Disney has announced that production will begin in a few months on "Descendants," a Disney Channel original movie that will premiere in 2015.
The story takes place in Disney's universe where the son of Belle and Beast proclaims that the children of iconic baddies Cruella De Vil, Maleficent, the Evil Queen and Jafar -- who have been imprisoned on a forbidden island -- will get to go to prep school with the children of Disney heroes. Naturally they will need to decide if they want to follow in the footsteps of their parents or if they want to aim for redemption.
I'm Not Bad, I'm Just Drawn That Way
It's a clever premise, and despite the animated nature of all of these movies, this Disney Channel original will feature live actors. And, despite the serious moral undertones, it will also be largely a comedy.
Disney's push for original teen-oriented movies that it can continue to rebroadcast has served it well in the past.
As fate would have it, Disney's turning to the director of the "High School Musical" trilogy to work on this one. That may not sit well with older Disney buffs hoping for a less cheesy production, but there's no point in arguing with the success that Disney Channel has had with this type of movie.
Cut to the Opportunities
Critics will argue that these Disney Channel movies are too formulaic. "High School Musical," "Camp Rock," and "Teen Beach Movie" take attractive casts of fresh faces, inject infectious pop songs, and phone it in with predictable scripts.
There's little reason to expect "Descendants" to be any different, but the real secret sauce here will be viewer familiarity with the characters. They will know the parent characters, increasing awareness of the film's stars before they start watching. This should help establish a larger built-in audience than Disney Channel's earlier releases.
This could naturally open up new merchandising and theme park opportunities given the new characters that will be introduced. It may be trickier to work Disney's well-oiled machine for non-animated characters, but think about what the media giant is doing here: Disney is promoting the arrival of at least a dozen new characters in this movie.
No one is better at milking value out of a character portfolio than Disney. It spent billions to acquire Pixar, Marvel, and more recently Lucasfilm. The appeal in each of those deals was access to beloved character franchises. Now it gets a shot at dreaming up characters from scratch.
Theme parks shows geared around "Descendants" will be no-brainers, but we can't dismiss the potential of more elaborate attractions and patron interactions. This is what Disney does for a living. It knows how to turn modest properties into powerhouses.
"Descendants" seems to have all of the right ingredients to succeed. Something good can come out of villains after all.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney Co. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney.