The Sequel Generation

© Disney. All rights reserved.

My five-year-old son is a connoisseur of animation, from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Wallace and Gromit to Rio and 101 Dalmatians. A conversation with him a few weeks ago left me pondering how the current movie-making climate is shaping the collective mindset of his generation. His is the sequel generation.

Image: Fox/DreamWorks Animation.

I first began to notice this in him when we went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2. He seemed especially pleased that it was the second movie, proclaimed a preference for the second movie many times, and several times expressed his desire to see How To Train Your Dragon 3. Now when he talks about the movies, he is sure to add the “2” at the end, because that is his favorite. So Toothless is the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon 2, not simply from How To Train Your Dragon. His most recent love is the movie Rio, about the last two blue Macaws. He doesn’t even really know that they made a second one, but he assumes there are more movies. He actually believes there to be 99 of them. However, he does not call the movie Rio. In fact, he corrects everyone who says simply Rio; the movie is Rio 1.

So I am left wondering. While my generation typically rolls their eyes, and heaves a heavy sigh each time we hear of an unanticipated sequel, will my kids not only tolerate them, but come to expect them? Will they become disappointed in the stand-alone movie? Invariably, when we see a movie, my son asks when we can see the second one. This is his normal.

Growing up, I always used to wonder what happened at the end of my movies. What happens when Ariel and Eric have kids? How did they establish a dalmatian plantation? How does a peasant girl, who has been sweeping floors for many years, suddenly transition into a princess? My children won’t have to wonder such things. 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure shows us the dalmatian plantation in action. The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea explains how Ariel’s human daughter longed for the sea. Cinderella II: Dreams Come True shows Cinderella revolutionizing the palace banquet. My point is not whether or not we find these things annoying, but that our children do not see them as anything but expected.

While the past decade has seen the sequel, the franchise, and the reboot, become a work-a-day part of the movie going experience, the concept has been around for a long time. The first sequel, though now a lost movie, is considered to be The Fall of a Nation, which was made in response to D.W. Griffith’s incredibly racist The Birth of a Nation. However, not till The Godfather: Part II and Jaws II did sequels really take hold of the industry and captivate the nation. According to Back to the Future, we should be watching Jaws 19 this year. Where animation is concerned, I find myself to be more discerning about sequels. I set higher standards and more often than not, I am let down.

© Disney. All rights reserved.

In 1990, Disney released its first animated sequel into theaters. The Rescuers Down Under grossed $3.5 million on opening weekend, fourth after Home Alone, Rocky V and Child’s Play 2. It is worth noting that Home Alone would go on to spawn many sequels, Rocky V was the fifth movie, and Child’s Play 2 was a sequel that would later be extended into a franchise. The Rescuers Down Under was a decent story that, in my opinion, did not have the same narrative or lyrical grab as the first movie. It is the only sequel that Disney features in its canon; all other sequels (excluding Pixar) are considered separate. Presumably the success of Pixar sequels earns them a place on the classics list.

After The Rescuers Down Under, Disney sequels were mostly confined to home release. The Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas were all released in the nineties to varying degrees of success.

There are some exceptions to the animation let down. The Toy Story movies are all equally charming. Monsters University, though unnecessary I feel, is a charming prequel. Planes: Fire and Rescue surpasses the original in both storyline and character. Non-Disney movies sometime suffer the same fate, with sequels that can be hit or miss. How to Train Your Dragon 2 surpasses the original in my mind, but Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa failed to live up to its precursor. The list goes on. While I may wail against the lack of imagination in animation studios, if we didn’t go see them or didn’t buy them straight to DVD, they wouldn’t still be making them.

I find it interesting therefore that my son will grow up with a different mindset than I did. That a preference for sequels and expectations for continuing storylines will be something that is just assumed by his generation. Happily ever after will now be spelled out in detail and surround sound forevermore, and while I may not appreciate it, my son certainly will.

We have passed by the time of stand-alone movies, we are now firmly in the sequel generation. Grumble all you want. I think it’s here to stay.