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Happily ever after? Not in Disney's 'Descendants' prequel 'Isle of the Lost'

Rotten to the core, indeed. Disney's "Descendants" proves that audiences are hungry for teen villains in musical coming-of-age tales, drawing 6.6 million viewers for its July 31 premiere, making it the most watched cable TV movie of 2015. The ratings jumped to 10.5 million viewers when DVR numbers were added.

But as revealed in Melissa de la Cruz's prequel novel, "Isle of the Lost," viewers got only a glimpse of the "Descendants" universe. Unlike the family-friendly TV movie — a "High School Musical"-like riff on the nature-versus-nurture debate centered on live-action versions of Disney good guys and bad guys living in the same world — the book spares no details. And it's no happily ever after.

In the movie, viewers learn that after marrying Belle, Beast unites all the fairy-tale kingdoms into the United States of Auradon. Beast then manages to get elected king of this land (mashing up democracy and royal ascension) and banishes all defeated Disney villains and minions to Exile Island, a.k.a. the Isle of the Lost.

"Descendants'" main characters — Mal, Evie, Jay and Carlos — are children of the infamous Maleficent, Evil Queen (her actual name), Jafar and Cruella de Vil. They're doomed to spend their lives imprisoned until Belle and Beast's son, Prince Ben (heir to the throne — so much for that earlier voting system), decides that children on Isle of the Lost deserve a chance to be introduced to proper society.

He selects a few to attend their schools (which are better than the prison ones, if only in that they do not serve the children garbage from other people's dinners). No, really, the nickname in the book for Isle of the Lost is "Isle of the Leftovers." It's the dumping ground for Auradon's trash.

"Life on the Isle of the Lost is kind of dark and dreary. It's very sad," says De la Cruz. "There's no magic. All these former villains have been reduced to these hardscrabble lives where they don't know how to do anything because they used to do everything with magic, and now they don't even know how to sew; they wear rags. They don't know how to cook."

Among some of the island's menu items detailed in the book? Sour milk lattes, crusty barley oatmeal, mealy apples, sparkling slop and sour wine (for the grown-ups).

"[Mal] doesn't know anything other than survival," says Dove Cameron, who plays the character in "Descendants." "She's adopted this steely exterior, because on the Isle of the Lost, unless you are looking out for yourself, you can very well not live. Nobody's looking out for you. Not there."

While Mal and her frenemies are busy having adventures in exile, Prince Ben, who is being given more responsibilities leading up to his official coronation, is learning how life works in Auradon. And it's not as perfect as you'd expect.

It turns out that villains aren't the only ones who've been mistreated. Sidekicks and companions who've helped rulers achieve their happily ever afters have filed a grievance with the king because they haven't gotten any credit or compensation for all they've done.

The Seven Dwarfs have spent the last 20 years mining gold and jewels for royalty, the woodland creatures do all of Snow White's housework, Flounder still collects all of Ariel's thingamabobs, and Ariel's sisters give underwater tours year-round. Nobody gets paid.

Not so much a fairy-tale life for anybody other than those in charge.

Other interesting tidbits teased in the book? Mal's parentage. While it seems as if all evil villains are single parents on the island, Mal does indeed have a father. Somewhere.

"[Mal's] so complex. I feel like she gives young girls permission to have layers. I love what she stands for," says Cameron. "I'm inspired by Mal on the written page."

She should be. The written page shows that Mal has had a lot to overcome.

tracy.brown@latimes.com

I like villains. Find me on Twitter: @tracycbrown

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