If you like fun even a little bit, then you’ve probably already heard about Disney’s Descendants, the upcoming Disney Channel film about the teenage kids of Disney Villains. And if you hadn’t heard about it yet: yes, it’s a real thing! If waiting for its release later this year is too much for your heart to handle, you’re not alone, and also don’t worry: there’s a prequel novel set in the same universe called The Isle of the Lost, coming out on May 5!
Melissa de la Cruz, the author of The Isle of the Lost, was kind enough to answer our burning questions about what it was like to write “the ultimate Disney fan fiction.” Read on for some fascinating insight into the world of the Disney Villains’ kids after the “happily ever after” is over:
How did you get involved with this project?
I’ve been a Disney author for over a decade.. I had just told my agent that for my next project I wanted to do middle grade fairy tale retellings and that same day, my publisher asked me if I would be interested in writing a novel based on classic Disney villains. Kismet! I signed on immediately.
What was it like getting to create some the backstories around these brand new characters – the descendants of Disney villains?
The most fun I’ve ever had with a project! I’m a Disney fan, and I would describe it as “ultimate fan fiction.” I got to play in the Disney universe, it was a dream come true.
How does the novel’s story tie into the world of the film?
The novel sets up the beginning of the film, as most of the action in the book is based in the Isle of the Lost. The end of book is the beginning of the movie. We get to learn more about what life was like on the island for the villain kids.
What inspired you as you were building and fleshing out the worlds of Isle of the Lost and Auradon?
I was inspired by the Dickensian quality of the set design, and also by the cool costumes. Mal’s bedroom is filled with Victorian flourishes. The villains are living in a grimy place, but one that isn’t devoid of funky gothic touches. Auradon was a little easier, bucolic and perfect. One of the jokes is that in Auradon, no one waits longer than five minutes at the DFMV (Department of Formerly Magical Vehicles).
Which Descendants character was the most fun to write? Which was the most challenging?
I had a lot of fun with Carlos de Vil, because he’s a nerdy geek like me, who’s afraid of everything. Mal was a little more challenging as she’s a force of nature, strong-willed and clever, but she has a vulnerability to her as well. So writing her was figuring out that balance.
How did you tackle the challenge of writing “evil” protagonists that readers would love?
Honestly, since they are so human and flawed, I couldn’t help but love them from the beginning and I know readers will too. They’re so relatable because who among us hasn’t been a disappointment to their parents? Also because they are disappointments, it means they’re actually trying to be…eek…good. Their hearts are in the right place.
The novel includes lots of fun little references and nods to classic Disney stories. Do you have a favorite one?
Definitely, bringing in the Cave of Wonders and all the gold it held, and figuring out how it fits in Jay’s story since he’s a thief. Also the Peddler’s Disguise, the spell from Snow White is pure poetry, a writer’s dream.
How did the process of writing The Isle of the Lost differ from other books you’ve written?
It wasn’t that different really. In the end, the characters have to be your own and the process of writing a story is the same. I outline and do a number of drafts. The characters have to live and breathe, they have to be real. I forgot they were Disney villains in the end, they were just my characters.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read. Read. Read. Don’t worry too much about publishing. Worry about the writing. Write a story that only you can tell. Even if I was working in someone else’s universe, it was one I knew so well. When I was in college I wrote a letter to Michael Eisner asking for a job at Disney after I watched The Lion King because I loved it so much. Disney has been part of my vocabulary. I knew I could do it justice.
What’s your favorite Disney movie?
Too many to choose from. I’d have to go with Cinderella since it was the first movie I ever saw and I immediately fell in love. The new live-action version is great too.