Since launching late last year, Disney+ has kept up a steady stream of releasing original movies and TV shows and if the latest, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, feels like the streamer’s answer to Disney Channel Original Movies, that’s because it pretty much is. Produced by Disney Channel but releasing on Disney+, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals brings the charm of a classic DCOM to the Mouse House’s new streaming service. The movie is directed by Anna Mastro (The Bold Type) from a script by Alex Litvak (Predators) and Andrew Green (Hannah Montana) based on a story by Litvak, Green and Austin Winsberg (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist). Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is pure family-friendly fun, combining princesses and superheroes for a delightful, if unoriginal, adventure.
The movie follows Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee), the second-born princess of the kingdom of Illyria who struggles under the weight of her role in the monarchy, especially when it means living in the shadow of her perfect older sister Eleanor (Ashley Liao). When Sam is sent to summer school, though, she discovers she’s actually entered a training program for second-born royals, who each have unique superpowers to help protect their kingdoms in secret. There, she’s joined by fellow second-borns January (Isabella Blake-Thomas), Tuma (Niles Fitch), Roxana (Olivia Deeble) and Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana) to learn from their instructor James (Skylar Astin). Even more surprising, Sam’s mother Queen Catherine (Élodie Yung) leads the Secret Society. When one of the society’s most dangerous prisoners escapes, Sam and her new friends will have to save Eleanor’s coronation and protect the royals of the world.
As evidenced by the premise, the movie combines two elements for which Disney has become known: princesses and superheroes. The opening lines of the movie – a voiceover introduction from Astin’s James – even plays on the idea that this isn’t your typical Disney princess story. To be sure, the movie does still feel like a Disney princess story – but the newer, less conventional princesses like Elsa and Moana. There’s also quite a few similarities to the X-Men insofar as the movie is about a group of kids learning to control their superpowers at a school for gifted youngsters. It’s also easy to compare Secret Society of Second-Born Royals to Spy Kids (they’re kids and they’re training to be spies) as well as Sky High since they’re young adult superheroes at school. All this is to say that Disney+’s latest isn’t the most original movie, but with a clever script that pokes fun at its Disney roots as much as it’s a commercial for the Mouse House’s properties (with references to The Lion King and The Avengers), Secret Society of Second-Born Royals puts enough of a fresh spin on genre conventions to feel new-ish.
What helps Secret Society of Second-Born Royals be so charming is the cast. Lee anchors the movie well as Sam, who’s a pretty standard Disney heroine: Plucky, but determined to find her place in the world. She also has fun chemistry with her fellow young stars, with Deeble delivering an especially compelling turn as a social media addict with a heart of gold. Fitch is the perfect blend of obnoxious and charming as Tuma, Rakotohavana is sweet and shy as Matteo, and Blake-Thomas puts in a super delightful turn as January. The movie is further bolstered by Astin’s James, who shifts between a teacher trying to be cool and a hardened trainer, but Astin has the ability to go from goofy to serious quickly and ultimately makes it work. All told, it’s a strong cast and everyone appears to be having fun with the material, which makes Secret Society of Second-Born Royals that much more enjoyable to watch.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is the film’s exploration of the villain’s evil plan, which is to dismantle monarchies by killing their rulers. It’s not surprising the movie doesn’t really dive into what would actually happen if so many royals were killed since it is, after all, a family-friendly adventure flick. But the result is a frustratingly one-dimensional villain that truly only exists to drive the plot and Sam’s character development. It’s largely forgivable – so long as viewers don’t think too hard about it – since audiences aren’t going into Secret Society of Second-Born Royals looking for a profound exploration of monarchies and rebellions. Thankfully, the rest of the cast and story are solid enough to distract from the underdeveloped villain.
With Secret Society of Second-Born Royals releasing on Disney+, it has a low barrier of entry for anyone already subscribed, and it’s certainly worth checking out for those intrigued by the premise. While it’s not necessarily a must-watch like Hamilton that will inspire those not already subscribed to join the service, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is perfect for fans of DCOMs who are craving a new flick or families in need of a new film for movie night. In the end, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is fun for the whole family, with enough Disney magic to tide over fans of the Mouse House at a time when there’s a dearth of new movies from the studio.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is now streaming on Disney+. It is 99 minutes long and rated TV-PG.
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