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Princess power – ‘Secret Society of Second-Born Royals’

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One thing that the Disney oeuvre has long been known for is the ubiquity of their princesses. While not EVERY Disney movie features princesses, we’ve seen enough to understand it for the tendency that it is.

Another thing that Disney is known for – though not for as long – is superheroes. As the stewards of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the powers that be at Disney have embraced the various tropes of that particular genre as well.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us that they’ve decided to bring the two together.

“Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” – a Disney original currently streaming on Disney+ - seeks to bring these nigh-ubiquitous entertainment elements to bear in the same film. Directed by Anna Mastro from a script co-written by Alex Livak and Andrew Green, the superhero/princess mashup plucks elements from both genres and blends them together into an inoffensive smoothie that will go down easy and then promptly be forgotten.

Overall, it’s a (relatively) successful effort, though your mileage will almost certainly vary. It’s charming in its way, though the production values leave something to be desired. Kids will probably dig it, while parents will be able to tolerate it well enough. It’s not good enough to care about or bad enough to avoid – an adequate time-passer that leaves the door open for more.

Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee, TV’s “Andi Mack”) is a princess in the tiny European country of Illyria. She is the second daughter; her older sister Eleanor (Ashley Liao, TV’s “Fuller House”) is the one set to assume the crown on her 18th birthday in just a few weeks. Their mother is Queen Catherine (Elodie Yung, TV’s “The Defenders”), who took over following the tragic death of her husband and brother-in-law in a plane crash years ago.

Sam is a rebel, pushing back against the idea of the monarchy via the music she makes with her best friend Mike (Noah Lomax, “The Tale”). But her rebellious streak causes issues with her other relationships, both with her family and with her classmates at Strathmore, a school populated entirely by children of royalty.

When her actions lead to her getting sent to summer school, Sam expects the worst. When she meets her fellow classmates – social media obsessive Roxana (Olivia Deeble, TV’s “Home and Away”), sweet-natured January (Isabella Blake-Thomas, “Wyrm”), boisterous Tuma (Niles Fitch, TV’s “This is Us”) and wallflower Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana, “Nightmare Cinema”) – her fears seem to be confirmed. But when they meet their teacher, they learn that all is not as it seems.

Professor James Morrow (Skylar Astin, “Ghosts of War”) isn’t here for typical summer school. He’s here because as it turns out, all second-born royals are actually gifted with superpowers. It’s his job to help these new recruits discover and control their powers so that they might become members of the Secret Society of Second Born Royals, a secret team dedicated to protecting the world from unseen dangers.

But when a mysterious superpowered figure known only as Inmate 34 (Greg Bryk, “My Spy”) escapes prison, it sets in motion a series of events that could have global repercussions. It’s up to Sam and her new crew to find a way to harness their powers, come together as a team and stop him – even if it means putting even more strain on her relationships with Eleanor and Mike along the way.

The only thing truly surprising about “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” is that it took this long for the Disney machine to put together a superhero/princess mashup like this one. It embraces the surface-level tropes of both genres without bothering too much with delving into the potential complexities therein. As such, it feels a bit paint-by-numbers, but the formulaic nature of the thing ultimately doesn’t matter that much – it is a simple, straightforward movie that is easily digested and structured to allow for multiple installments. A low-risk effort to establish a franchise.

Now, if you’re looking for high-quality … anything, you’re probably going to need to keep looking. The story is unchallenging and simple, with few surprises. The direction is competent, but nothing more. The performances are fine, with a bunch of likeable kids doing their best, but I doubt we’ve got any future Oscar winners here. And the effects, well … the less said about them, the better; they basically feel like they’re about a decade behind where they should be.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t also at least mention the unclear geopolitical aspects of this film. I’m not going to bother with specifics; suffice it to say that I was left with a LOT of questions about the workings of the kingdom of Illyria and frankly monarchy in general.)

All that being said, I didn’t dislike “SSOSBR” as much as I thought I might. It’s … OK. There’s a baseline level of competence that makes the film a reasonable way to fritter away 100 minutes or so, and I expect that kids of a certain age will really embrace it – certainly enough to warrant the inevitable sequels that are likely in production as we speak.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 28 September 2020 09:19

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