss “Descendants” as kiddie fare if Disney didn’t have so much wrapped around it, including the conspicuous tie-ins to its heralded animated predecessors. Simply put, gaining access to Walt’s vaults is — or at least should be — too valuable to squander on the wrong kind of Mickey Mouse effort.
“Descendants 2” premieres July 21 at 8 p.m. on the Disney Channel, ABC and other networks.