Navigating Loss, Descendants 3 and the Space Between

TV Features Descendants
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Navigating Loss, <i>Descendants 3</i> and the Space Between

“I believe I deserve some compensation for my muscles,” is the reason a pirate teen—the love child of Captain Hook—gives in response to a petty theft.

That’s the delight that Disney Channel’s Descendants 3 brings fans. It is a franchise that gives its viewers (largely kids and tweens) what they want in terms of humor, but also gives the parents who are forced to watch it a hundred times something giggle at as well. The third installment is over an hour and a half long, so there is plenty of new material to digest after watching the same 90 minutes of Descendants 2 for the past year.

But then you see Cameron Boyce, the 20-year-old who played Carlos in the franchise. The boy who played the sweet son of Cruella DeVille, who you know. He has passed away. He is not coming back. But here you see him whole. Healthy. 

It takes your breath away.

I had big plans for my review of Descendants 3. I requested this review from my editor months ago because I have nieces that love it and I know the words to every song by heart. The first Descendants movie perpetuates the notion that “there are so many ways to be wicked,” but only provides one set of lyrics. My original idea was to compare the adult fandom of Game of Thrones to the tweenage fandom of the Descendants.

And let’s face it, there are similarities. Dragons, battles for control of the kingdom, people called evil are really good and vice versa, and then the fanbase itself. These kid fans are as into their story as any adult  is about Game of Thrones. Maybe more, because they even wear their Mal and Evie clothes to school! Teachers think that is cute, but your boss at the office would probably frown at Game of Thrones cosplay.

But then you see Cameron Boyce.

Whenever someone young passes away, it takes me back to my own teen years when my friend died suddenly. I immediately sympathized with Cameron’s friends, and understand how they must now deal with the harsh reality of death and face their own mortality. As I watched Cameron run through this movie, I thought of how losing a friend who was my age shook me in a way I had never experienced. Sure, I knew that in theory, at any time, anyone could die, but it felt improbable. Death was something that only happened in movies. Old people died. That is sad, but expected. Young people just aren’t supposed to die, but as we are once again reminded, they do.

Descendants 3 is full of heart, as the teenage children of classic Disney heroes and villains find their way in the world. And more than finding their way, they are trying to shape it into the future they want to see. Fans will be thrilled, because the third installment does not disappoint.

Mal, who frequently turns into a dragon is the daughter of Maleficent, and she is in love with Ben, the son of Belle and Beast. The pair are moving forward in their romance, but the couple already has a governing problem. Even in the magical land of Auradon, government does not run smoothly. The Isle of the Lost, where all the baddies are kept in seclusion and under a constant cover of clouds, has folks looking for opportunity. In the past two seasons, kids from the Island are brought over to Auradon and integrated into the “good” society. There is a magic border wall that keeps them apart, for the supposed safety of the good guys.

Which begs the question as you are watching the show, are people who are put into the “bad” category really bad or are they only “bad” because they are separated? Is opportunity the great equalizer? Is this some kind of Disney affirmative action at work? Is this some veiled attempt to discuss immigration policy?

Sure, it’s a kids show, but they are definitely talking about themes that will make parents think, and maybe start conversations within the family at home.

This third installment is full of the same bibbity-boppity magic as fans will expect, and what makes this show great is that the guy is not always saving a damsel in distress. Boys and girls are typically shown as equal in their power, which is something parents of boys and girls should find encouraging—it’s probably why parents like the series in the
first place. There’s all of the traditional romance and heroics of any classic Disney film, but you see genders as being equal.

Yet, I keep thinking, “I don’t want this movie to end and see Cameron’s last scene.” 

In Descendants the dragon descends from evil, but is really good, and this is a Disney show so nobody kills her. Even the actual bad person doesn’t meet an untimely end. It’s pure Disney magic. The happiest place on earth gives you fairy tale endings. As usual, Evie is a peacemaker, and she has to work out her own issues, but she is always looking to find common ground and bring peace to a situation and truth to her best friend Mal. 

This movie is going to have a happy ending, but, Cameron.

At the end of the movie, after the credits, the four original kids from The Isle of the Lost confirm their friendship and are beaming with smiles and energy.

In Descendants 2, there is a beautiful song where they sing, “we can meet in the space between” and that song has new meaning. I would say to those grieving friends of Cameron that this is often where we find our loved ones who are lost, in that space between dreaming and awake, in a spiritual place that no one can see but we always feel.

Maybe it is because the love we give and receive always remains, even after death.

As someone who has navigated loss, I would offer this as a word of comfort and advice. In our world we often want to pretend like death is not inevitable. If your teens or tweens know about Cameron’s death, I think a conversation after watching this amazing film would be a good idea. Pretending like he is not gone will not help them learn how to navigate grief as they grow older.

Something I have also learned is that grief is not something that ever leaves you. You never “get over it.” However, you can move forward, but the loss and love for the person that has passed stays. It is hard to bear at first, and then you start to get used to it and you move forward with the love and lessons they left you firmly in your heart.

Descendants 3 will leave you entertained and then probably heartbroken, but like so many good things in life, even though your heart might hurt, for those we love, it’s totally worth it.

Descendants 3 premieres on August 2 at 8 p.m. on the Disney Channel.

Keri is a professional chatterbox who loves watching TV & movies, reading about pop culture, and gawking at any craziness on the internet. You can follow Keri on Twitter.