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Wednesday
Aug112010

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 well....it 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 well...you 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.

 

Monday
Feb152010

Love, Hate, and John Lasseter

The theme park savior we've been waiting for?
Or is that impossible... even for Lasseter?


“The Next Walt Disney,”
a title attached to John Lasseter a few years ago, admittedly had me excited. No, I never for ten seconds thought he’d hold a candle to Uncle Walt, but compared to the other clowns trying to run Walt’s company, Lasseter appeared to be the theme park savior we geeks had been waiting for.

Among the many differences between Walt and John, one is more important than all others. Lasseter is a creative genius who is trying to fix what has already been done with the Disney parks. Walt Disney was a creative genius who did what had never been done. “Hold on. JL pioneered CG animation, something that had never been done.” Yes. He sure did. And he did a bang-up job. In the world of CG animation, he is king. Allow me to be clear on one thing: Two thumbs up for the accomplishments of Pixar and their brilliant leaders, including JL. We are talking about theme parks though.

Lasseter has, with help from Jobs, Catmull, and others, built what is quite possibly the only existing near-perfect creative environment… no thanks to the Eisner Disney Company. Can a similarly creative and successful environment be established at WDI? I have spent time at the Pixar Animation Studio. I walked the halls, seen their creative process, and mingled with talent. I was delightfully overwhelmed at the amount of talent oozing out of the place. I worked off-site on a few small Pixar marketing projects. I met with Lasseter both at Pixar and at the parks. We spoke of animatronics, animation, and even about his and my careers. His face lights up when you talk about Disneyland . He enjoys talking about the time he worked as a Disneyland custodian and Jungle Cruise Skipper. He couldn’t be more genuine and passionate about so many of these things.

The Pixar studio itself radiates a sense of passion. In the animation wing of the Pixar building, Disneyland memorabilia artfully clutter every hallway (along with other cool memorabilia). The big “D” from the old Disneyland sign on Harbor Blvd. is there. Props and themed offices are everywhere, including at least two offices with secret passages. A set of actual Chuck E. Cheese animatronic figures greet you around one corner. It is a wonderland second only to W.E.D of the 1960’s. One thing is for sure. The appreciation for Walt Disney’s legacy does not go unnoticed.

Photo from the Los Angeles Times


Lasseter’s office
(next to Steve Jobs’ simple-as-can-be office with one desk, two chairs, an iMac and notheing else) is a perfect reflection of everything he is passionate about. Looney Toons animation cells, stuffed Miyazaki animated characters, an original Sunday Peanuts comic strip signed and gifted to him by Schulz himself, original Lucas Films artwork, toys galore, Pixar stuff of course, and an impressive collection of old and new ViewMasters and slides. A collection of model trains on one wall and on another wall, a photo of JL with “Nine Old Men” famed animator, Ollie Johnston at the Disneyland Railroad tracks next to the full-sized train Ollie sold to JL. One thing really caught my eye. A stack of “Extinct Attractions” DVD documentaries. Hmmm. Clearly, no lack of love for what I consider the right way to run a Disney theme park.

A return to the old-school? Jim Hill Media reported a couple years ago that Lasseter wanted to fix Journey Into Imagination. Journey was one of the documentaries in his office. He was reported to have wanted Western River Expedition to be built at Hong Kong Disneyland, DCA or elsewhere. After reading this I mentioned it to Marty Sklar. Marty hadn’t a clue that Lasseter ever mentioned such a thing. He said “I highly doubt that would ever happen. That thing is too expensive.” That thing? I got the impression that Marty wasn’t on-board for any more glorious animatronic-filled attractions. He also mentioned, “Mickey Mouse Review was boring.” Oh and he too threw in the “they say John Lasseter is the next Walt Disney” line while we were conversing.

I lose no sleep at night pondering the future of Pixar Animation. It’s exactly where it should be and I love it. I do however fear the path Disney theme parks are on.

Questions. Are the Sklars of the Disney Company the ones who are holding Lasseter back? Is it the notion that today people won’t respond to how things used to be done? Is the (false) doctrine of “Pixar is the only thing that sells” the only thing driving new development? Has Lasseter bought into the idea that more and more Pixar attractions need to fill the parks because no other Disney-related entertainment has been successful lately? Are Lasseter’s theme park tastes influenced too heavily by his involvement with Pixar animation? Are we to settle for Pixar-based attractions that slightly resemble classic rides?

One concept pitched and green-lit was the idea of a hub-cap flying saucer attraction for the new DCA Cars Land. The Imagineers said they were excited to see what JL had to say about a ride inspired by an old-school Tomorrowland attraction. He was impressed.

To be fair, a lot of the ($1.1 billion+) DCA improvements are not Pixar-based. JL is championing the effort to bring more heart, soul, and emotional impact to the life-lacking park. Thank you for that.

Answers (according to me): In a nut shell, the current philosophies of Disney management prevent Lasseter from doing certain things he’d love to do. When two ideas are presented- one that completely appeals to nerds like you and me (fixing Journey, Western River Expedition, etc.), and one based on something that recently made $800,000,000 at the box office- you can guess which will win.

So here we have it. John Lasseter loves good-quality Disney. He also likes Pixar stuff in the parks. He also has bosses who like to say “no”. He also is spread like too little butter over too much toast. He also has a wreck of an animation studio (Walt Disney Animation) to fix and a thriving animation studio (Pixar) to help maintain.

So love, hate, and John Lasseter… Love his passion. Love his successes in the CG animated industry. Love his potential to positively influence what I hope can be a new generation of Imagineering. But by golly, I hate singing fish and joke-cracking monsters in Tomorrowland. Hate Woody dancin’ around the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, or even worse, Woody and pals (and any other character for that matter) in “it’s a small world”. And I will hate to be an old man at a Disneyland that doesn’t resemble the Disneyland I knew as a young child.

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