I had the wonderful opportunity to fly to Los Angeles for 26 hours to interview Melissa De La Cruz, writer of the Descendants book series, and Dove Cameron, current Queen of Disney Channel. *screams internally* *screams externally*
The interview was a part of the launch event for Rise of the Isle of the Lost, the third book in Melissa De La Cruz’s Descendants series. The first two (The Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost) both were #1 on the New York Times best sellers list, with the former residing on the list for over 50 weeks. While the first book was a prequel to the first film, and the second book was a midquel of sorts, Rise of the Isle of the Lost introduces readers to Uma, Ursula’s daughter and one of three new villian kids being featured in Descendants 2.
King Triton’s magical trident has passed through the barrier surrounding The Isle of the Lost and Uma is ready to retrieve it. She knows her power over the Isle will only grow stronger with the trident at her fingertips. She creates her own ragtag group of pirates, including Captain Hook’s son, Harry, and Gaston’s son, Gil, and sets off the obtain the trident. Over on Auradon, the crew (Carlos, Evie, Jay, and Mal) all get word of Uma’s plan and set out to stop her. The thrilling fight pits old friends (and new enemies) against each other and places Auradon’s future on the line. Who will come out on top?!
I had the chance to interview them and then attend a launch reading at Barnes & Noble. Kids were lined up outside and inside, all holding their copies of Rise of the Isle of the Lost with such excited faces that made me smile. These kids were so excited to read, how can that not brighten your day?! The event featured the book trailer, “Ways to be Wicked” music video, and the newest Descendants 2 trailer on the screen. Then, Melissa interviewed Dove Cameron, they both did a reading from the book (There was a red-headed girl, probably about 11, who had such a ginormous smile the entire time they were reading from the book, it made me just want to go over and high-five her. She was LIVING for it.), and then they did a signing of the new release. The shelf holding Rise of the Isle of the Lost was constantly being restocked, and yet, always looked empty. It was super fun and exciting to see.
We covered a lot of ground in the 13 minutes I spoke with them, including feminism, how the books and movies are one fluid work, and their thoughts and decisions when pulling traits for the characters from the original films. Below is a transcript of some highlights from the interview:
Marshal Knight: So, this is the third book in the series, Rise of the Isle of the Lost, and this will be the second movie in July. I was curious to know that we’ve had some time with the movie franchise and the book series if you guys have taken stuff from each other’s work. Like, if you’ve seen the movies and saw something that [Dove] added to Mal that was like, “Ooo, I can add that to the book,” and vice versa.
Melissa De La Cruz: Oh yeah, no it’s a whole communal thing. There’s not like there’s movies and there’s books, it’s all together. The characters in my mind have [Dove’s] face and Sofia’s face-
Dove Cameron: And you wrote the books after we were all cast, right?
MDLC: Yeah, exactly.
MK: Oh, that’s nice.
MDLC: It was a project that everyone was part of, so it wasn’t like I was over here writing and they were over there. We would communicate and I would see all the drafts of the script and then they would show me the production things, so we really wanted to tie it in together.
DC: I think it’s a weird misconception that the movies are based on the books or the books are based on the movies, actually neither is based on the other.
MK: It’s all combined.
MDLC: Yeah, they’re all combined. It’s interesting because it’s multi-platform. They always wanted it multi-platform. There are always a bunch of creators.
MK: That’s awesome. So when [Dove] got the realization that you would be playing Maleficent’s daughter and [Melissa] would be writing these, how nervous were you to stray from what we know from the classics? Did you feel like there was a worry “I’m not going to be enough like Maleficent”? And even though it’s Maleficent’s daughter, did you [Dove] feel like you needed to pull from the Angelina Jolie movie more than the original or anything like that? And since you [Melissa] had all the characters to deal with?
MDLC: My concern was really to tie-in to the original movies. I wanted it to make sense, you know? And then I watched all the original movies and all the villains died! So I was like, “Why are they on this island then?!” So, I really needed to figure out what’s worse than death…the Isle of the Lost.
DC: For me, I was informed very early on (which, this is just most nerve-wracking), but I was informed by the head of Disney Channel, Gary Marsh, that the reason this project has taken so long was because Disney Corporate had to approve of somebody officially embellishing on the original stories, because that is what we’re doing. Anything else, like Once Upon a Time, hasn’t actually been an official embellishment on the story-
MK: It hasn’t been canon or anything.
MDLC: Right, whereas we’re canon.
DC: We. Are. Canon. And that’s why it took so long, because apparently, Disney corporate was like “That’s a terrible idea, we don’t want to mess with the original stuff.” And so [Gary] told me that. He was like, “This is the first time that this is ever going to happen.” I mean, it made me a little bit nervous, but more than anything else, but I was just like “That’s the deepest honor.”
MK & MDLC: Oh, absolutely.
DC: Because Disney Channel is it’s own thing, it’s own beast, so to be told you’re involved in the classics is like, there’s nothing more delicious than that. I think that’s why we’re all so invested in the series and the franchise itself because it’s the first time! It’s the deepest honor, so for me, it was less nerve-wracking and the most delicious opportunity and I actually avoided seeing the Angelina Jolie film.
MK: That’s good, ’cause it makes you feel obligated to go that route since it’s so recent.
DC: Yeah, and it came out while we were shooting the first one, so Kristin and I were like “Promise, we’re not gonna do it,” ya know?
MK: Sorry, Angie!
DC: *laughs* Yeah, sorry Angie, you’ll have to wait.
MK: The movie’s written by women, the book was written by a woman, the lead character is a woman and all kick-butt. I think the greatest thing is Mal gets to be messy, for lack of a better word.
MK: She’s not watered down. She has emotions: teen emotions, then also having to also struggle with evil and good with her family, too. I was wondering if either of you, don’t feel pressure, but I guess, just excitement that you get to bring an arguably super feminist tale to a younger generation that doesn’t get that content and if you felt any pressure or any different feelings going towards this since it was going to a younger audience, but still unabashedly feminist?
DC: So my biggest, like, MIS-SION in life is creating complex, strong, messy, intense, vicious, layered types of characters for girls and the biggest offense to me, what makes me the most angry, is when I see girls, real girls, who are role models and in a position to be that way and they sort of become, like, the damsel in distress or the victim. The victim! When girls are writing victim-y songs, that sure, are gonna sell like hot cakes, because they’re relatable. It’s not your job to be relatable and to sell. Your job is to inspire and to be something that these girls can look up to in a real way. I know that that sounds so generic, but it’s-
MK: It’s true, yeah.
DC: Yeah, it’s okay to be complex. It’s okay to need stuff. It’s okay to be complicated. I think that women are so praised, even though we think we’re passed it, we’re praised for being the caretaker, or for being maternal, or for being the peacemaker, or for being sweet, whatever, like “Oh the womanly energy.” I don’t want that! And I don’t want to inspire young girls to be that way! Don’t be a peacemaker. Go after what you need, go after what you want, put yourself first.
MK: For sure, yeah.
DC: Mal is a character who does that. That’s the most incredible thing, and she didn’t have to be that way and I really feel like as we kept creating the series, she got more and more that way, and she’s like, talk about messy! She’s so messy in the second film. She’s a total mess! She just lets herself be this mess and she lets herself need people and call upon people to come to her aid, but she also stands up for herself, ’cause she’s a real person.
MK: Yeah, it’s great for people to see real people, even if it’s in this magical fantasy world.
DC: Yes! And, I love a complicated girl. I love a girl who doesn’t know who she is and then she knows who she is. I think Mal is the ultimate heroine, because she’s real and she’s fiery.
MK: Oooo, good adjective.
MDLC: I mean, I’ve written I think 30 books when they asked me to write Descendants, and they all feature strong, layered, crazy, ya know, characters who are real girls, not just the perfect girl, like [Dove] said, the victim. I could never even write that.
MK: Was it a little different since the books were skewed almost skewed a tad younger, ya know? Since a lot of your books have been the YA genre, but this a middle grade book.
MDLC: It was my first middle grade fantasy, but in the writing of it, I don’t even think of that, I just wanted to write. It was in the Disney universe, so it did feel a little younger, but it’s still me.
MK: Yeah, you still have your point of view. Awesome.
MDLC: Yeah, my point of view of how I think the characters are and I love that. Everything [Dove] said about Mal, that’s why I was drawn to it. And part of it, too, was they were struggling so much with their parents.
DC: Yeah! And that’s a real thing that everybody deals with!
MDLC: Yeah, and being disappointments because they were good *laughs* to these evil parents.
MK: And it’s the parent thing, but also, just the normal teenage problems and emotions that she has to deal with. It’s great. Feminism.
You can listen to the full interview below! (Warning: I sound ridiculously nervous, but Melissa and Dove were both a DELIGHT!)
Rise of the Isle of the Lost is available wherever books are sold and Descendants 2 premieres Friday, July 21st at 8pm on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Freeform, ABC, and Lifetime!
Marshal Knight is a writer based in Orlando, FL. He is the co-owner of the pop culture blog UMSURE.com and the full owner of a Rosie O’Donnell Barbie. He’d like to thank Sandra Oh.