The truth about Disney's Descendants

In Disney's Descendants, the fight between good and evil is a constant battle, as some kids are born rotten to the core. Adapted from the bestselling book series from author Melissa de la Cruz, Descendants follows the children of Disney's infamous villains Maleficent, Jafar, Cruella de Vil, and the Evil Queen, as they try to assimilate to the good-natured United States of Auradon, which is ruled by Belle, Beast, and their son, Prince Ben. 

Over the course of three films, the kids teeter on the thin line between being good and bad, fight with their parents' villainous ways, and learn to deal with the overwhelming expectations to be good set by their new friends in Auradon. 

The film series — directed by High School Musical's Kenny Ortegawas a hit for Disney Channel. With catchy dance numbers, a charming young cast, and unforgettable fashion, the Descendants TV movie series captured the magical world of Disney — and what it's like to grow up. While the series concluded with its third entry on Aug. 2, 2019, the movie will forever remain a Disney Channel staple for years to come. This is the truth about Disney's Descendants.

Disney's Descendants boasted the perfect cast

One of the most important things needed to deliver a fun, memorable TV movie that fans could connect with was finding the right cast to play the main characters of Disney's Descendants. The "core four" group of kids are the most important part of the coming-of-age story, and the film got it right. Making up the Descendants cast was Disney Channel alums Dove Cameron of Liv and Maddie fame, who played Mal, and the late Cameron Boyce from Jessie, who played Carlos. The Twilight Saga's BooBoo Stewart and newcomer Sofia Carson also starred, playing Jay and Evie, respectively.
Playing the kids' oh-so-evil parents were Broadway's Kristin Chenoweth as Maleficent, Hocus Pocus star Kathy Najimy as the Evil Queen, actress Wendy Raquel Robinson as Cruella de Vil, and Superior Donuts' Maz Jobrani as Jafar. 
Director Kenny Ortega explained growing close to the cast over the course of filming in an interview with D23, saying he was grateful for the "continuous enthusiasm and energy in which they approached every day; the love that they had for their characters and each other; their dedication to the work; and wanting to come back and continue to do it again."

It's good to be bad in Disney's Descendants

While most Disney fans know who Maleficent, Jafar, Cruella de Vil, and the Evil Queen are in the wonderful world of Disney fairy tales, they've never had a look into the lives of their children — until Disney's Descendants premiered in 2015.

The film series follows Mal (Dove Cameron), the daughter of Maleficent; Carlos (Cameron Boyce), the son of Cruella de Vil; Jay (BooBoo Stewart), the son of Jafar; and Evie (Sofia Carson), the daughter of the Evil Queen (via D23). Each character has their own unique personality, which changes over the course of the trilogy. Mal is somewhat the leader of the group, initially determined to make her mom proud by doing evil in Auradon. Cameron described Mal in an interview with Disney Channel UK in September 2017, saying, "I would describe Mal as complex, fiery, and sensitive. … Mal and I have both been through a lot in our lives that have made a very layered human today. And I think that when she grows, I grow."

The cast of Disney's Descendants had a pre-filming ritual

Working on Disney's Descendants films for half a decade brought the cast together like a family. With each film came hard work as they learned choreography and lyrics for each movie's new songs and dances and spent long nights trying to get everything perfect for filming.

In a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal process, actress Dove Cameron told Disney Channel UK in August 2019, "The rehearsal process and the sound-record process — they're insane because they kind of happen simultaneously. It's really physically taxing. But it also gets you in shape for doing the marathon that is a Descendants movie."  

Along with learning the ins and outs of what makes up the most exciting aspects of a Descendants movie, the cast shared a pre-filming ritual they do before every film. Together the cast would get into a circle and chant, "Boom Shakalaka," which would amp them up — something director Kenny Ortega said was one of late actor Cameron Boyce's favorite things to do.

Disney's Descendants star BooBoo Stewart originally auditioned for a different role

Everyone in the cast of Disney's Descendants seemed perfectly suited for their roles, but did you know that a "core four" actor tried to score a completely different part? Now known to viewers as Jay, the son of Aladdin's Jafar, actor BooBoo Stewart almost played one of the good guys, as he initially auditioned to play the role of Prince Ben — the son of Beauty and the Beast's Belle and Beast, the rulers of Auradon.

Stewart detailed the story in an April 2019 interview with Access, saying, "It's crazy, right?" The role of Prince Ben eventually went to Mitchell Hope. However, producers brought Stewart back to ultimately play Jay, a decision he was "definitely" happy with.

When describing the character of Jay to the Disney Descendants YouTube channel in July 2017, Stewart said, "If I had to describe Jay in three words, I would say: brother, protector, and athlete." In the same interview, Stewart discussed what he had in common with the character, stating, "We share his tenacity … his will to, like, go to the end. I feel like he's very strong-willed. I like that."

Disney's Descendants had some dangerous filming conditions

The stars of Disney's Descendants series have talked about the grueling rehearsal process for the movies, but the filming process was just as taxing. One of the more difficult shoots happened on the set of Descendants 2, when the cast had to film a song and dance during a typhoon. 

For the song "Chillin' Like a Villain," the characters are on the fictional Isle of the Lost, singing a song to King Ben on how to fit in with the bad guys on the island. While you can't tell from the final product, the scene was actually difficult to film.

Director Kenny Ortega spoke about the filming challenges in an interview with Parade. "We were in Vancouver. We were given permission to work at this open and operating factory, to use it as a part of our Isle of the Lost location," he explained. "On our last day there, when we had to finish this number, we had a typhoon. You wouldn't know it to see the way these kids attacked their performances, but while they were singing and dancing that song, the sets were blowing away, the rain was coming down in buckets."

Was there trouble among Disney's Descendants cast?

When strong personalities come together on screen, sometimes viewers will imagine those bold voices clashing off screen as well. Fan speculation ran wild over a potential feud between two female cast members after a video involving the two went viral.

The video in question involved the "core four" cast of Disney's Descendants singing the girl-power anthem "What's My Name?" with Descendants 2 newcomer China Anne McClain, who played Uma. The powerful ballad quickly became a fan favorite, and this sparked rumors of jealousy between Dove Cameron and McClain. Fans scrutinized Cameron's every facial movement in the video, accusing her of rolling her eyes and throwing "shade" at McClain throughout (via Seventeen).

Cameron spoke out against the allegations on Twitter on July 30, 2017, saying, "Lol @chinamcclain and i could not love each other more? she's mine. i don't understand lololol." She tweeted again, adding, "Also: don't have enough energy to be shady to anyone. much less, someone who i love. like, no. how boring. how basic. goodbye. happy sunday." McClain jumped into the jealousy conversation, writing on Twitter, "LOL wait where did this come from? I love myself some @DoveCameron????"

Dove Cameron found love on Disney's Descendants set

Dove Cameron's life changed when she was cast as Mal in Disney's Descendants. The role gave the star friends who became family, and she met "the love of [her] life" on the set of Descendants 2.

Cameron described her experiences working on the Descendants series to Access in April 2019. "My first boyfriend ever I found through Liv and Maddie, and I'm so grateful for that experience and what he taught me," she said. "And then, yeah, the love of my life, I found on the set of Descendants. I don't think anything will ever shape and change my life like Disney [and] Descendants has."

The actress went into more detail about meeting boyfriend Thomas Doherty, who played Harry Hook, in an interview with Seventeen, saying, "My relationship with Thomas has been different than anything I've ever experienced with another human right from the very start." She noted, "I know this is cheesy, but honestly, right from the moment we met, it felt like the earth moved, for both of us."

The "Core Four" in Disney's Descendants were super close

The four villain kids in Disney's Descendants movies are extremely close on screen, so it's no surprise the cast became good friends in real life, too. In September 2017, actress Dove Cameron told Disney Channel UK that she considers the people she met on the set of the Descendants films to be her really close friends now, saying, "Lucky enough, I actually get to do my job with my really close friends, and I'm not just saying that — Sofia and Cameron and BooBoo and Mitch and Thomas and everyone, everyone from Descendants and Descendants 2, they're like my family. Kenny [Ortega], too. And I don't say that lightly, at all. I would spend every moment with them if I could." 

Cameron also tweeted her love to the cast on June 28, 2018, saying, "This cast is the pride and joy of my life. my whole heart is in these people. i grow and i am better every day because of these people." Sofia Carson also tweeted her appreciation for her castmates around that time, saying, "I love you my core four @DoveCameron @TheCameronBoyce @booboostewart."

A shocking loss for Disney's Descendants

In July 2019, the cast of Disney's Descendants — and the rest of the world — learned of the tragic and unexpected passing of fellow cast member Cameron Boyce, who died from epilepsy. The actor was just 20 years old. The cast was understandably heartbroken over the sudden loss, as were most who knew Boyce. 

In an interview with Seventeen, Dove Cameron detailed how she learned the news from a text from her mother while she was in a London hotel room, and how she called co-star BooBoo Stewart. She shared, "I immediately phoned Boo Boo [Stewart], who had already called me twice. We just sobbed without speaking. If there was a word stronger than devastated that could describe the depth of pain that I was feeling, I would use it."

Stewart told Good Morning America in August 2019, "We've all just have really been there for each other. The cast … everybody who knew Cameron has come even closer." He added, "And it's been a very special thing."

Disney's Descendants cast had a years-long group chat

Working together on a film franchise for five years is bound to bring a cast closer, which is what happened for the cast of Disney's Descendants. When promoting the third and final Descendants film, BooBoo Stewart told Good Morning America in August 2019, "I have an extended family now." 

While filming on the series has concluded, the remaining members of the "core four" have stayed in constant contact through a group chat that has been open for years. And the long-standing group chat didn't stop once Cameron Boyce tragically passed away in July 2019.

The cast members sent each other text messages through their group chat the night before the premiere of Descendants 3, as Dove Cameron explained to Seventeen in a July 2019 interview. "Me, Boo Boo, Cam and Sofia [Carson] still have our core 4 group chat active and open, as we have for 5 years," she said. Regarding Boyce's passing, she shared, "It's hard when there are no adequate words to express the pain we are all feeling, but the usual text is 'love you,'" adding, "I am grateful for my chosen family at a time like this."

In loving memory of Disney's Descendants star Cameron Boyce

As one of the "core four" villain kids, Cameron Boyce was a huge part of Disney's Descendants series. His unexpected death left a huge hole in the hearts of the Descendants family, and they wanted to express their love for their lost friend in a big way. The third installment to the Descendants trilogy, which aired almost a month after Boyce's passing, was dedicated to the late star.

On the night of the film's premiere on Aug. 2, 2019, Disney Channel PR shared a two-minute video on Twitter in Boyce's memory, writing in the caption, "Tonight's premiere of #Descendants3 is dedicated to #CameronBoyce and is a celebration of his talent and the joy he brought to the world. You'll always be in our hearts, Cameron."

The emotional video showcased Boyce's contagious smile, his high energy on set, the actor's bloopers, and praise from those who worked with him over the course of his life. Along with dedicating the third film to Boyce's memory, Disney also canceled the red carpet premiere for Descendants 3 out of respect for Boyce.

The last day of filming Disney's Descendants was really emotional

The third and final film in Disney's Descendants franchise marked the end of an era for the cast. Filming Descendants 3 was extremely emotional for stars Dove Cameron, BooBoo Stewart, Cameron Boyce, and Sofia Carson because they all had to say goodbye to playing the misfits from the Isle of the Lost. Stewart almost couldn't even say his lines on the last day of filming, which he explained to Good Morning America in August 2019.

The cast coincidentally ended up filming the final scene of the movie on the last day of filming, something that normally doesn't happen, as Sofia Carson explained to Access in April 2019. "Sofia and I, we laid down on our big musical set, on the bridge," Dove Cameron told Access. "And we held hands, and we were like, 'Let's just stay here until the crew kicks us out.' And we did." 

Carson also explained, "We were just kind of laying on the floor, and reminiscing on the last four or five years and the incredible journey that it's all been," adding, "It was a really emotional and just a really beautiful day."

Dove Cameron contributed to Disney's Descendants 3 script

Fans loved Disney's Descendants 3. The premiere drew in 8.4 million viewers and became cable's top-rated program in certain young demos since Descendants 2. However, fans may have gotten a different version of the film before Dove Cameron gave her two cents on the script. That's right, Mal herself had some creative control over her character's story.

In an interview with Access in April 2019, the actress explained how she was allowed be a part of important script-development conversations. "They were workshopping a couple different ideas for the third film — and it's great, because being around for so long, I get to be a part of those conversations," she shared. "I saw it [start at] one thing that was like a totally different plot. They wrote the whole script and then came back to the drawing board."

Cameron also explained that she knew exactly who Mal's father was from the very beginning. She said, "I knew who my dad was; I knew that from the jump," noting, "It's amazing to be part of the behind-the-scenes stuff. That's my favorite part."

The true message behind Disney's Descendants films

Disney's Descendants has become beloved by fans for many reasons, but the biggest appeal of the series is its heart. At its core, Descendants isn't so rotten. In fact, the films are all about love.

Sofia Carson explained to Access, "What I've always loved about the Descendants franchise is that, apart from the incredible fairy tale and the magic, the music and the wigs and costumes, there's such an important story that we tell. … It's always been standing up for the outcasts and learning that only through inclusion and learning not to judge and to love first and to choose love, the world will be a better place."

In his final interview, the late Cameron Boyce told Entertainment Tonight that viewers got to see how the Descendants characters thrived once societal labels were removed from them, saying, "To be able to sort of tell a story in which we say, 'It doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter who you are — we are going to accept you for who you are' — that's when people really start to sort of take in their surroundings and just kind of go free."