Does Emmy want to be evil like ‘Descendants’ or are its chances rotten to the core?
When Disney’s Descendants premiered late last July, it was an immediate and smashing success. The children’s programming giant made the TV movie – a musical fantasy about the conflicted children of Disney’s most popular villains – available on as many platforms as possible. Kids could inject the film via the Watch Disney Channel app, several iterations on The Disney Channel, and same-day DVD. As a result of the massive marketing push, Descendants ranks as the fifth most watched original movie in cable history. It scored some 10.5 million viewers once DVR viewings were factored in. To those paying attention, Descendants started to feel like a phenomenon along the lines of the mid-2000s smash High School Musical.
And I’m not even getting into the omnipresent merchandising.
But how deep do the High School Musical comparisons run? Before you scoff, High School Musical received six Emmy nominations in 2006. It won two plus a Directors Guild of America award for its director, Kenny Ortega, among other guild wins. But then Teen Beach Movie, another hugely rated Disney Channel original film, was completely ignored by all awards bodies. Ratings aren’t everything, clearly.
So, where does Descendants stand with the Television Academy?
Immediately going against the film, 7 to 14 year-old girls don’t vote in the Emmys. There goes the core audience. Still, High School Musical managed to rate heavily with the voting body back in 2006. Given Descendants High School-level reputation, will Emmy take similar notice?
In 2006, Emmy categories were slightly different. Before the advent of the powerhouse limited / anthology series, High School Musical fell into the Miniseries, Movie, or Special categories. Frankly, there was significantly less competition. Ortega, who directed Descendants as well as High School Musical, faced competition from mostly TV movies with Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables) winning for HBO’s Elizabeth I two-night mini. Even though Ortega also won a Directors Guild of America award for Descendants to match his High School trophy, he faces a massively different television landscape. He will compete against such powerhouse direction as American Crime, American Crime Story, and Fargo among others. I’m not saying he’s out of the running. I’m just saying it’s a much tougher sell in 2016.
Still, Descendants stands a decent shot at matching High School Musical‘s other nominations. Voters seem to like the movie as evidenced by recent wins at the Directors and Writers guilds. Outstanding Children’s Program seems like a good bet given the profile and quality of the TV movie (it currently boasts a 63 on Metacritic) as does Outstanding Choreography where Ortega’s tony reputation will not go easily ignored. Outstanding Casting is very unlikely given the same players in the Direction category. And, basically, that award has American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson engraved on it already. Tech categories could be kinder as the fantasy elements tend to be more awards friendly than the High School Musical setting.
Finally, High School Musical received two Emmy nominations for its songs, “Get’cha Head in the Game” and “Breaking Free.” I have an 8-year-old daughter, so I am intimately familiar with Descendants songs. Well, familiar enough to know which ones could rise to the top of this Emmy category. The opener “Rotten to the Core” feels like the best bet, especially given the number of incarnations it has both in the show and in the recording industry (co-star Sofia Carson recorded a solo version that received some play on the Billboard charts). Next in line is likely “Evil Like Me” thanks to Kristin Chenoweth’s ability to sell the number in the film. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine anything else taking one of those song’s place, but, if there were other candidates, then “If Only” and “Did I Mention” rank in the conversation.
And what of the performances?
Well, the leads are all very attractive and able performers. Dove Cameron (Mal, the daughter of Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent) seems especially well suited to break out of the kid’s programming ghetto if she makes smart career choices. Yet, the material just doesn’t offer the kind of opportunities to elevate the cast into the same league as, say, a Sarah Paulson for American Crime Story or Lily Taylor in American Crime. Or really any other actor from a property starting with American. If you put a gun to my head, then maaaaaybe Kristin Chenoweth could factor into the Supporting Category thanks to industry good will and amusing scenery chewing. But don’t put money on that bet.
Maybe Emmy would be kinder if the movie were named American Descendants.
Original Music and Lyrics – “Rotten to the Core”
Original Music and Lyrics – “Evil Like Me”