Picture this: you’re watching one of Disney’s classic animated films. You take in the beautifully rendered animation, the stirring music, the unrealistic-yet-irresistible romance. As the credits roll, you (just play along here) wonder what adventures your favorite characters could have next. After all, if Disney could make such a well-written, well-animated film, surely they could make an equally good follow-up, right? RIGHT?
When you pop in the DVD for the second installment of your childhood favorite, you soon realize how tragically wrong you are. The once-funny comic relief has his quirks turned up far past 11 to the point where his presence makes you want to destroy things. The music is uninspiring at best. The animation, at least compared to the original film, looks like it was drawn by an orangutan on shrooms. What the hell happened? The sequel, my friend. The sequel.
To truly understand the tragedy of Sequelitis, as it is known on TVTropes, we must analyze what makes a sequel so terrible. Is it the fact that most of them are purely made to make five year olds scream and hold their breath in Wal-Mart until their moms give in and get them another princess movie? Partly yes, but as a humanities major I’m obliged to tell you that there is so much more beneath the surface. And it involves creating a culture of otherness. Well, no, not really, but here we go: The Top 5 Reasons (In No Particular Order) Why Disney Sequels Suck So Hard.
The plot is resolved and there’s no real story to make a movie out of.
The villain has fallen from a precipice (in pure Disney Villain Death fashion), the princess and the prince are forever joined in perfect heteronormative love, and all is well. Now what? The writers are stuck with no loose ends to explore, no villain that can top the original, and execs breathing down their necks about writing the movie on a deadline. I think the movie most guilty of continuing an already resolved plot is The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2; let’s face it: after Frollo, where do you go? The guy had a whole musical number about his desire to rape and murder a girl and died by falling into a lake of molten lead. Hard to top that villainy/death. And they didn’t. Instead, they gave us a half-assed villain whom Frollo could chew up and spit out (if he wasn’t all dead from falling into a lake of molten lead). Laaaaame. But more on lame villains later. Anyway, when there’s no further conflict, there’s no further movie. When the townspeople decide that they like the ugly dude, the hot guy gets the hot girl, and the villain is dead, there’s really nothing more you can do with it.
Hey! Wasn’t this character/concept funny? Let’s have him do all the funny stuff he did in the first movie, but MORE!
It wouldn’t be a Disney movie without comic relief. And when they do it right, the comic relief is a great addition to the cast, balances the drama with funny moments, and can provide the more memorable quotes in the movie. But sometimes writers (and executives; let’s give blame where blame is due) think that the funny stuff the character does will be an absolute scream if ze does it about 100 times more than ze did it in the first movie. See: The Lion King 1 ½. It not only managed to make Timon and Pumbaa unfunny (a nigh impossible feat), but it rehashed all the jokes from the original movie. Because if something funny happens once, it will obviously be 100 times more funny if you do it 100 more times.
Dear Paranoid Morality Parent-Types, We’re sorry for making a movie that had mild adult themes that made the movie scary/violent/vaguely sexual. Here’s a sequel that sanitizes everything and tones down the scary villain or replaces hir with someone who’s undeveloped and lame.
So you know that Disney movie that had a really cool villain? The one who’s so smooth and awesome and snarky that you’d have a hard time minding if he ate a baby while driving a Hummer and talking in a movie theater? There is a whole group of Moral Guardians who think that having a developed and awesome villain will induce children into killing people, singing about how evil they are, and other myriad transgressions. They also believe that having a movie that deals with mild adult themes will corrupt the children and they’ll start having sex and going to the dance at the armory with libertine men and scarlet women. And if these Moral Guardians bitch enough, Disney writers will make a follow-up that apologizes to them. The most egregious example of toning it down in response to “OH NOES HIDE THE CHILDREN FROM THE SCARY ADULT THEMES” is—you guessed it–The Hunchback of Notre Dame II. You know how the first movie was basically about a corrupt judge who emotionally abuses a disabled man and wants to rape and murder a street performer? Yeah, the sequel has a villain who wants to steal a bell. For no apparent reason. And he’s a circus magician guy. Because God forbid the children see something mature and/or scary.
Wait, we haven’t learned anything yet!
Yes, every Disney film has a big fat moral for the kiddies to learn. Beauty comes from within, even girls can kick butt, racism is bad, if a guy decides to make out with you while you’re unconscious it’s totally cool if he’s hot because it’s true love…yeah, there’s always a lesson to be learned. But similar to the comic relief situation, Disney sequels tend to crank up the morality tale factor to infinity. The Lion King 2, though a better-than-average sequel (above-average music, decent animation, keeping the comic relief not annoying, an actually scary and well-developed villain), got really heavy-handed. We shouldn’t judge people by their backgrounds. True love solves everything. Working together is good. By the end my head was starting to hurt from an endless beating from the Morality Hammer.
“Let’s add an all-new character!” “Should we develop hir and try to work hir seamlessly into the story?” “…”
Worse than trying to resurrect obviously dead characters (though that’s pretty bad) is adding new characters and expecting an audience as loyal as college students unwilling to let go of their childhood whose name may or may not be, for example, Jocelyn Spencer to accept them right off the bat. Especially extraneous love interests, new comic relief, or hitherto unknown relatives/offspring. I think the worst offender on this one is Pocahontas 2. Again, this sequel is definitely not as bad as some others like one that rhymes with Munch Sack. But it throws at us a new animal sidekick, two new comic relief characters (a mute Powhatan guy with a long name who exists mainly to have uncomfortable racial jokes made at his expense and a blind maid who exists to have jokes about blind people made at her expense), AND a new love interest (John Rolfe, who is boring and totes gave her smallpox IRL). I’m all for a new story, but what about the characters we know and love?
So there you have it. The top 5 reasons why Disney sequels suck so hard. If you’re curious or have a bile fascination with mediocre-to-eye-rapingly-bad animated films, I hope this has enlightened you and/or brightened your day. Because I sacrificed listening to my Fearless Director and doing well in Mandarin to write this.