Animated Disney sequels tend to fall into two categories…
First, there’s the made for a highly commercial reason, box office sequel. Nowadays, these big glossy sequels are now just Disney/Pixar movies such as Toy Story 2 and 3 (1999 and 2010) Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013).
Secondly, there’s the much more hastily made follow-ups to the hand-drawn Disney animations. These often have a reputation for being of a much lower quality, (visually, musically, cerebrally and in terms of the actual talent involved). The only animated exceptions I can think of and which had cinematic releases would be Fantasia 2000 (1999) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990). This second group of films tend to be released straight to what was in my day called ‘video’, but now I guess is just Sky Movies Disney.
There are a lot of these prequels, sequels, simultaneous story-world films and spin-offs. I would agree that some are pretty poor. The Little Mermaid (1989) is my favourite film in existence, and yet its sequel The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea (2000) is godawful. Others are bland at best; such as Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World (1998) or the various dull spawn of Beauty and the Beast (1991).
What happens sometimes though is that the filmmakers realise what a legend they have been entrusted with and rather than marring the original in some almost irreparable way, they take the spirit of the classic and add their own special something to it.
Number Five… Kronk’s New Groove (2005)
A colourful and zany follow-up to an irreverent and zany original, with most of the actors reprising their roles. Kronk’s New Groove gives you two stories in one: Yzma – complete with an oversized cat tail after her transformation at the end of the previous instalment – hatches an evil plan to con the elderly into buying a fraudulent youth potion and Kronk must stop her. Following this, Kronk develops a love interest with a female Chipmunk Troop Leader (kind of like a really nerdy Scout Leader). Also thrown in to this mixed-bag of a movie are some ‘messages’ about parental expectations and being true to your ‘groove’ in an attempt to round out this essentially shallow if enjoyable fare.
Number Four… Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar (1994)
This was Disney’s ever first direct to video sequel. It’s probably in reality not as good a film as the third part of the trilogy, Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996) but I remember it with a lot of fondness, probably because it’s the first of its kind. It feels quite bitty and disjointed and seems populated by noisy, annoying voice acting. Notably, the film is also missing Robin Williams as the voice of Genie (he did, however, return to Disney for the third instalment). Instead, we get Dan Castellaneta, best known now as the voice of Homer Simpson. With big shoes to fill, Castellaneta does an okay job. The film introduces Abis Mal (Jason Alexander) who becomes a regular pest of a character in the TV series, which was made shortly after The Return of Jafar’s release.
There are pluses; Iago’s character is fleshed out, by giving him a crisis of conscience, and eventually making him into a good guy. Some of the stronger songs have echoes of numbers from the first film, such as “I Can’t Forget About Love”, which seems to steal a few notes from the ending of “A Whole New World” as its conclusion. Jafar’s song, in which he cartoonishly demonstrates his power as a merciless genie is also strong.
Number Three… The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata (2004)
This is an anarchic take on the classic story of The Lion King, following Timon and Pumbaa’s version of events – starting ‘before the beginning’ with Timon leaving home. In the same fashion that the first film was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and the second on Romeo and Juliet), the third is based on Tom Stoppard’s behind-the-scenes take on Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
This format means that a lot of beloved moments from the original film are revisited. For example, we see Timon angrily banging on the ceiling of his new home during the ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ sequence and it is revealed that his frustration at all the commotion is responsible for the collapse of the wobbling pyramid of animals at the song’s close.
It’s a film aimed at a slightly younger audience, even including a short sing-along scene. For the adults however, there’s a lot of thoughtful parody of everything from spaghetti western and iconic flicks such as Apocalypse Now (1979) and Casablanca (1942). At the film’s close, Timon and Pumbaa decide to re-watch the film that they have just finished retelling (it’s confusingly ‘meta’ like that) and the silhouettes of dozens of classic Disney characters can be seen filing into the cinema to watch the movie again.
Number Two… Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time (2007)
This is probably the most original idea for a Disney sequel, as it involves time travel. Let me break it down for you: the evil stepmother gets hold of the fairy godmother’s wand and the godmother gets turned to stone. Following this, the stepmother decides to, “Unravel Cinderella’s happily ever after”. Disturbingly, we see all the Cinderella/Prince moments for the first film replayed, but with the prince being continually dragged away from his sweetheart.
The stepmother makes the slipper expand to fit her own daughter, Anastasia, and Cinderella’s previous spare shoe is destroyed. Our heroine’s crestfallen face and the disbelieving, “I don’t understand” she utters when she doesn’t get her fairy-tale ending is really quite distressing.
This film is more faithful to the animation style of the original, than Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002). It looks, for example, very much like the character of Cinderella herself has been animated using the drawing-over-live-action footage ‘rotoscoping’ technique in order to make her look much more like her 1950s self. By contrast, the other characters more seem more caricatured.
A Twist in Time also contains lots of nods to Disney classics, such as birds tugging at the Prince’s clothes to get him to follow them, like they do in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), or visual references to Prince Eric’s wedding boat in The Little Mermaid (1989).
It’s unfortunate that this film reveals the Prince to be so stupid that the mice have to explain the Stepmother’s evil plan to him through the medium of song, but to be fair to him it is a reasonably complex film in terms of plot. It’s also interesting in that, as sorry as we feel for Cinderella, we start to like her step-sister Anastasia, too. We even get some interesting backstory on the Prince’s mother.
Number One… Peter Pan 2: Return to Neverland (2002)
This sequel follows the story of Wendy’s daughter, Jane, forced to prematurely grow up in the context of London during the Blitz. She is quickly established as the true ‘adult’ in the family, taking responsibility for her siblings when her father has to leave to fight, and showing disapproval at the mother’s fairy-tale stories about Peter Pan. It’s a stroke of genius to set the film at such a dark time, as it plays so well with the film’s central theme of aging and taking responsibility.
The time period in which the story is set also allows for a gorgeously creative shot of fighter planes roaring overhead the roof tops, followed quickly by Hook’s flying pirate ship. There’s also a great moment where Jane enters into Neverland and sounds and dialogue from the events which took place in Neverland in the first film are replayed in a loving tribute. The music is also pretty good; the keen-eared and the Disneyland inclined will recognise a few parade or firework display melodies.
This film follows a similar plot to the first film, almost lazily, and the ending is frustratingly sudden and a little contrived. However, original features from the 1953 classic are reimagined, such as the ticking crocodile, replaced by an octopus with popping suckers who becomes Hook’s new watery nemesis. It is also touching to see Peter meeting Wendy after she has ‘grown up’.
So those are my Top Five – what do you think?