While in LA recently, I was lucky enough to check out some footage of Descendants 2 and talk with the cast and crew. One of my favorite interviews was with Director/Executive Producer/Co-Choreographer Kenny Ortega, Executive Producer Wendy Japhet, and Screenwriter Sara Parriott. Kenny Ortega is a legend guys – I mean, Hocus Pocus & Dirty Dancing. I always enjoy picking the brains of those that work behind the scenes to make our favorite movies. In this interview, we learned a lot of great behind the scenes secrets and tidbits. Descendants 2 airs on July 21st, and I cannot wait to watch it with my family.
The Importance of Writers
Right off the bat, Kenny started praising the writers. “We’re nothing without the words. The writers are so responsible for why I’m here today. Sara and Josie, who have created ‘Descendants’ and who wrote both the first and second movies, really deliver. It’s feature work, and the kids and myself, all of us, everyone, the production designers, choreographers, music people, we get so much out of what they place there. It gives us permission to travel in the capacity that we travel in, to adventure, to journey, to play, to take chances, to sing and to dance and to develop these characters. It all starts right here [with the writing] and we’re so appreciative. I think that we’re going to have the ability to reach a far greater audience, a more dynamic range of audience.”
Kenny added, “Not just because I directed it but because it entertains me. I laugh and I’m moved and I’m touched, and I think the big surprise here is that the Disney Channel has a movie for everyone.”
One of us mentioned that the Mal and Uma [fight] on the pirate ship is very Hamilton-esque. We asked what other shows or musicals they pulled inspiration from. “Well, [Lin-Manuel] Miranda and I are really good friends and I was slated to direct his film for a minute. He is an inspiration to me in life. He’s a poet and an amazing writer. They’re all gonna have their inspirations. For me it starts all the way back to “West Side Story” when I was 13 years old.”
“If you think about it the Jets and the Sharks are like the Isle of the Lost and Auradon, the pirates and the villain kids. I find myself having a hard time not going there for inspiration. It’s so relevant all the time, no matter what I’m doing I can go to that movie. Jerome Robbins’s work and the performances in it [are incredible]. Rita Moreno won an Academy Award. So that one, but I listen to all genres of music. I love movies. Bob Fosse, Michael Jackson — there’s Michael Jackson in everything that I do.”
“If you’re like I am, when you watch this movie you’re going to feel a little bit of Michael. You’re gonna feel a little of the classic movie musical. You’re gonna feel a little bit of Peter Pan and the adventure of old Disney. I think that it’s an inspired piece, certainly as a director.” Kenny Ortega explained to us.
Working with Disney
Sara Parriott told us what it was like working with Kenny and Disney. “I think the music is so fresh and that was exciting for me. Kenny allows you [to be in] the whole process which is thrilling for us. Sometimes you’re [not involved], but Disney and Kenny and Wendy want us to be involved – and it was fun just to be in the room where they’re picking the songs. They have these wonderful writers coming in and doing songs and we’re all sitting there. There will be a song that just pops out and you’re saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I love it!’”
Sara let us know how excited she was about having input when it comes to the songs because they are part of the story. “I have input. The lyrics are tweaked a little bit to carry the song along. But it was thrilling for Josie and me to be in those rooms and just be part of that process of picking a song. And I just love the music in this one. I love it.”
What’s My Name
What’s My Name is already a hit with Descendants fans, and the film is not even out yet. Kenny told us a little bit about it. “Also the [Lin-Manuel] Miranda of it, the ‘Hamilton’ elements. I think it’s really cool that you thought [of ‘Hamilton’ because that] wasn’t something that I was conscious of. What I had said to the composers [about ‘What’s My Name’] was that I wanted a hip-hop opera, and that I felt that because we were dealing with an urban crew, I wanted this to be about language and spoken word. They came back with this and it just felt so honest and organic, and it worked for both sides.”
Kenny Ortega basically choreographed our childhoods. We brought that up and mentioned how it is crazy he is doing the same for our kids. We asked him about the legacy he wants to leave, and his response was great.
“I got to talk with Doctor Jane Goodall, the scientist of primate behavior, who is now going way beyond saving the primate species for the planet and for our future generations. She’s now an activist, out there doing everything she can to leave a legacy. She talked about how important it was for her that she gave up something that she really loved for something that she felt was more important. She was not serving herself but serving a greater idea, which was that in order to save a species you have to enlighten the people that live with the species. She put the legacy of it all, which was what I left with that day. It made me audit myself and think about what it is that I do. “
“What I try to do always in my life and have for a long, long time is to make good choices. Entertaining people with fireworks and color and dance moves has never been something that I’ve been interested in. I’ve always been interested in those stories that are layered beneath the dance, beneath the words, or beneath the music. And my choreography is always storytelling, and so there’s a story that is living inside of all that movement. I hope that my legacy one day would be that I told good stories and that they were important stories, through my choreography.”
The New VKs
We had to ask about the new Villain Kids while we had the screenwriter and executive producer available. I am so excited about these new characters and cannot wait to see more from them.
Sara explained, “We had been searching for who was going to be on the Isle. I think we had always known that Ursula is the villain that people love and we saved her in hopes that there would be a ‘Descendants 2.’ We have a huge character in Uma and China is wonderful in this part, just wonderful. There’s also Captain Hook’s son [Harry’s] character to go to. Josie and I wrote Captain Hook’s son to be a little more goofy and fun, and Kenny said no, no, no.”
“And then we wanted a younger character to come in and that was Dizzy. I loved [Cinderella’s] wicked stepsisters, so it was fun to pick out [Drizella’s] daughter and Dizzy is such a cute name, and so you go through all the iconic characters.”
Stay tuned for more Descendants 2 interviews coming to Mama’s Geeky all week!
Descendants 2 Synopsis
The story deepens in the music-driven sequel to the global smash hit “Descendants,” as the teenage sons and daughters of Disney’s most infamous villains – Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay (also known as Villain Kids or VKs) – try to find their place in idyllic Auradon. When the pressure to be royally perfect becomes too much for Mal, she returns to her rotten roots on the Isle of the Lost where her archenemy Uma, the daughter of Ursula, has taken her spot as self-proclaimed queen of the run-down town. Uma, still resentful over not being selected by Ben to go to Auradon Prep with the other Villain Kids, stirs her pirate gang including Captain Hook’s son Harry and Gaston’s son Gil, to break the barrier between the Isle of the Lost and Auradon, and unleash all the villains imprisoned on the Isle, once and for all.
Descendants 2 Premieres July 21st!
Descendants 2 will premiere Friday, July 21 at 8 PM simultaneously on Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform and Lifetime.