China Anne McClain Says Returning for New “Descendants ”Film Was Very 'Healing' — See the First Look (Exclusive)

As PEOPLE unveils the first look at 'Descendants: The Rise of Red', star China Anne McClain says working on the film ended up being a 'healing' journey after costar Cameron Boyce's death

Uma is shaking things up in Disney+’s Descendants: The Rise of Red — and PEOPLE has the exclusive first look!

In the new teaser, the daughter of Ursula (played by China Anne McClain) makes her wicked return to the hit Disney Channel franchise as she steps into a new role as the Principal of Auradon Prep.

“Mal came to me with an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Uma teases in the voiceover as a shot of her office is shown on screen.

Promising to switch things up in her new role, she reveals that she’ll be opening Auradon Prep to “all the kingdoms,” including Wonderland.

As she addresses a personal letter to Princess Red, the daughter of the Queen of Hearts, we get the first glimpse of Kylie Cantrall as the film’s titular character.

<p>Disney/Quantrell Colbert</p>

Disney/Quantrell Colbert

Based on The Isle of the Lost book series, the original Descendants trilogy ran on Disney Channel from 2015 to 2019 and chronicled the lives of four teenage children of Disney villains, including Maleficent's daughter Mal (Dove Cameron), the Evil Queen’s daughter Evie (Sofia Carson), Jafar’s son Jay (Booboo Stewart) and Cruella de Vil’s son Carlos (Cameron Boyce).

An animated special titled Descendants: The Royal Wedding centering Mal and King Ben (Mitchell Hope)’s nuptials was later released in 2021, with many of the actors reprising their roles.

The special marked the first Descendants installment without star Cameron Boyce, who tragically died at age 20 in July 2019 after suffering a seizure in his sleep due to epilepsy. Both Descendants 3 and Descendants: The Royal Wedding paid tribute to Boyce and his beloved character.

David Bukach/Disney Channel
David Bukach/Disney Channel

In an exclusive statement to PEOPLE, McClain says she was nervous about taking on the role of Uma again following Boyce's death, but it ended up being a healing journey for her.

“I was apprehensive to revisit the Descendants world at first, because losing Cam was the first heartbreak I’ve ever experienced," she says. "But once I saw how excited the new generation of kids were, it reminded me of myself when we created the original films."

"Everything came together beautifully," she adds of the movie. "There’s one scene that is very special to me, I’m sure the audience will be able to guess which one it is once they see the movie. Stepping back into Uma was very fulfilling, and healing for me.”

<p>The Walt Disney Company via Getty</p>

The Walt Disney Company via Getty

Marking the fourth film in the Descendants franchise, the upcoming spinoff will revolve around Red (Cantrall), the daughter of the Queen of Hearts (Rita Ora), and Chloe (Malia Baker), the daughter of Cinderella (Brandy), who must join forces in a time-traveling adventure to prevent a catastrophic coup on Auradon.

In addition to featuring many new characters, including High School Musical: The Musical: The Series actress Dara Reneé as Ursula’s sister Ulyana, the new film will also see Brandy and Paolo Montalban reprise their roles as Cinderella and Prince Charming from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella musical television film, which premiered in 1997.

Disney Brandy and Paolo Montalban reprise their roles as Cinderella and Prince Charming in Descendants: The Rise of Red
Disney Brandy and Paolo Montalban reprise their roles as Cinderella and Prince Charming in Descendants: The Rise of Red

When PEOPLE visited the set of HSMTMTS season 4 in 2022, Reneé couldn’t help but rave about getting to work with Brandy in the new film, which kicked off production in January 2023.

“I am still starstruck,” the actress told PEOPLE. “I'm going to meet my role model. I literally grew up with her Cinderella and Whitney Houston as the Godmother.”

“To just share the screen with such a powerful human being who has changed so many lives for the better, including my own, I just feel so blessed and I feel so grateful,” Reneé added of getting to work with the Moesha alum.

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Descendants: The Rise of Red will premiere on Disney+ this summer.

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