Disney Animated Sequels: A Top Five List

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?

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Disney and Pathetic Fallacy

The Disney Company is really good at what it does. It writers and directors know exactly how to make their audience feel a certain way and are unafraid to manipulate their emotions for all they are worth. This means that often Disney will use literary-style ‘cheats’ to help stimulate a specific thought or feeling very quickly and effectively. I often find the best examples of pathetic fallacy (and some of the most obvious!) come from Disney movies.

Pathetic fallacy, put simply, is when nature is used in fiction to mirror the mood of the story. It’s used in novels such as The Lord of the Flies (in the peaceful, almost heavenly aftermath of Simon’s death) or in plays such as Romeo and Juliet (when the heat helps to insight the Montagues and the Capulets to violence). The basic concept of pathetic fallacy is simple, but everything is easier to explain with some useful audio-visual material!

When analysing the use of pathetic fallacy, you should first identity what nature is doing. Look for changes in the weather, animal activity, unusual plant life… anything naturally occurring. Then you need to decide what mood or emotion is being reflected or emphasised.

The Haunted Mansion (2003) trailer is a really good place to start, and also provides a good cross over with elements of the Gothic genre. There are; gloomy clouds, spider webs, fire which seems to stoke itself, overgrown shrubbery, skeletal trees, most of the action takes place at night and there is also a storm. These different elements combine to create an atmosphere, sometimes of foreboding and broodiness, sometimes of straight-up fear. This is also a good clip because there are so many different types of nature used throughout; it’s not just about what the weather is doing.

Holes (2003), based on the oft-taught children’s novel (published n 1998) by American writer Louis Sachar also provides a good live action example of pathetic fallacy. The part of the film based on Chapter 29 which begins, “There was a change in the weather. For the worse” shows the tension at Camp Green Lake slowly building as the weather becomes hotter and hotter; it’s not until the tension is broken that the rain comes. This scene would also make a great comparison with Baz Luhrman’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet (1996), Act 3 Scene 1.

Most animated Disney films just go with the basics. Namely; a night-time storm raging during an epic fight scene (to show suspense and anger), or rainfall when a character has died (the rain echoes tears and creates a feeling of sadness). Let’s take the first Disney animated feature film as an example. The final showdown between the Evil Queen and the dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) takes place during a thunder storm, with heavy rain and howling wind. There are flashes of lightning as the dwarves angrily pursue the Queen over treacherous rocks towards the edge of a cliff. A small group of vultures look on, anticipating fresh meat.  A lightning blast severs the rock the Queen is standing on and sends her falling to her death; the vultures wheel downward to find her body.

In The Lion King (1994), the battle between Scar and Simba is accompanied by lightning and fire, raging around the now barren Pride Rock. The hyenas watch the conflict expectantly, much as the vultures do in Snow White. When Scar is defeated, the mood becomes sombre; a light rain starts to fall and gradually extinguish the flames. A skull is swept away by the rainfall, suggesting that there will now be a move away from the death and destruction recently occupying the narrative. The clouds part and Mufusa urges Simba to “remember”. As Simba smiles, the scene fades into the rejuvenated landscape; everything has re-grown, it’s the beginning of a new life.

I could get very repetitive here. Let me make it clear; Disney really likes storms. Ursula, Ariel’s  nemesis in The Little Mermaid (1989), is finally defeated in the midst of a great sea storm and her death is accompanied by dramatic lightning flashes. Ratigan falls to his death after a fight during a storm in Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986). There is also heavy rain fall and lightning as Gaston and the Beast fight on the Beast’s castle rooftop in Beauty and the Beast (1991). In this case, though, the use of pathetic fallacy is pushed even further. When Belle starts to grieve over the Beast’s fallen body, the storm becomes light rain. As the Beast begins to transform, the rain slows and it’s really only a light drizzle by the time he’s fully changed. The mood lightens; the castle transforms and all its inhabitants become human again – it even inexplicably becomes day. Later Disney films seem to be increasingly self-aware of their use of these devices; Enchanted (2007) seems to almost knowingly quote the water-logged, night-time show-down between hero and villain right out of Beauty and the Beast (with a little Sleeping Beauty, 1959, thrown in for good measure).

The Jungle Book (1967) provides another good example of a ‘wet’ Disney death. When Mowgi approaches Baloo’s body, rain drips down the beaks of the watching vultures (not a threatening presence this time, as they are in Snow White) until it looks as if they, like Mowgli, are weeping.  Then, as it becomes abundantly clear to audience that cheeky old Baloo is actually faking, the rain eases off.

Sometimes the pathetic fallacy is used in a slightly different way. For example, in Bambi (1942), the seasons change as Bambi develops into manhood. With The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), fire becomes associated with Frollo’s sinful passion for Esmeralda. It is fire which eventually consumes him when he falls to his death from the cathedral roof. Even in Frozen (2013), the snow and ice reflects the coldness of the relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa; there is a thaw when the sisters are reconciled.

I could go on and I would most definitely become tiresome. I would like, therefore, to turn the lesson over to the class. No doubt I’ve missed out a plethora of great examples of pathetic fallacy, Disney and otherwise. So post below: what examples of this technique can you think of and what kind of a mood is being created by the filmmakers? As always, thanks for reading.

Double Bills Take One: Splash versus The Little Mermaid

I really like mermaids. Or, more to the point, I really like two particular mermaid movies.

I think the connection we oddballs have with mermaids is to do with their split nature. Shakespeare describes men as having “One foot in sea, and one on shore, to one thing constant never” and mermaids are the same. They get to experience the best of both worlds… and then they have to make a choice. Usually love is involved. In the case of Hans Christian Andersen’s original Mermaid, she chooses love and is rewarded with death. No boyfriend, no soul, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred pounds. As Ursula the Sea Witch so articulately puts it in The Little Mermaid, “Life’s full of tough choices, innit?”

Ron Howard’s naive and cockle-warming Splash (1984) and the frankly flawless The Little Mermaid (1989) are more closely connected than they may at first seem. For starters, both movies technically belong to Disney. The screenplay for Splash was, in fact, the reason why Disney invented Touchstone, so that they could make a PG film which features the concept of Daryl Hannah’s lady lumps without marring the good Disney name. The Little Mermaid was made several years after Splash, and therefore is understandably influenced by it on some level, even if the influence is Disney’s willingness to do something different. For example, a willingness to design Ariel’s character slightly differently from the blonde, buxom stereotype Madison is so close to.

So, in the interest of fairly comparing the two, I have cunningly devised several criteria: Love, Leg Envy, La-la-la-la-la-la-las (stay with me), Leading Ladies and the Last Scene.

  • Love

As far as I’m concerned this is always the most important ingredient in a film and neither of the flicks in question disappoint on this front. Tom Hank’s watery-eyed portrayal of Allen Bauer, a man who finds himself deeply besotted when he comes into contact with his dream girl is just lovely. Both he and Ariel harbour a crush-like affection for their leading significant others, and this affection then grows into a romance which defies all odds. For me, The Little Mermaid is the ultimate love story.

  • Leg Envy

Both mermaids have a fascination with what they don’t naturally have; legs. Madison is given a glass dome by Allen which contains two mechanised dancers. Similarly, in the “Part of Your World” sequence, Ariel is shown rolling her eyes longingly towards two wind-up dancers which she has salvaged and hidden in her grotto. Subsequently, the idea of dancing, especially dancing with a dishy man, is idealised. The fulfilment of this wish is seen most satisfyingly in the ice skating scene in Splash, where Madison and Allen -take to the ice together. I always find this scene especially tear-enticing because of the moment when Allen clocks an older couple who are skating together and realises that, if Madison can’t stay with him, he will never experience growing old with the woman he loves. Equally satisfying however, is when Ariel finally gets to dance with Prince Eric in the ‘Tour of the Kingdom’ sequence in The Little Mermaid. This scene is especially complimented by Menken’s amazing score. I would argue that both films are even on this point.

  • La-la-la-la-la-las

There are some surprising little moments, where the score of both films feel rather similar. Ultimately though, there’s just no contest; The Little Mermaid was always going to win this one. The Disney musical double-act of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are undefeatable and songs such as “Part of your world”, “Under the sea” and “Kiss the girl” are popular the world over.

  • Leading Ladies

In both cases, the lady makes the first move. Madison and Ariel have both made some kind of time sensitive deal in order to pursue the man of their dreams and both are subsequently quite forceful in pursuit of their chosen male. In addition to this, both show such watchable child-like wonder at the new land-based worlds they experience. In my view, Madison has the slight advantage in this category. When faced with the concept of eating a crab, Ariel is spared, Sebastian has escaped. Madison, however, grabs that lobster with both hands and bites her way straight through the shell. Now that’s a dinner-date.

  • Last Scene

In the finale of The Little Mermaid, Ariel bids her dad and her sisters farewell in order to be with the man of her dreams, the gorgeous Prince Eric. In Splash, Allen leaves his land-based brother and leaps into the water to be with Madison forever. Good for him; even if the concept of being vivisected by curious scientists might have been a contributing factor. Allen Bauer scores another win for Splash.

So there we have it. The scores are even. The Little Mermaid is one of my favourite films of all time, and the experience of seeing it at the cinema is also my first memory (which dates me). It is a crucial part of the canon of classic animated Disney musicals, it signified a major comeback for the company and it has a lot of heart.  The voice acting is wonderful across the board (Pat Carroll as Ursula is a particular favourite, and no one but Jodi Benson could do Ariel). Splash, however, remains a fond favourite, and is probably in my top three Tom Hanks films (alongside Big and the incomparable Mazes and Monsters). It features some impressive mermaid-transformation special effects, as well as a great performance from John Candy as Freddie Bauer, Allen’s brother, noteworthy in particular for the line he delivers in Swedish.