Because “best” is a bit of a stretch.
Midterms, they are a’coming. That means this critic didn’t exactly have time for an entire, fleshed-out review. So, welcome to the first edition of Laura’s List! Where I…list things.
This week, we’re tackling animated sequels. And, believe me when I tell you, most of them are the most awful movies ever made. Think about it – BESIDES Toy Story – are there any animated sequels you’ve seen lately that have just blown the originals out of the water…let alone, were as good as the originals? Probably not. And DAMMIT DISNEY, I AM SPECIFICALLY GOING AFTER YOU ON THIS.
Sometime in the late 1990s/early 2000s, the folks at Disney decided to go on “sequel spree” and make a ton of direct-to-video sequels to some of their most beloved classics. Why? Because they knew it was going to make money. At that point, kids (my generation especially) were hooked on Disney like it was crack-cocaine. We sang along with a free-spirited mermaid, danced along with a beauty and a beast, witnessed a lion become king, and fell in love with a thief disguised as a prince. By the late 1980s, Disney was making such successful, quality films that, to us kids, their characters were like family. Disney could do no wrong in our eyes.
So, when the company ran short on creative juices, they decided to capitalize on their most popular characters and make them into franchises…CHEAP franchises. As I mentioned before, the majority of the animated Disney sequels were released directly to either video or DVD…Disney even knew these movies weren’t good enough for theaters. Partly because most of them were actually animated by Disney’s television division – in other words, TV animators were animating these films! So, already, we have a huge downgrade in terms of visuals and animation. But that doesn’t hold a candle to the water-downed plots, the crappy writing, and the classic characters acting out-of-character.
In which Ariel scolds her young daughter for wanting to explore new places and learn new things. STOP IT.
And, you know what, when I was a child, I watched these movies anyway! I definitely spent my share of Saturday mornings parked in front of the TV, watching The Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure on videotape. Because it was Disney. Because, if Disney made it, it has to be good, right? Because – just maybe – Disney thinks that kids are stupid and will watch anything. Well, they shouldn’t. Shame on you, Disney, for that dark era of just not caring.
Having said all this, hopefully you understand why I can’t name this week’s post “Top 5 BEST Animated Sequels.” In fact, I’d say only the top two films in this list are “meaningful, quality films.” The bottom three…well, they’re fun and enjoyable, but you’re not going to learn anything from them – they’re cinematic junk food…guilty pleasures, if you will. And, who doesn’t love indulging a guilty pleasure every now and then?
Also, just to clarify, not all of the films in this list are by Disney – but they do make up the majority (because they MADE so many damn sequels). Without further ado, let’s get started!
5. AN EXTREMELY GOOFY MOVIE (2000)
“Do you ever wonder why we’re always, like…wearin’ gloves?”
Remember A Goofy Movie? I’d say it’s one of the more forgotten Disney films of the ’90s, but, from what I hear, it has a nostalgic fan following. Most likely because of all the pop-powered original music. I gotta admit, it’s pretty darn catchy.
But, despite the magic of a Disney-fied Michael Jackson knock-off, the original film received lukewarm reviews…which leads us to our Fun Fact: An Extremely Goofy Movie, a cheap, direct-to-video sequel, received better reviews than its predecessor. H’yuck.
The plot is…goofy enough: Max Goof (Jason Marsden) and his friends are starting their freshman year of college, eager to gain some independence and compete in the College X-Games. Meanwhile, Goofy (Bill Farmer), the smothering but well-meaning dad, misses his son terribly, and he can’t seem to keep a decent job because he lacks a college degree. Well, looks like Goofy’s off to college too…the same college as Max! Isn’t this starting to sound like a cheesy sitcom? Anyway, while Max tries to keep his cool, Goofy starts to rule the school when he falls in with the Gamma Mu Mu frat, Max’s greatest opponents in the X-Games. Suddenly, Goofy becomes the big man on campus while Max falls behind, he finds a love interest in a faculty member, he saves the day in a big sporting competition, and – WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE.
Ohhhhh, right. The 1986 comedy film, Back to School, starring Rodney Dangerfield. It’s the EXACT SAME MOVIE.
Disney, you’re not the first to rip off – or pay homage – to an old favorite, but come on. Taking the exact same plot and throwing in some anthropomorphic dogs doesn’t look good in terms of originality…but, if you execute it well, that’s another story. After all, The Flintstones essentially changed the setting of The Honeymooners from an apartment in 1950s Brooklyn to a cave in the time of the dinosaurs…and it works! In my opinion, An Extremely Goofy Movie takes Back to School and…actually does an okay job with it.
As expected in a Goofy movie, there are plenty of good laughs. The animation, while simple and sometimes a bit messy, gives life to the zaniness of the characters and their hijinks.
There’s a lot of entertaining slapstick as well, much like in the old Goofy cartoon shorts. The voices are a ton of fun too: voice acting legend, Rob Paulsen (Pinky from Pinky and the Brain, Raphael from TMNT, Yakko from The Animaniacs, you name it), gives life to gentle giant P.J., whose naivety and surprising affinity for poetry remind me of Manny from Modern Family. Pauly Shore’s Bobby (who is about as stoned as any Disney character can get) gives us the AMAZING one-liner you’ll find at the top of this brief Goofy review. That got the biggest laugh out of me. In short, the characters, including a few new additions, are plenty enjoyable.
Jokes aside, the action in this film is a little slow…at least for me. A few montages indicate the passage of time and the number of ways Goofy can embarrass Max…which get old. There are also relentless scenes of skateboarding and biking in the X-Games, which get kinda boring. And, to me, the relationship between Goofy and his son (which was well-developed in the original film) is a little lacking. We’re subjected to distractions like Goofy’s new girlfriend, Max’s rivalry with the Gammas, and a 1970s disco dance break. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it all didn’t feel so slow. My big annoyance lies in one of the dramatic moments in this film…yep, Goofy gets serious. And it’s kinda jarring.
A few minutes into the film, we get a wordless scene of Goofy wandering his now-empty home as a melodramatic piano plays in the background. He sniffles and finally breaks down into tears…it goes on for about ten seconds too long. All I could think of was…this is GOOFY we’re talking about. Seriously, only several minutes in, and we get Goofy crying? I mean, I understand it can be very sad for parents when their kids leave for college…but it’s GOOFY! When I think Goofy, I don’t think too three-dimensional in terms of character…I certainly don’t think overwhelming sadness, especially so early on. Too much, too soon. It honestly made me want to shut off the movie.
Still, the comedy saves the day here. Again, not my favorite animated guilty pleasure…but it’s better than a lot of other stuff out there.
4. DESPICABLE ME 2 (2013)
“You know, you really should announce your weapons after you fire them.”
Here’s another one where comedy is the saving grace. If you read my review of the original Despicable Me, you know how I feel about this sequel: it’s HILARIOUS, but there’s no substantial plot. And I’ve got a shocker of a Fun Fact for this film too: it has made the largest profit of any Universal Studios film in the last 100 years. So, yeah, no wonder a prequel and a second sequel are currently in-the-making – both with impending cinematic releases. Universal Studios doesn’t seem to mess with that direct-to-DVD stuff…
First of all, I’ll say this: if you value comedy and want some BIG laughs, the sequel is definitely a better movie for you. If you’re more into character development and plot, stick with the original. Me – I personally prefer the sequel. I mean, I obviously value character development and, you know, PLOT…but I can get that same “despicable idea” in a better film, like Monsters Inc. For this franchise, I’m definitely in it for the jokes – that’s what made the sequel so memorable for me.
So, this sequel is about Gru (Steve Carell) getting a girlfriend. That’s pretty much it. It’s not like his character grows or anything – he just gets a girlfriend.
Well, there’s also a really weak plot line about him saving the world – at least, that’s the plot line that was advertised. But, at the core of it, it’s a series of events from the life of an unusual single dad…it would work much better as an animated sitcom. Still, I guess there’s nothing wrong with a despicable romantic-comedy, as long as it’s done well.
And the rom-com aspects, for the most part, are done well. We find out that Gru has quit villainy in favor of a domestic life with his adopted daughters. He’s still a bit of a psycho, make no mistake. The girls, through the brief appearances they make in this film, speculate that Dad’s restless and wish they had a mother. There’s also Jillian (Nasim Pedrad), Gru’s busybody neighbor, who’s constantly trying to set him up on dates. She’s an absolute nutjob and a hilarious new character – in fact, all of the new characters are really funny, and there are quite a few of them.
Anyway, we see that Gru is incredibly uncomfortable around women. Steve Carell, how many times are you going to play a 40 year-old virgin?!?!
Enter rookie Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League. She’s cute, she’s upbeat, and, like all the other adults in this franchise, she’s NUTS too.
Lucy is Gru’s binary opposite, so you know they’re going to get together. But, while this is predictable, I personally think it’s done well enough. They go from (literally) trying to kill each other, to putting their heads together, to making a bizarre connection prior to the film’s climax – Lucy saves Gru from one of his awful dates (who is hysterically voiced by Kristen Schaal) by shooting her with a moose tranquilizer. That’s when Gru realizes he’s in love with her.
It works (and it’s funny) because they’re both INSANE. For a sequel, I appreciate that the film takes its time to develop their relationship – although the development of Gru’s relationship with the girls is sacrificed, which is a shame.
Also, the stakes in this film aren’t very high. Like in any other rom-com, we know the romantic relationship is going to come to a temporary standstill, and it does. I originally predicted that Lucy would have second thoughts about trusting a former villain…but, no, the conflict is that Lucy is moving. Seriously, that’s it: she’s moving away. Gru, you once built a rocket that took you to the moon in less than two minutes – I think a long-distance relationship would be no problem for you.
But, at least we have tons and tons of filler from the minions! Well, I still think they’re funny. Plus, the antagonist this time around is an IMMENSE improvement from Vector. His name is El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), and he has the funniest backstory of any bad guy you’ve ever heard of. He also actually looks like a threat.
I placed Despicable Me 2 before An Extremely Goofy Movie because the comedy is spot-on. The slapstick is energized and fluid, the writing is funny – creative minds from The Simpsons and Family Guy apparently worked on this – and the characters are BIG and memorable. The animation is also detailed and crisp. I’d see it again for a good laugh.
3. THE LION KING II: SIMBA’S PRIDE (1998)
“The good news is, we found your daughter! The bad news is, we dropped a warthog on her.”
The Lion King is a tough act to follow. It’s not Disney’s best film, but it happens to be one of my favorites. As the animal kingdom’s answer to Hamlet, the film addresses identity, mortality (RIP Mufasa), and revenge…it’s quite mature for a kids’ movie. It’s dark, it’s beautiful, and, thanks to a certain meerkat and warthog, it’s funny too. I also love Elton John’s music.
So, I can’t help but give the sequel credit: it was never going to be as good as the original. Still, it’s really not bad at all. The animation is pleasing, the relationships between the characters are strong, and the plot is compelling. It also maintains the more serious tone of the original (it does verge on something a bit more emo…which is kinda annoying). The sequel is also a musical, and, you know what, most of the songs are good, even catchy! Fun Fact: one of the songs from the sequel is featured in the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King. So, yeah, it ain’t bad!
It does, however, portray Simba (Matthew Broderick) as an overprotective dad…I swear, this is such a stereotype in cartoons – especially sequels! Sequels #4 and #5 are guilty of this too, just FYI. To me, it’s insufferable – Simba was such a free spirit in the first film. Yeah, he “remembered who he was” and returned home to kick out Uncle Scar and take on the responsibilities of king…but gee, he was never a stick-in-the-mud. Whatever.
Borrowing from Shakespeare once again, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride tells the story of Simba’s daughter, Kiara (Neve Campbell), as she develops a friendship with Kovu (Jason Marsden…hi, Max Goof!), Scar’s reluctant heir…who we never saw or heard about in the first film. When the cubs grow up, they fall in love, despite their feuding families. There’s also some comic relief from Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), and there’s a new villain named Zira (Suzanne Pleshette), the leader of a cult of lionesses that believe Scar’s heir is the rightful king.
The antagonist: she’s diabolical and sinister…but a bit forgettable. Unlike Scar, she doesn’t have much of a personal relationship with Simba to make their conflict interesting. BUT…her twisted relationship with her three cubs, including Kovu, is definitely memorable. We get an intriguing dynamic of favoritism and jealousy as Zira preps Kovu to assassinate Simba and become king. Meanwhile, her oldest son, Nuka (Andy Dick, for some reason?), is desperate for attention and a chance for the throne, just to earn his mother’s love. To me, it’s a compelling subplot…I’m amazed a direct-to-video sequel like this even has a subplot.
Luckily, the really good stuff lies in the very focus of the film: Kiara and Kovu. As with any solid relationship among characters, the film takes its time to develop the connection between these two. It’s not love, or even friendship, at first sight: he’s an angsty bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks (er, pridelands), and she’s the princess who just wants a little freedom. It’s cliché but, hey, it’s sweet. They befriend each other as children, lose touch, and then reconnect as adults. And, you know how it is when you reconnect with an old childhood friend…it’s a little awkward at first. But, through shared experiences and some playful banter, they form a new, believable relationship that turns into love. I bought it.
Kovu also makes for a compelling character. Like Simba, he struggles with his own identity: does he honor his mother’s wishes and fulfill his destiny as Scar’s heir, or does he choose to be with the one he loves? It’s not an easy decision by any means – the villain raised him! Kovu’s internal struggle is nicely featured, adding some great drama to the film. Kiara, on the other hand, is your standard Disney princess…she just wants to be free! Eh.
Also, where have I seen Kovu’s hair – er, mane – before?
EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK.
Disney, take notes: lions don’t look like John Stamos.
Moving on: the drama is decent, and the stakes are high. Additionally, it’s never boring – there’s lots of action, danger, and conflict for the characters to overcome. It definitely keeps your interest. The dialogue is a little cheesy and expositional at times…but the music wins me over. The songs provide further commentary on the narrative, and they certainly get stuck in your head. It’s definitely not as good as Elton John’s music in the first film, but it holds its own. All in all, it’s a sequel I’ll likely revisit again.
2. SHREK 2 (2004)
“I’m sorry – the position of annoying talking animal has already been filled.”
FINALLY. An actual wonderful movie, through and through! No guilty pleasure here…I genuinely love this film.
It’s a fact: we all love Shrek. It was probably the first movie to parody classic fairytale characters, mostly through clever pop culture references. Disney jumped on board later with Enchanted, but I think people love Shrek so much because it is the first of its kind. I like the original as well – just maybe not as much as most other people do. Sure, the animation is fun, the characters are fun, Eddie Murphy said “I’m makin’ waffles”…but, hey, for me, it’s a teensy-bit overrated. I actually enjoy the sequel much more than the original, and that’s why it’s ranked so high in my list. Let’s take a look at Shrek 2.
First off, a Fun Fact: Shrek 2 held the record for highest-grossing animated film in the world for six years, until it was dethroned by Toy Story 3 in 2010. Not too shabby for a sequel. Unfortunately, all that money led to – I don’t know – FIFTY more half-baked Shrek sequels that I can’t even bother getting through. At least they keep Mike Myers employed.
Anyway, following their reunion a lá Beauty and the Beast, Shrek (Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) get hitched as a matching set of ogres, and they finally have their “happily ever after.” For me, this is where the real originality kicks in: what happens after “happily ever after”? Well, it turns out life isn’t such a perfect fairytale after all, once the newlyweds return from their honeymoon. Fiona’s parents want to meet their new son-in-law…and they don’t know he’s an ogre. They also have no idea just how much their daughter’s…er, changed too. It gets awkward fast.
Already, we have some really compelling conflict, which makes for a great sequel. The conflict deepens when Fiona begins to express justified frustrations about changing so drastically for her husband. And, as cantankerous as he is, Shrek is so in love that he takes off to find some way to change himself for her. Now, this is an issue we all can relate to: making sacrifices for someone you love. For a film directed at children, it’s quite a mature topic. To me, it’s more intricate and original then – say – letting someone see your inner beauty…we’ve seen that dozens of times. So, already, this film captures my attention way more than the original ever did.
But, remember, this is Shrek: it shouldn’t be too serious, and, thank goodness, the sequel stays true to its roots in comedy. And, the two main antagonists deliver. The Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), a savvy businesswoman, and her flamboyant, egomaniac son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), are diabolically funny and memorable. Antonio Banderas voices a Zorro-like Puss-in-Boots, who at least delivers a hilarious joke about catnip and weed – because it’s for the whole family! And, honestly, that’s another thing I love about this movie: the writers weren’t afraid to throw in mature, adult comedy every now and then…and it’s FUNNY. And, of course, if you love Eddie Murphy doing his best…Eddie Murphy, just like in the first film…there’s plenty of that too. I do love Donkey, no worries.
We also get a TON of great pop culture references – everything from Starbucks to E.T. to Broadway musicals is fair game. I also can’t help but love how the American Idol jokes are so terribly outdated now…back when Simon Cowell meant so much to us…but I digress. The animation is also much cleaner than last time, so it’s a pretty movie too.
Through all the comedy and the parodies, the film also has its quiet moments, like in the original. Overall, likable characters, an original plot and strong conflict, and tons of comic relief make this a winner. I would totally make some popcorn and pop this sequel in for a solid movie night.
1. TOY STORY 2 (1999)
“I can’t stop Andy from growing up. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
You probably saw this coming from a mile away.
Most of you already know that the Toy Story franchise is great. Simple as that. In my opinion, these talking toys are among the most human characters that Disney has to offer. Which leads us to our Fun Fact: Toy Story 2 maintains the number one spot on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of best reviewed films – that’s better than its sequel, Toy Story 3, which was a 2010 Oscar nominee for Best Film.
Anyway, the toys are BACK – and they’re all in-character, thank goodness. Woody (Tom Hanks), the likable and loyal cowboy, is no longer jealous of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the new toy on the block. In fact, they share a well-developed friendship and co-leadership over the other toys. But, like in the first film, Woody still has his share of insecurity issues: he lost his hat and worries that Andy won’t want to take him to cowboy camp. And, when an accident tears his arm a little, his fears come true when Andy’s mom insists that Woody stays behind. Thus begins Woody’s internal struggle of doubt and trust in Andy: he loves Andy and Andy loves him…but does that necessarily mean that Andy will keep him forever? So, when Woody falls into the hands of a toy collector who intends to ship him off to a museum in Tokyo, what’s the best choice?
I’m no toy, but, you know what, this is a very relatable subject. The balance between trust and doubt in any relationship – be it friendly, romantic, or even work-related – is a mature and touchy issue that we all experience. It’s addressed throughout the entire film too: Jessie (Joan Cusack), a cowgirl and a new character, is afraid to love again after a previous owner abandoned her. Another new character, Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer), hates the idea of having an owner at all, simply because he was never lucky enough to have one. That’s another thing I love about this sequel: the new characters have so much depth. They’re not thrown in there for laughs or a romance with the protagonist – they act as meaningful and memorable vessels for the film’s theme.
This leads to my favorite part of Toy Story 2: Jessie the yodelin’ cowgirl. She’s cute, hyper, and, at first, she comes off as annoying – Joan Cusack’s odd combination of a Texan and Wisconsin accent doesn’t help either. But, guess what, something amazing happens (for a sequel): her character grows and changes. She goes from idealizing the life of a preserved collectors’ item in a Japanese museum to wanting, and eventually choosing, the life that Woody has back home. We sympathize (and cry) with her as well, when she reveals her backstory to Woody. Leave it to Pixar to tell an entire story with just a little music and animation.
Woody also spends the majority of the film interacting with the new characters, instead of our favorites back in Andy’s room, and his relationships with Jessie, Stinky Pete, and even Bulls-Eye, are strong and believable. Speaking of Andy’s room…some great comic relief balances out the slightly more serious tone of this sequel. We have Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Slinky Dog (Jim Varney) all in prime form, as they follow Buzz to rescue Woody from his kidnapper, a bumbling toy collector named Al. He’s voiced by Wayne Knight…
These characters are all funny and entertaining, but they also serve the film’s plot sufficiently. In short, they have a purpose, in addition to cracking jokes. There are also a few really funny references to the Star Wars franchise peppered throughout the film. I won’t spoil any for you, but they’re involved in a cute subplot about Rex.
The animation is decent – though, I swear, it took Pixar a while to make the people in their films look…not creepy. By Toy Story 3, I’d say they got it right. Nevertheless, the animation of the toys convey a lot of emotion and energy. The plot is original, the writing is strong, the characters are likable and memorable, the message is profound and relatable, and, as much as everyone makes fun of Randy Newman, his music here is on-point. For me, all of this constitutes a nearly perfect movie. If I were rating these sequels, Toy Story 2 would get 5/5.
What are your favorite animated sequels? Anything in this list you liked, anything you hated? Hit me up in the comment section! Also, feel free to leave a request if YOU have an idea for another edition of Laura’s List. Thanks for reading.