The Animated Sequel: Is Two Too Many?

With the impending release of Despicable Me 2 at the end of June and Monsters University coming later this summer, there’s much excitement to be seen in the eyes of every animation-lover. The trailers to the two films are credibly filled with their trademark witty slapstick and both look set to do well at the box office. Monsters University does seem more original in its content (as a sequel that’s actually a prequel) taking an origins-based plot and delving into early character development in a university setting.

Monsters UniversitySo what are the key ingredients of making a successful sequel, and are there times when sequels shouldn’t be made at all? Their likelihood of being commissioned depends heavily on opening weekend takings and gross income, not to mention the c-word: critics. For me though, there are three key features that are equally (if not more) important in the creation and eventual success of a sequel. The first of these is originality – a film will never take off if it’s been done to death before, or brings nothing new to the party. A director who understands all the intricate details of the franchise would be massively beneficial (I might also add understated), and time to iron out all the creases in the plot or animation itself is key to this genre of film.

In fact, time is pivotal to whether or not a sequel achieves success at the box office. Animated films often require longer for a follow up film because of the lengthy process that goes into creating them, but, as Toy Story has shown us, sometimes a few more months (or even years) are worth the wait if required to perfect the story arc and the quality of the feature. We had to wait four years for a sequel and then (harrowingly) 11 more for Toy Story 3, making a 17 year gap between the first and last film. The brilliance of the third film completely justified the wait though, with both the animation and storyline improving, like a French wine, with age.

Monsters University has had a similarly long gap of 12 years since the original was released, but while the directors that helmed the first film haven’t returned for the second, the originality of the trailer material suggests the sequel is in good hands with Dan Scanlon. The release of Despicable Me 2, on the other hand, only boasts a three year gap since the first film, but both directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have returned to work on the second film. While the long wait has left me anticipating Monsters University more, both look promising as sequels that will hopefully amplify their original films, and not detract from them.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case with animated films. There are several examples where one well-rounded film was enough, and the sequel managed to clumsily discredit it, rather than add to it. A particularly painful example of this is Mulan II. The 2004 sequel to the 1998 masterpiece almost destroyed all the credence that the original had built up by sacrificing Mulan’s own storyline in favour of one centering around three princesses, the characters of whom didn’t hold nearly enough weight to carry the story. A poor plot and matching poor script, as well as animation that lacked all the finesse of the first film, left me mentally throwing the sequel into a black hole in my mind and pretending it didn’t exist. Unsurprisingly, it went straight to DVD.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame II is, similarly, a direct-to-DVD disaster of a sequel, almost seeking to overshadow the brilliance of the original with its lackluster story and songs. Even the animation was criticised as being worse than the original – an occurrence that seems to be common among some of the Disney sequels. The six year gap between The Hunchback in 1996 and its 2002 sequel, instead of aiding the creation of an individual new story, served to impart a mediocre one at best. A lesson to be learned here: time is a precious commodity but can’t work wonders on a stale storyline. The plot should have been scrapped in favour of a new one, or the sequel shouldn’t have been attempted at all.

However, take one look at The Incredibles and you’ll see the opposite version of events. Here’s a Disney Pixar collaboration that has wit, originality and a score from Michael Giacchino befitting its superhero theme. Yet where is our sequel? So far unforthcoming. Director Brad Bird hinted earlier in May this year that he’d been carefully thinking about a potential follow up, but as of yet nothing is concrete. Disney and Pixar seem to be suffering from a case of indiscretion; intermittently they make decisions to adapt the wrong films for sequels. We’ve been waiting for the words ‘Incredibles 2’ for some time. Guess we’ll just have to wait a bit longer.

As valuable as time can be in perfecting animation, it can also hinder the chances of a sequel. Disney Pixar’s Brave, for example, was undertaken as a project all the way back in 2005, but only released last year. Part of the reason for this was that Pixar were developing two entirely new software programmes to coordinate the 1500 strands of Merida’s hair, which took almost three years to complete. This technological advancement is clearly a beneficial innovation when you witness the gorgeous undulation of her red curls, but the sheer amount of time the animation took before it was in the final stages makes a sequel seem unlikely or, at the very least, a long way off.

Even if Brave 2 was to be undertaken, there’s no guarantee it would be as successful as the first – certainly the originality that was key to the first film would be hard to maintain. Where would Merida’s storyline go next? Having proved that her unique, free-spirited nature doesn’t need to be counterbalanced by a husband, marriage is off the cards, in turn vetoing a Little Mermaid-esque daughter sequel. New adventures are a potential route, but this idea would have to be crafted carefully in order to avoid becoming a repetitive shadow of the first film.

Just because animated sequels seem to be on the rise, doesn’t necessarily mean the original film will benefit from a second wind. Sequels succeed if they have a continuity of good quality animation and a director who really understands the original film, characters, and subplots within it. The return of an original director is usually a good sign, but to me it isn’t vital as long as they understand the inner workings of what made the film great, and don’t rush the sequel. As an animation-optimist and having watched both trailers enough times to be classed as obsessive, I have high hopes for Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University with regard to all these areas.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Muhinder

    Oh godness, do not remind us of Mulan II! The first movie was a great movie, but it was held back by a few major flaws.

    1. Mushu

    2. The Mulan man voice

    3. The not needed romance

    Now take those flaws, times them by a thousand, and you have the sequel.

  2. Taylor Ramsey

    I cannot recall any animation sequels that have been worthy of the original. Despicable Me 2 and the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs sequel look bland at best.
    I think Pixar may be running dry. Did anyone over the age of 7 want a Cars 2 or a Planes?

  3. Jordan

    Obviously they want to make money, but I think the makers forget that many viewers, even children, enjoy a decent story/characters. Even though Mulan II …etc are aimed at children…. children can still tell when something isn’t as good as the original, even if they can’t put it into words.
    I will be seeing Monsters University since it seems like a cool idea. 🙂 I haven’t seen the first Despicable Me so… no comment.

    Thanks for an enjoyable and informative article 🙂

  4. Kahlia Sankey

    It really is situational. I generally don’t enjoy the sequels. With the exception of Toy story, most others have been too “camp” and quite a let down. I felt that with The Lion King and The Incredibles films. Good article 🙂

  5. Matthew Sims

    Interesting article. I am definitely looking forward to Monsters University. However, I think that nostalgia definitely also plays a big part in how we may view sequels. If there is a large following behind a film, or the possibility of a certain franchise, film-makers will usually quickly create. While I have steered clear of Disney sequels, I think that regardless of whether the story is good or not, there will be a certain niche who will go just to see Mike and Sulley.

    However, Monsters University, while being a character-developing sequel, neglects what everyone would want to see in a sequel, what the first movie ended on, Sulley meeting up with an older “Boo”. Still, I am excited for Monsters University, as I get to see Mike and Sulley again. On the other hand, it looks like a pandering and cliche college movie plot where the protagonist discovers his true talent and that scaring is not about being scary, but believing in your heart…blah,blah,blah.

    In regards to a “The Incredibles 2”, I don’t see how they could really do a sequel without re-hashing the previous film. Other than letting the kids grow up, which would be entertaining, I think that the first film was a camp and self-contained story, and a sequel would be unnecessary and forced.

    The sequel is a hard thing to pull off, and animations rarely pull it off. I think the perfect example would be the Toy story franchise, as well as Shrek 2. Regardless, I think if the first film is popular, there will always be an avenue for a half-assed sequel. I agree with your point that it must be original. If there is an audience for it, and of course if there is a broad public desire for it, as well as the story being a continuation or valid addition to the previous film, then a sequel should be made. However, if it will sully the purity or story of the previous film or film-maker, then other routes should be taken.

    Sequels or franchises in general seem to be trending, not just in animation, and I can hardly see this slowing down, unfortunately.

    • Corrie Parks

      Sequels are 90% a marketing decision on the part of the executives at these studios. They are based on the merchandising success of previous films and are largely risk free because there is a pre-established fan base that will go see them and then buy merchandise.

      That said, when you have a long gap, like 12 years with Monsters U, your fan base is grown up and so that adds an interesting twist. I think Pixar’s tendency to wait a while for some of the important sequels, like Toy Story, Monsters, Finding Dory (coming 2015), shows that they do have a desire to really get a good story out of their franchise, rather than just pound out another toy-selling advertisement. Theirs are the only sequels I will willing go see.

  6. Nick Santoro

    I agree with what you said about Toy Story 3. It was brilliant and really worth the wait. I saw it with my mom and she balled her eyes out in the theatre……I teared up a little too…

    Great article!

  7. Jonny Brown

    I think there’s a lot of sequels at the moment because the studios are lacking in great original ideas. Looking at Pixar, Brave is the only non-sequel they’ve released in four years and it’s nowhere near the standard of the majority of their movies. As much as I am excited for Monsters University and would not complain about an Incredibles 2 what has happened to the studios originality with films like Ratatouille, Wall-E and Finding Nemo? Sequels are good but original ideas are better.

    And we can all be thankful Disney have scrapped the dreadful straight-to-DVD sequels, what a terrible idea they were.

    • David Startup

      Pixar are still churning out original films, do not threat! We may have only had one original idea in the last 4 films (and at least 2 of these franchise follow-ups are of high Pixar quality anyway), but of the next four confirmed Pixar films there is only 1 sequel (Finding Dory) amongst 3 completely original ideas between 2014 and 2016 (Pixar will finally release 2 films in one year in 2015). The studio also has three more films lined up for release between 2017 and 2018 (2 a year again for 2017) and I think the likelihood is that these will be orignial films too (although as the article mentions The Incredibles 2 could well be on the cards here).

      Naturally the sequel announcements get more attention, but whilst everyone worries about Pixar becoming an unoriginal franchise machine, the truth is far from that.

  8. Jungle Book 2 was a complete disgrace.

  9. Jennifer Carr

    I completely agree that some sequels should have a long gap. It really annoys me these days that Hollywood demands sequels super fast because they want more money without any consideration for how a sequel will impact the story. That’s why I’m always very wary around sequels. I’m all for seeing characters I love again, just not in a way that might horrify me.
    The sequel I can’t wait for is How To Train Your Dragon 2. Dreamworks used to be kind of iffy with sequels but Kung Fu Panda 3 and Madagasgar 3 were great, so I’m really excited for HTTYD 2. The trailer looked amazing and I think it’s going in the right direction.
    Oh, and all hail John Lasseter for stopping the direct-to-DVD Disney sequel menace. The only good sequel Disney ever did was The Rescuers Down Under.

  10. Siobhan Calafiore

    Pixar always seems to produce the better sequels. The films seem to have just as much time and care put into them, if not more. I do love Disney’s original movies though so I will forgive them for the disappointing sequels.

  11. Riviera Handley
    Riviera De TyTy

    Sequels are always disappointing – except for Ice Age 2, 3 and 4!

  12. Producers’ wallets would disagree with you.

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