Some of the fondest childhood memories of many millennials come from Disney animated films. Whether it’s classic features such as The Jungle Book or the big-hitters of the early 1990s such as The Lion King and Aladdin, all of these films were huge successes. Less remembered are the sequels - almost all of which didn’t live up to the promise of the originals.
To be clear, we’re not counting live action films here – the jury's still out on Mary Poppins Returns - or films produced by other studios such as Pixar’s Toy Story, which has clearly proven to be an exception to the rule. We mean the likes of The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, or The Return of Jafar – films that are at best mostly forgotten.
With two upcoming Disney sequels - Ralph Breaks The Internet this November and Frozen 2 next year - both scheduled for full cinematic release, Disney clearly have confidence that these sequels will be a hit in a way that hadn’t been the case with previous sequels. But why was that the case? Here’s what we will be hoping doesn't blight Ralph Breaks The Internet.
Many of the sequels to the 1990s Disney films were not produced by the same studios. Instead many of them were made by Disney Movietoons, a sub-division of the Walt Disney Animation Studios, with the plan of releasing them direct-to-video. The reasoning behind this decision was that they would be cheaper and take less time to produce than a full theatrical release, enabling Disney to capitalize quickly on the huge audiences of the original feature films.
This worked as the films were financially successful for their low budget - the first sequel made by Disney Movietoons was 1994’s The Return of Jafar, the sequel to 1992’s Aladdin, which eventually sold 15 million videos and grossed around $300 million worldwide. However, the result of this low-cost approach is that the sequels’ animation was often of lower, choppier quality.
The Return of Jafar drew criticism for its slapdash animation. David Nusair of reelfilm.com wrote: “It's clear right from the outset that Disney put very little effort into the production of The Return of Jafar, particularly in the realm of animation. The film has all the style and fluidity of a Saturday morning cartoon...”
Let’s face it: the songs in a Disney movie are often some of the most memorable and addictive elements. You wouldn’t be hard pressed to find people who know all the lines of ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’, ‘A Whole New World’ or ‘Be Our Guest’. Even The Aristocats – one of the more minor Disney movies - had ‘Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat’.
Sadly, despite Disney often employing many great songwriters to work on the sequels, the songs the writers produced for the films were simply not up to scratch. Who really remembers songs like ‘Love Finds A Way’ from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride? Not us, sadly.
One of the inherent risks of sequels is that unless they have a strong story behind them, they can just end up being flat rehashes of the original. With no narrative reason to exist, it’s no surprise that most Disney sequels weren’t deemed good enough to capture the imagination of cinema-goers.
While Disney’s first ever animated sequel The Rescuers Down Under at least tried to do something new by taking the characters to a new location, the same can’t be said for the likes of The Jungle Book 2 which closely followed the plot of the original movie and was inferior in almost every aspect.
Some Disney sequels have even explicitly revisited old films such as The Lion King 1 ½, which retold the story of the first Lion King movie from Timon and Pumbaa’s perspectives. Even if this is widely considered to be one of the better sequel efforts, this sequel showed Disney prioritizing nostalgia rather than taking The Lion King in a surprising direction and giving audiences something new to excited about.
The original cast members didn’t come back… Or they did and just sounded bored
An original actor declining to reprise their lead role is always a worrying sign for a sequel. Perhaps the best example of this in Disney terms is The Return of Jafar, when Robin Williams declined to return to play the Genie due to a contractual dispute and was replaced by Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer in The Simpsons.
Although Castellaneta made a valiant attempt to capture Williams’ manic energy in the first Aladdin movie, he couldn’t capture it. While Robin Williams eventually came back for the second sequel, 1996’s Aladdin and The King Of Thieves, the magic wasn’t the same.
In cases when the original cast did return for sequels, many of them sounded like they regretted it. In his review of The Lion King 2, David Nusair of reelfilm.com said: "Though most of the original characters and their voices are back, they all sound bored…” That’s not the type of review that will motivate people to watch it.
With so many reasons to be worried about Disney sequels, we spoke with Phil Edwards, Editor of Live For Films, to ask where he thought previous sequels went wrong and what his hopes are for Ralph Breaks The Internet.
Ralph Breaks The Internet is the first animated sequel produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios since Fantasia 2000. What do you think has been the problem with previous Disney sequels?
I feel the main problems with many of the Disney animated sequels is that they often ended up just being basic remakes of the original films, with some minor changes and a drop in the quality of animation. Many were headed for video/DVD so it always felt like, 'What was the point of it all?'
Of course, smaller kids are going to love them no matter what, but even so, the stories often fall flat. Some, such as Atlantis: Milo’s Return were just a few episodes of TV shows stitched together. On the whole, the quality is just not up there with the original films.
What is the best Disney sequel you’ve seen? Do you have a favourite?
Having a daughter meant I did get to see many of the animated sequels when she was younger. While none of them grabbed me like the originals did, I found myself enjoying Peter Pan: Return To Neverland and Lilo and Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. I always liked the concept of Lilo and Stitch – having to keep a creature in check that was made to destroy everything!
Of course, Disney Pixar are on another level when it comes to sequels. The Toy Story sequels have all been great and built on what has gone before to make an ongoing narrative. It will be interesting to see what happens in Toy Story 4.
What hopes do you have for Disney’s upcoming animated sequels like Ralph Breaks The Internet and Frozen 2?
I am hoping that both films they expand the scope of the previous films and move the stories forward. I want Ralph Breaks The Internet to be as funny and clever as the first film was. Throwing the characters into the Internet has great potential for both the plot and new characters. It is funny that this sequel is doing what many of us hoped would have happened in TRON: Legacy!
As for Frozen 2, I really hope they give us a song that can finally break the ever-living catchiness of Let It Go!
Disney’s decision to give Ralph Breaks The Internet a full theatrical release looks fully justified. Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, the film certainly looks to have had more care given to it than previous sequels, given the quality of the trailers.
John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch have all reprised their roles from the original Wreck-It Ralph. There’s even room for new additions to the cast like Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot.
All being well, Ralph Breaks The Internet looks like it will buck the trend and be what has been a rarity over the past few decades: a genuinely good Disney sequel. That will make it all the more worth watching.