The soundtrack for Disney Channel's popular movie Descendants 2 presents parents with a surprising conundrum: This collection of songs packs in more problematic moments than the movie itself does.
That's due, in part, to the story's central premise. The main character, Mal (daughter of Maleficent) sought to change her wicked ways in 2015's Descendants. Now, she's good King Ben's girlfriend. She's traded purple leather and purple hair for a pretty dress and princessy tresses. But she feels like she can't be herself, and the temptation to return to her old ways is tugging at her.
That tension, between Mal's two conflicting identities, shapes the dramatic arc of Descendants 2. It also helps us understand some of the film's most problematic scenes—such as an opening daydream sequence that finds Mal fantasizing about being bad again as she (and her fellow descendants of other Disney baddies) all cheerfully belt out the song "Ways to Be Wicked." (More on that below.)
But without the context of the film, and with the addition of some problematic tracks that actually aren't featured in Descendants 2 at all, the accompanying soundtrack becomes burdened with significant concerns.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
"You and Me" champions facing challenges together: "There's something that I've learned/It's together we can change the world." The song suggests every individual has a positive contribution to make ("Everybody's got something they can bring") and counsels listeners against letting insecurities cripple them ("Do you wish that you were something else?/But who you are is who you need to be"). The chorus chants, "We gotta be bold/We gotta be brave/ … We'll look deep inside/And we'll rise up and shine."
"Better Together" sings the praises of teamwork while facing obstacles: "The road could be hard/And the night could be dark/ … But when we work together/We're a power that nothing else can touch/Every piece makes us better."
"Space Between" is a duet between Mal and her bestie, Evie, when it looks as if Mal's choices will separate them forever. They sing together, "And you can find me in the space between/Where two worlds come to meet/I'll never be out of reach/'Cause you're a part of me/ … You'll never be alone/No matter where you go."
Likewise, "Rather Be With You" repeats that titular sentiment several times: "Doesn't matter what we do, 'cause I'd rather be with you."
The opening song (and one that Disney has heavily promoted) indulges the joy of being naughty. "We got all the ways to be/W-I-C-K-E-D," the cast spells out one letter at a time. From there, lyrics detail some of what said wickedness might look like. We hear, "Looks like this place could use a little misbehavior," and, "Bad to the bone with even worse intentions/We're gonna steal the show and leave 'em all defenseless." There's more, especially in the chorus: "Long live havin' some fun/We take what we want/There's so many ways to be wicked/With us evil lives on/The right side of wrong." Near the end, we also hear, "Evil is the only real way to win."
Two problem-filled songs come courtesy of Disney Channel's animated series, Descendants: Wicked World. "Evil" includes lines a lot like the ones above, as Mal (played by Liv and Maddie star Dove Cameron) sings, "I carry on like a princess/But, man, I've got 'em fooled/'Cause underneath my business/I am cold, I'm hard, I'm cruel." She then sings, "Tell the people/I'm evil/Open your eyes/I'm all a disguise." She also announces, "So good I'm gonna find some trouble, trouble/I'm gonna make some trouble." And Mal rationalizes bad behavior when she sings, "Tell me what good is livin'/If you can't be who you are?" Similarly, "Rather Be With You" repeatedly asks, "Good, bad, dark, light/What you rather be tonight?"
The movie's antagonist, Uma (Ursula's daughter), describes what happens to those who can't make good on the bargains they make with her: "Now it's happened once or twice/Someone couldn't pay the price/And I'm afraid had to rake cross the coals" ("Poor Unfortunate Souls"). "What's My Name" is a brag-filled rap song by Uma (and her underlings) singing her praises. One of those characters, Harry Hook (Captain Hook's son) sings, "You know what they say/Bad girls have all the fun." And on the pre-rumble song "It's Goin' Down," Uma threatens Ben with a fishy fate: "I'll throw him overboard and let him swim with the sharks/You either hand over the [magic] wand, or he'll be ripped apart."
"Chillin' Like a Villain" is connected to a scene in which Mal's friends try to help earnest-and-smiling King Ben blend in with other discontents on the grim Isle of the Lost. "Everybody's got a wicked side," they tell him. He later responds, "I really wanna be bad a lot/And I'm giving it my best shot." Again, watching the movie, it's clear what's going on. But listening to the song alone, that distinction is less clear.
And though many of us know Little Mermaid's "Kiss the Girl" lyrics by heart, the remade song's encouragement to pucker up nevertheless delivers advice some parents of young children might not be too crazy about: "Yes, you want her/Look at her, you know you do/Possibly she wants you too/There's one way to ask her/ … Go on and kiss the girl."
A couple of songs ("Space Between," "You and Me") emphasize the perennial Disney theme of following your heart—a compass that's always presented as reliable, even though we know as Christians that our hearts' desires can lead us in imperiling directions.
Look, I don't want to sound like a critical curmudgeon here, but this soundtrack's got some real issues. I reviewed and mostly liked the movie Descendants 2, but I did suggest skipping the opening song, "Ways to be Wicked."
The problematic message in that song is partially mitigated by the movie's plot, in which we realize that Mal is wrestling with temptation to go back to her old ways. But listening to it apart from the movie? I'm pretty sure most parents don't want their kids internalizing messages such as, ""Evil is the only real way to win." And, unfortunately, that song's not the only place the soundtrack apparently embraces its infatuation with wickedness. (The songwriters' word, not mine, I should add.)
Several inspiring tracks are as nice as you'd expect, majoring on positive messages such as every individual's dignity, the value of teamwork and the importance of determination. Still, there are enough problems here to make this particular soundtrack more difficult to navigate than the movie it came from.