The narrator of Secret society of the second-born royals begins with a line that wants to be so very cool: “You know the fairy tale about the princess who waits for a brave prince to come and save her? Yes, that’s not such a story.” But do you remember all of the films about a group of sparkling superheroes learning to use their powers and save the day? Yes, it is I agree That kind of story, just this one, doesn’t have the exciting special effects, layered plots, or compelling characters of its big budget counterparts.
The Disney + release follows Sam, a modern day European princess who wants to do something that matters and doesn̵
The unfinished ending asks for a second film. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t personable enough to deserve a follow up.
She is placed in a group with five other students, including the cocky Tuma (Niles Fitch) who has the power to get people to do what he wants; Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana), a shy child who can control mistakes; Roxana (Olivia Deeble), a social media influencer who can go invisible; and January (Isabella Blake Thomas), an outgoing girl who can take on other people’s superpowers. James (Skylar Astin), a second-born king who is supposed to be someone to look up to but actually annoying and constantly making the teenagers teach them, shows them how to use their powers.
So they’re not all learning to use their powers just for fun, are they? Of course there is an evil one to fight. We don’t know about him until the end, but we do get various clips of him escaping from prison and working out his plans throughout the film. Unfortunately, it’s not that interesting and it’s not that threatening either.
It all ends with a final confrontation between this villain and the superhero royals on the day of Sam’s sister’s coronation. But instead of fighting him at the big event, the camera keeps cutting off to the gang taping him at nearby castle locations, which prevents the stakes from ever feeling high. As a result, the movie fizzles out rather than going out with a bang, which isn’t ideal because Disney clearly wants to do a sequel. (The company hasn’t said anything like that publicly, but the unfinished ending asks for a second film.) Unfortunately, the characters aren’t personable enough and the anticipation isn’t great enough to deserve a follow-up.
The biggest problem with Secret society of the second-born royals is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Half the time it tries to be a king X-Men Knockoff, but it doesn’t have the special effects or big budget action sequences to back it up. It’s full of obviously fake bugs (thanks to Matteo’s abilities) and B-level battle sequences. And while it wants to be an international royal romp, the Canadian university’s limited locations that were filmed keep the story small.
The other half of the time Secret society of the second-born royals aims to be a 2000s-style Disney Channel Original film Camp Rock or Cowbells, But it lacks the charm that made these films work despite their cheesy humor and TV quality. Instead, the characters and their backgrounds seem boring.
Just because she defies the rules and puts on a t-shirt that says “feminist” does not mean she is an empowered female protagonist.
Sam’s family, friends and enemies are cut up and dried up with little individuality. Most of them can be reduced in one fell swoop and are frustratingly straightforward. And while Sam is played by the charismatic Peyton Elizabeth Lee, star of the Disney Channel series Andi MackShe, too, feels like a good but generic heroine.
Sam could assume her powers by the end of the film, but whether she actually grew emotionally is questionable. Sure, she’ll find out her true self. And yes, I think she works with her second born royals as well. But is she actually learning something? Is the whole point of her journey as simple as, “She continued to be herself but now gets along better with the people in her life?”
Sam’s nonexistent character development makes it difficult to relate to. Just because she defies the rules and puts on a t-shirt that says “feminist” (no kidding) doesn’t mean she is automatically an empowered female protagonist. And the sooner Disney can figure this out, the sooner we’ll get films with more real, layered, complicated female characters instead of these artificially made role models that fit the shape the company seems to think a strong female character should look like. (You are also guilty of creating “empowered” women with false mistakes and live action Mulan).
In theory, a princess-superhero mashup is a good idea. I would have loved to see a movie with the superhero qualities of Sky high and the royal outsider fun of The princess diaries. But in Secret society of the second-born royals In this case there is a lot of zing and little substance. It has powerful teenagers, a regal setting, and a secret mission – but if you pull back on this fun setup, you’ll find a film that has an uneven tone and is empty of both message and story.
Secret society of the second-born royals is now streamed on Disney +.