Friday, 25 September 2020

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Movie Review)

Remember the Disney Channel? Chances are that you do. This was long before the Mouse House got into the ongoing streaming wars. Back then, the channel was known for its plethora of shows and made-for-TV films, all of which had low budgets and were geared towards families and kids. Some of them even managed to garner unprecedented levels of success, like the immensely popular High School Musical.

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is a stark reminder of such movies, and the fact that it is a Disney Channel production shouldn't come as a surprise. It exhibits that same made-for-TV feel you would expect from the Disney Channel. This can either be a good or a bad thing, depending on how deep your nostalgia runs for those types of movies, or how far removed from its primary demographic you've grown to become.

The film stars Peyton Elizabeth Lee as Sam, a princess in the kingdom of Illyria, a region that is introduced as the smallest country in Europe. She is the younger sister to the current heir to the throne, Eleanor (Ashley Liao), who would be taking over from their mother, Catherine (√Člodie Yung), once she turns 18 in a few weeks. And unlike her older sister, who has spent most of her childhood being groomed to serve as queen, Sam has nothing but disdain for the royal life.

She instead spends most of her free time playing in a punk rock band with her best friend, Mike (Noah Lomax). And during one of their gigs, she starts to exhibit strange abilities that include an improved sense of sight, smell and hearing. But after she gets in trouble for her delinquent behavior, her mother is forced to enroll her in summer school. Except she soon learns upon getting there that the school is far from ordinary. 

Known as the Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, the institution is devoted to training gifted royals like herself to use and control their superpowers, which is what she and the four other students in her class of second-born royals must learn to do by the end of the summer, to avoid getting forced to return to their regular lives with no memory of their abilities and training.

There is an undeniable charm behind Secret Society of Second-Born Royals. Most of this has to do with its low-budget production I imagine, but credit also needs to be given to its fresh-faced ensemble. They effectively capture the campiness you'd expect from a film geared towards kids without the whole thing becoming too corny or unwatchable. There were even references to Disney's bigger-budgeted film, Marvel's Avengers, and you can't help but chuckle at the marked difference between both films. 

But if Artemis Fowl has proven anything, it is that a big budget and the presence of A-list stars doesn't automatically result in a better movie, and Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is further proof of that reality. The movie is ultimately held back by its direct-to-streaming trappings. But it was still a delight watching the filmmakers operate within those constraints. I can see it still managing to offer enough entertainment for its intended audience in any case, which is all that matters at the end of the day.

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