Animated Sequels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It's a well-known fact that most princess stories end with "happily ever after," which is why it makes little sense to follow them up with a sequel. Disney started the sequel craze in 1994 when they created The Return of Jafar as a direct-to-video release to kick off the Aladdin animated series. The Return of Jafar took only a couple of months to produce, unlike most theatrical animated films which take years. Since Disney profited from it more than they expected to, Michael Eisner, the CEO at the time, thought it would be a good idea to make more direct-to-video sequels because they were so cheap and easy. Other copycat animation studios quickly followed in their footsteps.

As the first of its kind, The Return of Jafar is one of the most cringe-worthy sequels of the "cheapquel" era. It focuses mainly on the irritating Iago, causing the other beloved characters to take a backseat. The movie's only romance song, "Forget About Love," is dominated by Iago's grating voice with a small duet from Aladdin and Jasmine at the end. It was animated mostly overseas, and the characters consistently go off model. Ironically, only two years later, the second Aladdin sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, was one of the best Disney sequels ever made. It boasted memorable songs, immensely improved animation, and a story-driven plot focusing on Aladdin and Jasmine's wedding and secrets from Aladdin's past. Robin Williams reprised his role as the Genie in a big way, after refusing to come back for The Return of Jafar due to Disney taking advantage of his popularity to sell the first movie against hsi wishes.

Another Disney movie that had a terrible part two but good part three is Cinderella. Released over 50 years after the original, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True is the biggest piece of garbage I have ever seen in my entire life. I am not exaggerating. It was dug up from the Disney dumpster as the remains of a failed attempt at a Cinderella TV series. Instead of keeping it in the trash where it belongs, they decided to try putting three unrelated episodes on DVD and pretending it was a movie to make a quick buck. It cheapens everything that made the original movie special. The animation looks like vomit, the plot could have been written by a three-year-old, and the classic '50s music was replaced with bubblegum pop. The same format of three low budget forgettable 20-minute short stories was also used for Belle's Magical World in 1998, but I find that more forgivable because it wasn't marketed as a full-blown sequel. The only true sequel to Beauty and the Beast is The Enchanted Christmas, which came out in 1997, though it is really more of a prequel. That one was all right if you're into Christmas movies, I suppose.

It's kind of amazing that something as awful as Cinderella II: Dreams Come True was followed up in 2007 with Cinderella III: A Twist in Time. In my opinion, this is by far the best sequel that Disney has produced. It takes Cinderella back to her roots by having her stepmother get her hands on the Fairy Godmother's magic wand and turning back time to before Cinderella married the prince. Now, Cinderella has to fight to win him back and prove that their love was true. It also added some much-needed character development to her stepsister, Anastasia. The movie had high-quality animation for a sequel along with decent songs and clever dialogue. Time travel can get messy depending on how it's done, but it was handled well here. If you only ever want to watch one Disney sequel, this is it.

Another common thread among sequels to "happily ever after" stories is introducing the princesses' offspring. This formula can be troublesome because animated characters don't technically age, which means the princesses very well could be 16 forever if they are never drawn otherwise. As parents, they often end up making the same mistakes that their own parents did, making it look like they didn't learn anything from their stories. The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea from 2000 is most guilty of this, turning Ariel into a clone of King Triton and her daughter Melody into a less interesting carbon copy of herself. The 2008 Ariel's Beginning is absolved of this issue for being a prequel, but it instead retcons the excellent 1992 animated seriesThe Lion King II: Simba's Pride from 1998 was handled a bit better than Return to the Sea on the grounds that Princess Kiara's story was not an inverted version of Simba's. It did, however, borrow from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in the same way that The Lion King borrowed from Hamlet with a Pocahontas-inspired ending.

In the 2014 Swan Princess sequel, A Royal Family Tale, Odette and Derek adopt a little girl named Alise after her father dies in a fire. I get that they were trying to encourage adoption, but I'm not sure why Odette and Derek wouldn't have been able to have a child of their own, especially after continuous pressure from Queen Uberta. The adoption storyline also results in an awkward moment in which Odette and Derek get tactlessly excited upon learning that Alise has no living relatives. Alyse becomes the protagonist in all of the subsequent sequels, the most recent being Royally Undercover, despite the fact that she has no personality whatsoever. The animated Swan Princess sequels from the late '90s, Escape from Castle Mountain and The Mystery of the Enchanted Treasure are only marginally more watchable than the horrendous CGI ones of recent years.

Finally, there are neutral sequels that are completely forgettable and serve virtually no purpose but are still watchable depending on what kind of mood you're in. Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World from 1998 does screw up the romance they established between her and John Smith from the original movie by having her hook up with the historically accurate John Rolfe, but still boasts some decent songs and amusing gags of Pocahontas trying to adapt to colonial life. Mulan II from 2004 strengthens her status as a Disney Princess by having her work with three actual princesses and almost marrying a prince. Filmation's Happily Ever After from 1990 was a sequel to the "Snow White" fairy tale even though the studio never produced an original "Snow White" movie. Finally, Don Bluth's Bartok the Magnificent from 1999 was more of a fun spin-off than a sequel containing no connections to Anastasia outside of the batty protagonist. At least he understood that Anastasia and Dimitri had already finished their adventure together.

Like remakes, sequels are never necessary for princess movies and only exist to make an additional profit from an already popular brand. That said, some sequels are still much more watchable than others. While it's generally assumed that princesses have children after they live happily ever after with their prince, we don't always need or want to see that part of their lives. Their subsequent adventures are never as exciting as the stories that initially made them famous. Prequels are better, but still, take on the risk of retconning other media made for the movies. Unfortunately, Disney will never stop making sequels because they are safer and cheaper than trying new things. Speaking of which, Frozen 2 is currently slated for a 2019 release.


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