Y’know the fairytale about the princess waiting for some handsome prince to come and save her? Yeah, this is not that kind of story.”Skylar Astin, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals
In an era where fewer children are watching broadcast television and instead opting for shows available on the streaming services their parents subscribe to, the folks at Disney have decided to blend the two. No, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals isn’t premiering on Disney Channel like every other Disney Channel Original Movie before it. Instead, the film was produced by Disney Channel and borrows many cast and crew from the popular kid-driven entertainment cable network.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals follows Sam, a teenage royal rebel second in line to the throne of the kingdom of Illyria. Just as Sam’s disinterest in the royal way of life is at an all-time high, she discovers she has super-human abilities and is invited to join a secret society of similar extraordinary second-born royals charged with keeping the world safe. With guidance from their Secret Society instructor James, Sam and a new class of royal recruits must first learn to harness their new powers at a top-secret training camp before they can save the world.
The effects used to illustrate the second-born’s powers are impressive, with the shout out being an incredible sequence reminiscent of the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. However, these visual effects worsen throughout the film with several sequences looking entirely faked.
The cinematography feels a bit flat, often resorting to either a close-up, a follow shot, a reaction shot, or a plain-old master shot. There is one shot in the film that looked pretty close to the early X-Men films, particularly X2. Unfortunately, that shot seemed to mimic that film rather than evoking it, as the lighting for each scene feels either too bright or too dim to appreciate the cinematography.
The stunts in SSBR are somewhat lackluster, but an interesting choice nonetheless. There’s little physical violence (which might result from Disney Channel producing), instead opting to emphasize what the team has to do to defend themselves.
Likewise, the writing and direction are half-baked. There are multiple times when a problem could’ve been quickly resolved if characters talked to each other, but we see numerous other cases in the film where characters do talk out their issues. Furthermore, the story introduces these B-plots that just don’t feel like they’re given enough time to play out. Without spoiling anything, a montage section comes out of absolutely nowhere that is antithetical to what is currently happening in the plot, an unneeded mission that has nothing to do with the main story, and an evident lack of consequences for anything the characters do.
While we’re on the topic, the acting by these child actors is probably better than most DCOM movies. Sure, some cringy lines are thrown in there like “go mute yourself” or “No one can know we exist. I’ve had that super power for years. Dude! so sad.” no doubt by the actors themselves, but they’re trying their hardest to sell that they are super-humans in a prestigious European country and not just regular people off the street reading some lines off a teleprompter. Peyton Elizabeth Lee shines the most out of this cast in an already charismatic group, displaying a dedication to understanding why Sam feels so outcast amongst her family and what she can do to help keep her kingdom safe. Outside of Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Skylar Astin would probably be the next stand out. He’s a genuinely hilarious dude, so his role here fits, but gives him more to do than just spout one-liners.
The set & production design is downright lazy. For a film set in a country in Europe, the streets look nothing like that, evoking much more of a New York & South California vibe, depending on the scene. In fact, depending on the scene, you could just throw a random location generator on the screen, and I would believe whatever showed up on the title card. Seriously. I don’t know what country I am in half the time, and I wish that the set and production designers would’ve put more time and effort into clearly identifying why certain parts of the country look massively different than the others.
Par for the course in a DCOM, there is a lot of music in SSBR. Whether it’s original music performed by one of the cast members or a licensed song, I imagine the film’s soundtrack is quite large. Anytime the characters need time alone, there’s music, although I believe some are licensed instead of original music. Naturally, this leaves little space for any composer to have a score that would be memorable, which is unfortunate. A film centering around super-human abilities would be the perfect place for a bombastic score to make itself known, but I imagine that has more to do with the fact that this is a DCOM that’s been distributed on Disney+ rather than a Disney+ production.
Ultimately, if you have Disney+ and have kids, this will be something they’ll enjoy due to the usual super-human trappings (with the stipulation that some content is unsuitable for younger audiences), but parents (or anyone not currently watching Disney Channel) won’t necessarily enjoy it because it doesn’t try hard enough to bring a heart to the story outside of a few lines.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals will premiere on Disney+ on September 25th.
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