Disclosure: I received an exclusive trip courtesy of Disney to attend various events including interview sessions.. I’m under no obligation to report anything other than my personal experience, thoughts and opinions.
When I first learned I would have the opportunity to interview Hollywood legend Kenny Ortega, my heart leapt with happy dances of joy. After all, this amazing producer, director, choreographer and man of many top-hat-full-of-talent is directly responsible for my love of and my children’s love of film and television musicals. From the 80’s “Zanadu” that captivated my young mind and had me believing in magic to the “High School Musical” movies my daughter mooned over and “Newsies” that first inspired my sons to dance, Ortega has certainly kept us toe-tapping! Now, with a new out-standing hit with Disney DESCENDANTS, he’s enchanting a new generation with a fresh spin on the intriguing world of Disney’s classic villains.
DESCENDANTS is a musical fantasy with a cast of brilliant young crew:
Dove Cameron (Mal, daughter of Maleficent)
Cameron Boyce (Carlos, son of Cruella de Vil)
Booboo Stewart (Jay, son of Jafar)
Sofia Carson (Evie, daughter of The Evil Queen)
These modern-day young villains-in-the-making are confined to the Isle of the Lost, where all villains are exiled. When they are released as part of a new decree to give them a chance in the “real” fairy tale world outside of the Isle, chaos, confusion and a whole lot of teenage mayhem ensues. This motley, yet super cool group of kids must decide if their past or their present will define who they will choose to be.
After watching the film numerous times now, my children and I all agree – Disney and Kenny Ortega certainly have a smash hit on their hands! (Which has totally been confirmed by the overwhelming positive reviews and over 6 million viewers who tuned into the film’s debut.)
Kenny Ortega shared with our interview group that working on DESCENDANTS created very special memories for him including the exciting challenge of having the opportunity to play with iconic heritage characters and their offspring and develop something original for them. Every day, he said, he couldn’t wait to arrive on set and get to work. It’s not all fun and games on set, though, and often there are some challenges, particularly with young actors/actresses that do not have formal dance training.
ORTEGA: It’s something that I’ve done all along all the way back to “Newsies” which was my first film as a director. Christian Bale had come to us. He was not a dancer, not a singer. David Moscow and all of the leading kids were actors. Gabriel Damon, Max Casella, Marty Balasko – all these amazing kids were these amazing actors but that had this sort of drive and ambition and they were ready for anything and they wanted to be challenged and they were brave and courageous kids and I felt that with these people. And that I’ve always found that like with High School Musical one, two and three we incorporated sport into choreography, sport as dance and so we would use real baseball players with actors and dancers. We would use real basketball players with actors and dancers. What it did was the actors would raise the bar of the dancers and the athletes and all the way around it worked.
On “Descendants” we had kind of a factory. We had three different rooms. I had an amazing group of assistants that worked with Paul Becker, my associate choreographer and I and these kids were given dance class, improv. They were stretched. They were given private tutoring and then also the dancers generously sort of took it upon themselves to sort of mentor the actors. You watched kids learn really ten times as fast as they might in an ordinary situation. Dove went from being a non-dancer to being able to attack the movement as ferociously as anybody in the room. I mean and again that takes not only focus and determination but a lot of bravery. We had some brave kids working on this movie.
The original story of DESCENDANTS began as a traditional film but with Kenny Ortega at the helm, the focus quickly changed to creating a spectacular musical, which is something Ortega says he would do everyday of his life if given the chance. His favorite score from the movie is the opening song, “Rotten To The Core.”
ORTEGA: My favorite song? I think “Rotten to the Core” and I’ll tell you why. I started as an actor at 13 years old and I was lucky enough to be in the original London touring production of “Oliver” and when I first read the script and started to imagine the world I thought of the Island of Loss, a bit of Dickens and a little kind of old, you know, old London town under the bridge, that darker underworld. I loved the idea of being able to take “Rotten to the Core” and use it as character introduction and also to introduce us a bit to the island, what this place is.
In addition to working with the talented high school stars in DESCENDANTS, Ortega brought in some amazing powerhouse icons like Kristin Chenoweth (Maleficent) and Kathy Najimy (Evil Queen,) both of whom he worked with before and knew would help the film soar. His love for the cast, appreciation of his job, and enthusiasm for life are all crystal clear… certainly part of the special something that makes DESCENDANTS Such a brilliant film!
ORTEGA: I love what I do and I’ve been doing it since I was 13 years old. Fifty-one years in one version or the other. I started out as an actor and a signer and a dancer to what I’m doing today. And what keeps me in going and what keeps me excited and invested and still loving it is choices and this movie’s a lot about choices. It was something that I really liked about it was that you know, given choices.
Not everyone is blessed in this world to be given choices but those of us that are given choices, those choices can determine, you know, who we become, what are destiny is and the choices that I’ve made have landed me in some pretty fantastic places, places that have been fantastic enough to keep my fire burning, to keep me excited, to keep me wanting to continue doing what I’ve been doing for all of these years.
One thing is for certainly, this fan hopes Kenny Ortega will continue to do what he is doing so that we can continue to enjoy the magic!
Will we see a sequel to DESCENDANTS? I sure hope so!
ORTEGA: It’s up to the fans. You ask for it, you get it. I would love there to be a sequel. I think I can speak for everyone from Kristen to Dove, all of us. We had the times of our lives. We hope that there’s an opportunity for us to continue this and move forward, but the fans will have to be the deciding factor.
For more information on DESCENDANTS visit http://movies.disney.com/descendants and be sure to check out the #DescendantsEvent #DisneyDescendants hastags on social media!