Review: Secret Society of Second-Born Royals

After an annoying two-month delay, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals finally dropped on Disney+ today, marking the streaming service's first original princess movie. Secret Society was teased all the way back in January with a clip of Andi Mack's Peyton Elizabeth Lee in a gorgeous ice blue princess gown running for her life on some sort of important mission. That sequence was featured as promised, but the rest of the film had little to offer in terms of princess content. Secret Society is the first princess/superhero movie since Barbie's Princess Power in 2015 and is a far cry from the animated heroine who received her powers from a magic butterfly and went by the alias Super Sparkle. Oddly enough, I found the lack of humor or camp in Secret Society mildly disappointing. It takes itself too seriously to fall into the "so bad it's good" category and comes off instead as a high end Disney Channel Original Movie, which makes sense because it was made by the same people.

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals poster

Peyton Elizabeth stars as Princess Samantha, or Sam, as she prefers, a rebel punk rocker who happens to be the daughter of a queen. The kingdom of Ilyria is every bit as modern as it appears in the trailer, which makes Sam's castle feel all the more out of place. Even the royals wear modern everyday clothing with the exception of the coronation ceremony at the end of the movie. If it wasn't for the vague storybook references in the opening narration, it would be easy to assume that this movie takes place in modern-day New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Graffiti lines the walls, pollution fills the streets, and protests are commonplace occurrences. It's never quite explained why Sam hates the monarchy so much or why she is so passionate about leading protests against her own family. The only real explanation is that to be a fictional princess in today's society means being a rebel. Sam falls into the exact same cookie cutter mold as every other modern-day Disney Princess, which requires hating dresses, rejecting society, and being a warrior. However, that is not to say that I disliked her character. After all, Peyton Elizabeth was one of the biggest selling points of this movie for me.

The crux of the story begins when Sam's mother sends her to summer school after her latest rebel escapade. She quickly learns that the school was a ruse to induct her into the Secret Society of Second-Born Royals. She must train with a class of four other students to learn to use their superpowers that all second-born royals receive at birth. I've seen complaints that this premise seems like a celebration of privilege. While I can't exactly argue with that, I can say that it is just as much of a fantasy as any other superhero or princess movie that people watch to escape their own boring reality. The students go through rigorous training to master their individual respective powers of super senses, invisibility, mind control, superpower replication, and the ability to control bugs. The extensive training sequences give Secret Society a leg up over the new Mulan, who was simply born knowing how to do everything. I didn't think Sam was too overpowered since her super senses only allow her to know when danger is nearby but did not give her an innate ability to fight it off. To do that, she must to exhibit a combination of training and teamwork with her new companions.

Combining the princess and superhero genres is like trying to mix oil and water. Too much focus on one would retract from the other, and focusing on both at the same time would come of as campy. That's why I think this movie's biggest strength is that it spent more time on the characters and story than on action or ballgown sequences. I never felt bored because every scene revealed something new about one of the characters. The acting was top notch, especially for a movie produced by the Disney Channel. Every actor did a fantastic job of presenting their characters in a way that was not too subtle and not too over the top. I really felt Sam's struggle to find her identity as someone who was born a princess but wanted to create her own identity and rooted for her every step of the way. Her relationship with Mike, the son of her castle's groundskeeper, was mature and realistic, as was her troubled relationship with her sister, the heir to the throne. Her classmates in the Secret Society had their own struggles as well and showed signs of individual growth throughout the film.

Though this movie may not appeal to hardcore fans of the princess or superhero genres, it does have appeal for those that enjoy Disney Channel Original Movies that are made well. It's clear that Secret Society for Second-Born Royals was not made for the big screen. It's low-budget special effects are balanced out by top tier acting and a heavy focus on character and plot. For me, this was a refreshing change of pace from the overly blown out war sequences in recent Disney Princess movies such as Mulan and Maleficent 2. It was a relief to see a modern movie that actually cares about its characters and doesn't try to shove extended action sequences down my throat. Though it has little to offer fans of classic princess movies and often presents itself as anti-monarchy, but it's a pleasant piece modern storytelling nonetheless. I would recommend this movie if you are looking for something to pass the time that isn't too deep or thought-provoking.


Marcelo Delfino said…
I hope this movie inspires Disney to make that dreamed movie from Disney Animation, with a Disney Princess action team. And since Princess Sofia of Sofia the First knows the other princesses and Sofia is the first Protector of EverRealm, Sofia can assemble a group with the other princesses.
Lisa Dawn said…
That's what they did with Wreck-It Ralph 2.
Marcelo Delfino said…
'Wreck-It Ralph 2''s princesses scenes was a popularity essay. Very successful. The Disney Princess action team animated movie can work. By the way: I saw 'Secret Society' today. Its villain Edmond hates royalty as much as... Grimtrix, one of Sofia's enemies.
Marcelo Delfino said…
But 'Secret Society' has some fails. Sam argues against the monarchy with her friend Mike by performing rock music on the streets. What does she think happens to the royalty where the monarchy falls? Usually death, imprisonment or exile. It is a typical script fail on Disney films not made for theatres. The solution appears only at the end of the film. Not by Sam, by the way.

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