Can you think of some memorable dance scenes in St. Elmo’s Fire, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Dirty Dancing, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, or the High School Musical trilogy? That is just some of the work from the creative mind of Producer, Director and Choreographer Kenny Ortega. Last month in LA, we got the chance to sit down for an Exclusive Interview with Kenny Ortega, to find out about his latest work, Disney’s Descendants, that premieres on the Disney Channel on July 31st!
(I was provided with this experience by Disney/Marvel/Disney XD. Any opinions are 100% my own)
Exclusive Interview with Kenny Ortega
We screened Disney’s Descendants before the Interview with Kenny Ortega, and man is it good! These kids are Rotten to the Core. Or are they? They are the children of Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, The Evil Queen, and Jafar so one may expect that. Disney’s Descendants have been banned to the Isle of Lost but, that’s all about to change. My Review of Disney’s Descendants will be coming on July 31st so stay tuned.
Here I was, a kid that grew up watching Disney and watching Disney animations. Cruella Deville, Maleficent, all of these magnificent Walt Disney characters, and suddenly they were on the page, and I’m being invited to be able to play with these iconic heritage characters and their offspring. To develop brand new characters for Disney. So right there it was so thrilling for me and then everything that happened thereafter. – Kenny Ortega
Adding Disney’s Descendants to a list of stellar work under his belt already, Kenny Ortega is a man that is inspiring others to dance, sing, act, play, let their inside shine, and go after their dreams. Being a man that provides so much inspiration to others, where does Kenny Ortega get his inspiration?
What inspires me is, years and years and years ago I had the opportunity to work with Gene Kelly. Xanadu is what brought us together. Gene Kelly was someone who I grew up. Wanting to be singing, dancing, acting, directing, choreographing, I loved all of it and we became friends. He became my mentor and he used to say to me that there needs to be a reason at the center of your ideas that motivates all of your work. That, and things that I shared with Michael Jackson and other amazing people that came into my life as mentors and teachers and friends. – Kenny Ortega
Disney’s Descendants, much like High School Musical, includes quite a bit of singing and dancing. I love the balance throughout the movie, something I’ve always enjoyed about Kenny Ortega’s work. Bringing together actors, dancers, and athletes….and having them sing and dance can be a challenge, unless you have some dedicated individuals.
I’ve always found that, like with High School Musical 1, 2, and 3, we incorporated sport into choreography, sport as dance. We would use real baseball players with actors and dancers. We would use real basketball players with actors and dancers. What it did was, the actors would raise the bar of the dancers and the athletes, and all the way around it worked. On Descendants we had kind of a factory. We had three different rooms. I had an amazing group of assistants that worked with Paul Becker, my associate choreographer and I, and these kids were given dance class and improv. They were stretched. They were given private tutoring and then also the dancers generously sort of took it upon themselves to sort of mentor the actors. You watched kids learn ten times as fast as they might in an ordinary situation. Kenny Ortega
Dove Cameron (Liv & Maddie) stars in Disney’s Descendants and you wouldn’t guess by her moves on screen, that she wasn’t a dancer prior. Kenny Ortega mentioned that “Dove went from being a none dancer, to being able to attack the movement as ferociously as anybody in the room.” Her stomping onto screen in Rotten to the Core blew me away, as did the rest of scenes.
Filming ‘Descendants was some of the most fun that I’ve had in my entire life. It was the most incredible and magical cast and crew. Kenny Ortega is a genius. All of my costars are absolutely talented and magnificent, and everybody was handpicked so specifically. They’re all my heroes, and I really hope that we get to work more together. -Dove Cameron – Mal, Disney’s “Descendants
Speaking of Rotten to the Core, I’ve been singing it off and on for the past few weeks since seeing Disney’s Descendants. Great beat, catchy lyrics, and sweet moves make this a song the kids across the nation will be singing and recreating in their living rooms. It’s also a favorite of Kenny Ortega’s.
I started it as an actor at 13 years old. I was lucky enough to be in the original London touring production of Oliver, and when I first read the script and started to imagine the world, I thought of the Island of Lost, a bit of Dickens and a little kind of old, you know, old London town under the bridge, that darker underworld. I loved the idea of being able to take Rotten to the Core, use it as character introduction and also to introduce us a bit to the island, what this place is. We found in a few of our screenings for young people that when we asked them after, if you would prefer to visit the Isle of Lost or if you would prefer to visit Oredon where would you like to visit, and the first kid raised his hand and said would we be able to leave when we wanted to? And I said of course and he said the Isle of the Lost. So we made it, I think, a kind of fascinating and interesting world and that particular number was just lots and lots of fun to create as a choreographer and to imagine as a designer.
When you see the performance of Rotten to the Core on Disney’s Descendants, you may get a Thriller vibe. While no moves were taken from there, the fact that anyone feels that is thrilling to Kenny Ortega. I’m sure he’d also be thrilled if you felt like getting up out of your seat and busting a move in your living room while watching the premiere of Disney’s Descendants!
No dance moves are from Thriller, but Thriller was an absolute sort of like energy reference. We wanted it to have that kind of looseness and be deconstructed. In fact, when we finished the number, kids said it reminded them Thriller which was thrilling to me. You know, Michael being one of my favorite human beings ever, that I’ve ever worked with in my life, and a huge influence in my career, to be compared to any of his work is great. – Kenny Ortega
Another familiar face and Disney Star in Disney’s Descendants is Cameron Boyce.(Jessie, Gamer’s Guide) who plays Carlos, the son of Cruella De Vil.
The experience was amazing. We worked with Kenny Ortega, and Vancouver, Canada is beautiful. We had a really great time, the cast was really close. We spent a lot of time together just hanging out, and we were a really tight knit group. – Cameron Boyce – Carlos, Disney’s “Descendants”
Disney’s Descendants was originally written as an action-adventure comedy, without music and dance as part of the story. Gasp! No way would it be as good with out those aspects! Okay, maybe it would have been, but when you have Kenny Ortega on a project, you can’t help but tap into his genius. Making the change and finalizing the songs, left them little time to put everything together. You can’t tell on screen though, that’s for sure!
Andrew Lippa wrote Evil Like Me for Kristen Chenoweth as Maleficent in the museum, and his first demo, we were like ‘that’s the song!’ Other times it takes a while. It could take months. We went into only a week of preparation for all of the music and dance in the movie. We sketched it all out with our assistants, our skeleton crew, and then the actual actors, all inside of three weeks, learned the entire movie’s choreography. It’s unbelievable isn’t it? – Kenny Ortega
Can we talk about Kristen Chenoweth for a second? Love love love her. She makes me smile in everything she does, including her role as Maleficent in Disney’s Descendants. I’m pretty sure no one smiled bigger than Kenny Ortega the day Kristen committed to the role and Dove Cameron when she found out her idol would be playing her mother on camera.
I worked with Kristen Chenoweth. I directed her before and I’m in love with her and I saw her four times on Broadway in ‘Wicked.’ I did get to see her opening night of ‘On The 20th Century’ and I’m going back for her closing night and party. I’m going to be part of the introduction of her getting her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so I’m a huge fan. I blush. I blush. She sends me videos and I drop the phone. But anyway, we were getting ready to cast our movie before the movie Maleficent came out. and Angelina Jolie is, you know, I mean talk about being a fan. Suddenly, we kind of realized that Angelina was sort of taking up a lot of territory with her interpretation of Maleficent. Gary Marsh called me and said ‘what do you think of Kristen Chenoweth to play Maleficent?‘ I was like what? It was not only a what, yes I wanna work with her in any capacity, but what she’d do with this?! She’s so brilliant. She’s so versatile, so capable. She’s such fun, a real team player and so it was a delight, and I was like yes, let’s go after her and it wasn’t easy. She was a busy lady. When we finally got her to commit it was a joyous day. No one was more excited than Dove who grew up idolizing her. When Dove found out that Kristen was playing her mother in the movie, fireworks went off. – Kenny Ortega
There was a lot of fun on set with the fact that Kristen Chenoweth also played Glinda in Wicked. It was pretty ironic watching from an audience stand point as well and it’s pretty amazing how well she plays both roles! So many great bonus clips that hopefully make it onto the Disney’s Descendants DVD that comes out on July 31st.
Yeah, did you see any of the backstage? Did you see her on the floor laughing on the floor on the back? There were many times where not only Kristen, but the camera operator, myself, everybody was on the floor. – Kenny Ortega
In addition to Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, and Kristen Chenoweth, there is a pretty stellar cast all around. Kathy Nagimy plays The Evil Queen, Booboo Stewart ( X Men, Twilight) plays Jay, the son of Jafar, and Sofia Carson as Evie, the daughter of The Evil Queen.
Kathy Nagimy is one of my favorite human beings on the planet. She is an awesome lady. We stayed friends for over 23 years since we did Hocus Pocus, and she always brings something to the table doesn’t she? In everything that she does and these kids? I can’t say more about them. We took our time. We put them through heck. Some of them auditioned eight, twelve times back again, back again, back again. and, that they came back and didn’t just say oh, forget it? That they kept coming back was a part of what helped me realized that they were in it to win it. That whatever it took for them to land these roles. Booboo Stewart had already done X Men and Twilight and came back eight times. Eight times. When they first told me ‘what about Booboo Stewart?’ I was like he’s not gonna come in. Judy Taylor, our casting director, said you’re wrong, he wants to come in. Not only did he come in, he came back eight times to read with other actor and actresses and what a dream he is. What a dream. Isn’t he wonderful? A real star. They all are. – Kenny Ortega
One of the things I loved about Disney’s Descendants, it’s a film we can enjoy with our kids. No awkward romantic moments, not even a kissing scene. Those were left out intentionally. Thank you Kenny Oretga and team!
Leave something, you know. There’s too much pressure put on that aspect of relationships. Get to know somebody, really know somebody. That was a conscience decision and also I just think that we all have hopes that perhaps this might grow. You don’t know. You can’t predict but it allows these children to mature into young adults, and to blossom in ways that they’re not there yet. – Kenny Ortega
A favorite scene of mine in Disney’s Descendants is the Garden Party when ‘Be Our Guest’ is performed. When you see the Remix of Be Our Guest you are going to fall in love with the song all over again. This song was almost more of a behind the scenes aspect than upfront, and I’m so glad it changed. So much so, that I had to find out what made Kenny Ortega change that.
You saw that? You’ve seen more than I have! Time. I had a certain amount of days to be able to realize this entire movie, and budget that I had to work with. The days that I had for that particular whole sequence out doors in the garden, the family party, the family day, all the way down to the crochet field and Queen Lea mistaking Mal for Maleficent, and all of that….I had a day. I had to storyboard everything out very, very carefully for this movie and the studio agreed with me that they thought Be Our Guest would be a wonderful edition to that moment. But, because of the time that I had, the practical way to approach it would be just to have it going on in the background because of the time that I had. And I devised a way with my assistants and the cast and our crew to figure out a way to get it all in the time that we had. Our schedule actually opened up a little bit and I was able to get a day, and I think a quarter, and I think that quarter made a difference in being able to go in and shoot that piece, or to just have it happening in the background. Choices, tough choices that you have to make. – Kenny Ortega
When it came to our Exclusive Interview with Kenny Ortega, all curious minds wanted to know….if Kenny Ortega could work with anyone, who would it be?
Wow. Meryl Streep. Janet Jackson, Bruno Mars, George Clooney and I would love to work with Christian Bale again. There are a lot of people, a lot of people out there. There’s so much talent in the world, Broadway talent. – Kenny Ortega
Thanks to this Exclusive Interview with Kenny Ortega you know what inspires him, who he wants to work with, and now I’m going to tell you why Disney’s Descendants had very special memories for him.
I think perhaps it had a lot to do in the beginning, Gary Marsh (President and Chief Creative Officer for Disney Channel) reached out to me and said ‘I’ve been waiting ever since High School Musical and our success together as a team, to find something that had your name on it that would give me purpose to call you and to say come on back and so I’m sending you something tonight. Will you take a moment to look at it? I hope that you feel about it as I do and when I read it.’ I was blown away. – Director Kenny Ortega
After you watch the Disney’s Descendants on the Disney Channel at 8 PM ET on July 31st, you are going to be wondering if there will be a sequel to Disney’s Descendants? Here’s your answer….
It’s up to the fans. You ask for it, you get it. I would love there to be one. I think I can speak for everyone from Kristen, to Dove, all of us. We have the times of our lives. We hope that there’s an opportunity for us to continue this, but the fans will have to be the deciding factor. – Kenny Ortega
Stay tuned for my Review of Disney’s Descendants on July 31st!