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The Makings of a Good Sequel

Article by Lilly

When I was a younger I was very opinionated how much I hated sequels. Period. All sequels were bad, everything that needed to be said was already said in the first movie. A trilogy was okay, sequels, not so much.

Then my grandmother bought me “Rescuers Down Under” on VHS. I figured I might as well watch it since I owned it and was great. I loved it. I loved the plot and the characters and I fell in love with Bernard, Bianca and the Rescue Aid Society all over again. I couldn’t deny that this sequel was well written, fun, and frankly, just as good as the first one. It was on that day that my opinions of sequels began to evolve.

 I’m still as opinionated about sequels as I ever was, but I’ve decided there are a few things that have to be taken into consideration for a sequel to be any good.


1. The first one seems obvious, and yet sequel makers seem to do this more often than not, which never ceases to amaze me. You can’t just recreate the first movie as in “Lady and the Tramp II.” You can’t even do the “opposite” of the first movie like “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.” You have to actually think of a new plot.

2. You can’t use the same villain if resolution was made with the villain in the first movie. You have to create a new one. It’s different if the first movie set itself up for a sequel by having the villain storm away saying something like “I’ll get you next time!” But if the villain learns their lesson, they can’t come back and act like they didn’t. For instance if “Toy Story 2” had Sid show up because he decided that he really wasn’t that freaked out when all the toys came to life, that would have been lousy.

3. You must be incredibly conscious not to contradict facts defined from the original. Example: In “Peter Pan” you can only fly with pixie dust and a happy thought. However, in “Peter Pan: Return to Neverland,” we see an octopus fly right after it’s food gets away because it had pixie dust, but it didn’t look very happy to me, and I didn’t know Tinkerbell could take away pixie dust after she had given it.

4. You have to be even more conscious not to contradict the character’s integrity. Seeing the character we know and love do something we know they would never do, kills the movie right there. For instance Belle in “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” wouldn’t break her promise to the beast and go into the forest after she already broke her promise once and the beast was almost killed saving her. Not only would she not do that morally, but she isn’t an idiot. It would take more than a sinister organ and the need for a tree to make her put her and Chip’s lives in danger when she already knew what was out there. Another example: Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning” wouldn’t have disobeyed King Triton’s orders to ban music. His whole character development in the original consisted of him being Mr. Discipline and straight down the line with the rules. He also always sides with Triton. Then he goes on this journey with Ariel and learns a whole new way of looking at things and ultimately helps in changing Triton’s mind. Now you’re trying to tell us that before all that he was a total rebel who totally bonds with Ariel and makes a secret oath with her and all that? Sorry we’re not buying it.

5. Nobody can come back to life. Period. The only time I have ever been on the fence about this is Captain Barbosa, but honestly if it were me I wouldn’t have done it.

6. People in love stay in love. It’s such a weak choice to make one of the major plot lines of a sequel be two characters, who were finally united in the end of the first movie, have some stupid misunderstanding and question their love for another. A choice like that would go something like this: Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip are now planning their wedding when one of Maleficent's Goons (who now suddenly has a name) decides he want’s to avenge Maleficent’s death. So he pretends to be Prince Phillip’s friend and tells prince Phillip that Aurora really doesn’t love him anymore. He tells the prince to see for himself and the prince overhears Aurora say “I just don’t think I can go through with this.” Of coarse what she was really talking about was a princess obstacle course that Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather made for her. Prince Phillip flees the castle distraught which was really just a trap so the goons could capture him....and get the idea. That will be on direct to DVD next month, just wait and see.

7. Fairytales that end in happily ever after really can’t have a sequel. If you come back around and say, “just kidding, it was happily ever after except for this movie,” it doesn’t just make a bad movie, you also leak your horrid choices onto the first movie by invalidating the end. When I heard the line “What if the magic was taken away?” on the teaser of “Cinderella III,” my heart sank deeply. When a fairytale is over its over, it doesn’t go back it time, sorry.

8. Original voices are a must. We can tell when the voices are different, we really can. If the people are not around, it is possible to find people who can do the voice exactly, but they have to be exact. I think the current voices of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy do a great job. I don’t know why Disney struggles so much trying to find voice talent for every other character. People tried to tell me that the voices on “Peter Pan: Return to Neverland” wear dead on, but honestly I felt like they didn’t even try that hard. Smee came the closest, but no cigar. The character loses integrity and previous character development when the voice is obviously different, or worse they use a different actor in the case of a live action movie.

9. The animation style has to be the same. Obviously the characters need to look and move the same, but also, the feeling has to be the same. For instance, in “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” they threw a little CGI in there for Forte and then to make it worse, they gave him some neon green glowing powers that shoot out and can actually knock the beast of his feet. It just doesn’t fit with the first one.

10. Music is the last one. The musical score has to be a continuation from the original, you can’t do all new music. If there is singing, the vocal style has to match the original as well; you can’t have Cinderella sing with a nasal musical theater voice, when she originally sang with a full and smooth classic 1940’s voice in the original.


The point of this post is not to rag on Disney sequels, there are plenty of blogs to share our woes in that regard. The point is that it really isn’t that hard to make good sequels. Look at Toy Story 2 and 3. Now whether you like sequels or not, you have to admit as far as sequels go, these were well done. They followed all the rules. The didn’t try to recreate the first one. They had a new villain for each sequel. They were very true to the facts and characters they established in the first movie. They didn’t resurrect anybody. Jesse and Buzz still liked each other and Woody still liked Bo Peep even though she wasn’t around in the last one. It wasn’t a fairytale, so there was no definitive ending to the first one. They had the same voices and animation style, and they based all the music off the music in the first film. Well done.

I’d prefer no sequels myself, but sequels are guaranteed to make 40% of the first film, no matter what the quality looks like. That’s just a known fact among filmmakers. So, Disney figures they can make a few quick bucks on some sequels with really no effort nor cost to them. However, I feel if they just put a little more effort into their sequels, by taking the money and resources they are using to make crappy sequels and using them to make fewer better sequels, those sequels will actually make more money then all their crappy sequels combined. Heck, Toy Story 2 made more money than the first one. If Disney made less, better sequels we could let rest a few movies that really shouldn’t have sequels (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Pinocchio could be spared) and focus on movies where sequels would be more appropriate.


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Reader Comments (15)

The third "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" was the best sequel ever. "Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves". So classy. And well-written. And entertaining. Those silly Szalinskis!

Lilly, you are dead on. I could have written a better script for "Cinderella II" in Kindergarten.

August 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterMitch

Walt said it best: "You can't top a pig with a pig." He learned the lesson when he released two sequels to the tremendously popular Three Little Pigs short subject, and neither did remotely as well as the original. Too bad current studio execs haven't learned the same lesson.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob Smith

You're completely right about Disney making crappy sequals in order to make money. I know for a fact that my parents bought me the sequals to peter pan, the jungle book, cinderella, the lion king and the little mermaid (to name a few) and I absolutely loved them. Watched them hundreds of times. But now, looking back I realize they're not even half as good as the original. However, kids don't care about the plot they just like seeing their favorite characters again.

It's good for money, but it really does irritate older people who grew up with the classics and now have to witness dumb straight to dvd sequals that really don't work at all.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

The Disney animation sequels are mostly worthless. Did we need another Jungle Book, 30-years later? It's safe to say, the goal was trying to update classics to modern audiences (who have to see the originals before the sequels), while at the same time, pandering to parents who grew up with this stuff. I only saw a handful of these releases, but they were all terrible.

But, to play devil's advocate, it's better than 90% of the other direct-to-video (and DVD) productions out there. The Aladdin sequels, for one, were well-done, even though they break a few of the rules up top. Plus parents knew what they're getting with the Disney name slapped on the cover. Either way, they called more attention to the original films first, and isn't that the point? They may not be perfect, but I'm sure there are hundreds of non-purists out there who could care less about original voice actors, or breaking established rules from the original film... these people just simply enjoy them for entertainment (they're the same people who think Harry Potter is at Disney World, or the new Narnia movie is another Disney film).

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Oustanding as usual Lilly. You really hit the nail right on the head. Unfortunately, if it stands to make money, Disney sometimes doesn't see things the same way. What makes me wonder is, when a movie is successful and even ends with the set up to a sequel (see:Incedibles), what are they waiting for?

Point #6 was perfectly executed. Disney needs to understand their movies are enjoyed by adults as well, and that kids today are much more in tune to inaccuracies in movies.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWDW FanBoy Brett

Nice article. I'm always too hard on sequels probably because most of them suck. After drinking some beer in the blazing heat something came to me. It's not that they're sequels, the problem is they're just bad movies. Imagine what would have happened if history was changed and the original movies were replaced with the next one in line. Walt Disney would have dead at age 54 in his trailer home in Nebraska and the local Waffle House would have been short one pissed off fry cook. The waitresses would chew gum and talk about how he made a couple good cartoons back in the day and then everything went to shit.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

Hoot you crack me up!

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSKIPP

Thanks SKIPP! I'm serious though. I wanna sit down and come up with a sequel to Cinderella. If they're going to make sequels they might as well have somebody who really cares about the original at the helm. Here's how it goes:

I work with cement for a living in the Florida HEAT and that's important and I like my job. I want to enter a meeting room where a bunch of puffy, clean, gel headed sub humans are ready to pitch ME the story ideas. I'd take off my sweaty shirt and wipe the table to get it nice and clean. Where's an ashtray? There's not ONE ashtray at the Disney Studios???? Walt is already frowning on this group.

I'd give each story man/woman a chance to tell what they have in mind. I'd soak it in. . I'd soak the next 400 in too. Somebody get me an Icehouse. After hours of hearing garbage I wouldn't let it get to me. I'd be all cool and say "Nice, Mary, good angle".

At the 12th hour I'd stand up with half of a bologna sandwich in my mouth, throw it on the floor as hard as I could, and tell everyone to sit in a tight circle on the floor. THAT'S when Id say "why do we even NEED a sequel? You fat brain dead morons! You didn't want to pitch this shit to me!!!! Are you ass kissers? WHY do you have a jelly donut in your foot locker, Private Pyle? Because YOU were hungry".

We wouldn't make a sequel in the end because, like Lilly said, it makes no sense. We'd drive at the core of a good fairytale is and come up with our own original story. Here's a good point for you who are reading this and I think this is what "Disney" gets wrong. Romance isn't a girl thing that appeals to only females. In fact I think boys are even MORE dopey when it comes to love. I'm serious! Think, right now, about your first love guys. Was that the most amazing thing in your life? Did you spend sleepless nights thinking about her? You damn sure did and that, my friend, is why fairy tales aren't just for girls.

We'd put together one hell of a love tale based on everything that we've all felt at one time or another.

Go draw, Pyle, I have cement to mix.

August 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoot Gibson

hehe Hoot ur cool.

I agree that you shouldn't make a sequel out of something that has a definite ending, and "they lived happily ever after" is pretty much a definite ending. duh! Cinderella sequels were horrible! Lilly I like your point about they lived happily ever after, oh just kidding!

Also the original voices thing is a must for me. I didnt notice it in Peter Pan 2, because I had only watched the original twice. But in Mulan its so distracting. It just makes the movie seem like everything is off.

Queer really.

August 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

Nailed it! Well written and right on the money.

I'll just add that regardless of how much a sequel makes at the box office, if it's a poor story that fails in these rules, the viewer leaves the movie feeling like they were cheated. So, even if the studio makes the 40%, the viewer may develop some animosity toward you for ruining the original story, and stealing money from them in the process.

August 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrumpyFan

My favorite sequel (ish) is The Lion King 1 1/2. It followed all the rules! 1: They made a whole new story, despite taking place a little before and during the original. 2: They did use the same villains but the main villain and the secondary villains switched positions aka the hyenas being more important then Scar. 3: They kept the facts, nothing changed, you just get to see it from a different point of view. 4: Timone and Pumbba have the exact same personalities along with everybody else. 5: Nobody comes back to life cause t's the same story. 6: Nala and Simba stay in love, despite efforts from Timone and Pumbba to keep them apart. 7: Same story, same outcome. 8: From what I know, they had the same voices. 9: Same animation style. 10: They reused some of the songs from the original, and even though it's a different style of music, it's more fitting to Timone and Pumbba's modern style then the cultural styles of everyone else.

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Oriotis

This article, while good, is quite out of date. These disney 'cheapquels' are no longer produced. John Lasseter shut down production on them, as he rightfully pointed out that they ruin the value of the full-length features.

December 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Wish they would do the same for the Tinkerbell movies.

July 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

From what I understand John Lasseter has cut production on all the straight to video sequels. He has put in place a stricter criteria for straight to video now. I really like the changes that he has put in place with him heading up all of Disney animation.

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJosh B.

I totally agree on the Lion King 1 1/2, it did nothing to invalidate the original and it followed it's own style.

But generally, sequels tend to go down the drain for any movie. Mostly because it's a carbon copy of the original. Oh look, there is that funny moment from the first movie, again, in a different place.

James Bond (not all were great, granted) seem to have the idea down pretty good. New story, some familiar elements but otherwise a new experience.

March 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

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