I had the extreme pleasure to speak with Producer, Director, and choreographer Kenny Ortega is best known for directing Hocus Pocus, the High School Musical trilogy, Descendants and plus countless others. Also, with writers Josann McGibbon, and Sara Parriott about Descendants 2.
Kenny started speaking about the role of the writers, and how Sara and Josie, wrote both the first and second Descendants movies – It’s feature work, and the kids and myself, all of us, everyone, the production designers, choreographers, music people, we get so much out of what they place there. It gives us permission to travel in the capacity that we travel in, to adventure, to journey, to play, to take chances, to sing and to dance and to develop these characters. It all starts right here [with the writing] and we’re so appreciative.
I think that we’re going to have the ability to reach a far greater audience, a more dynamic range of audience. We really have a movie that is family entertainment, focused on our core audience, your children, but we’ve been now living with this. It evolves, it develops, and now looking at it, I am so entertained by it.
He goes on to say how very proud they are making a movie that is for everyone, not just for kids. We mention that the Mal and Uma [fight] at the end on the pirate ship was very Hamilton-esque and wondered where he pulled his inspiration from? He replied, Lin-Manuel Miranda and I are really good friends and I was slated to direct his film for a minute. He is an inspiration to me in life. He’s a poet and an amazing writer. They’re all gonna have their inspirations. For me, it starts all the way back to “West Side Story” when I was 13 years old.
If you think about it the Jets and the Sharks are like the Isle of the Lost and Auradon, the pirates and the villain kids. I find myself having a hard time not going there for inspiration. It’s so relevant all the time, no matter what I’m doing I can go to that movie. Jerome Robbins’s work and the performances in it [are incredible]. Rita Moreno won an Academy Award. So that one, but I listen to all genres of music. I love movies. Bob Fosse, Michael Jackson — there’s Michael Jackson in everything that I do.
Sara added – I think the music is so fresh and that was exciting for me. Kenny allows you [to be in] the whole process which is thrilling for us. Sometimes you’re [not involved] but Disney and Kenny and Wendy want us to be involved, and it was fun just to be in the room where they’re picking the songs. They have these wonderful writers coming in and doing songs and we’re all sitting there. There will be a song that just pops out and you’re saying, “Oh my gosh, I love it!”
Kenny said that the “Hamilton” elements being brought up was really cool because it wasn’t something he was conscious of but had said to the composers that he wanted one of the songs [“What’s My Name”] to have a hip-hop opera type of feel to it. They came back with this and it just felt so honest and organic, and it worked for both sides.
Kenny went into detail about what he would like to see left as his legacy. I just had the most amazing experience. I got to talk with Doctor Jane Goodall, the scientist of primate behavior, who is now going way beyond saving the primate species for the planet and for our future generations. She’s now an activist, out there doing everything she can to leave a legacy. She talked about how important it was for her that she gave up something that she really loved for something that she felt was more important. She was not serving herself but serving a greater idea, which was that in order to save a species you have to enlighten the people that live with the species. She put the legacy of it all, which was what I left with that day. It made me audit myself and think about what it is that I do.
What I try to do always in my life and have for a long, long time is to make good choices. Entertaining people with fireworks and color and dance moves has never been something that I’ve been interested in. I’ve always been interested in those stories that are layered beneath the dance, beneath the words or beneath the music. And my choreography is always storytelling, and so there’s a story that is living inside of all that movement. I hope that my legacy one day would be that I told good stories and that they were important stories, and that there were some good stories through my choreography.
Kenny went on to touch on one his amazing choreographing gigs in a little-known film “Dirty Dancing” – That was a big part of my youth. I grew up in the ‘60s. I was born in 1950 and I was dancing in my middle-school gymnasiums. When I got the job to choreograph that movie, the director Emile Ardolino said, “What does Dirty Dancing mean to you?” and I said I just remembered when we would go to our Saturday night dances in middle school, that the teacher would come up on the stage and, and say into the microphone, “If there’s any dirty dancing out there the lights are on, the music is over and the party is off.” Sometimes we weren’t even dancing for 20 minutes and the lights came on. But for me, dance was conversation. Before I was a choreographer I danced and there were things that I couldn’t say, that I didn’t know how to say, that I was afraid to say. But I could dance them and so I could communicate through movement. And I think that was always a big thing for me – was that dance was an opportunity to communicate and to have a conversation. And that’s what I love about doing it.
Descendants 2 movie premieres simultaneously on 5 Networks on Friday, July 21 (8:00 P.M EDT): Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform and Lifetime, plus on each Network’s branded digital platform.
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