Between 1937 and 1989, Walt Disney Pictures produced dozens of animated features. The list includes classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio and lesser-known films like The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound. The one aspect all these films share in common is that none is a sequel. In the early 2000s, however, there seemed to be more Disney sequels than original motion pictures! In looking at the short history of direct-to-video Disney sequels, as well as comparing and contrasting the 1950 gem Cinderella with the 2002 clunker Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, it will be clear that for more than a decade, the heads of production at Disney were sacrificing quality and bastardizing classic films merely for quick financial gain.
The action and comedy genres are particularly known for their gluttony of sequels, but animated films prior to the 1990s had little to no sequels produced when it came to feature films. There was the occasional oddity like The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (sequel to the X-rated Fritz the Cat), but animated sequels were pretty scarce. Before home video was a major player in the entertainment world, Disney would simply re-release its legendary classics every seven years or so, therefore having no need for sequels. For example, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-released eight times, in 1944, 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987, and 1993. Since every few years there is a new generation of children who have never laid eyes on these movies, it made sense that Disney would re-release these films over and over again to make quick profits.
Since the early 1990s, however, theatrical re-releases have died out, replaced by the surge of home video entertainment, in which direct-to-video sequels have become standard for a lot of companies. The first official animated Disney sequel — 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under — actually went to theaters, released in between the two masterpieces The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, while the first direct-to-video animated film was the 1994 Aladdin sequel, The Return of Jafar. The video performed well, and in 1996, Aladdin and the King of Thieves completed the Aladdin trilogy. The onslaught of Disney direct-to-video sequels then started in full force in 1998 with Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World and Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. Over the course of the next six years, Disney released such sequels as The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Lady & The Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, and the theatrically released Return to Neverland.
It makes sense for Disney to churn out sequels fast to its more modern films, like The Lion King and Pocahontas, but the blasphemy is particularly evident when Disney made atrocious direct-to-video sequels to its classic gems of the 1940s and 1950s, and none is as bad as the unnecessary and ridiculous 2002 release of Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. Terrible in various ways, its greatest underachievement is in the story itself. A film sequel typically continues the plot from the first story, with the same setting and characters, and in this way, Cinderella II is technically a sequel. However, unlike the original Cinderella, which tells a heartfelt three-act story with a clear protagonist, antagonist and objective, Cinderella II showcases three completely different stories that feel more like TV episodes, all wrapped around another story in which the mice are writing a book about Cinderella.
In the first story, the only one that truly works as a continuation from the first movie, Cinderella returns to her castle after the honeymoon and realizes that she isn’t cut out for the royal lifestyle. This blasé, clichéd story simply proves that there is nothing worth exploring past the events of the original movie. The next two story-lines have next-to-nothing to do with Cinderella herself. In the second story-line, the mouse Jaq wishes to become human and does, with dire consequences. In the third story-line, Cinderella’s stepsister Anastasia falls in love with a commoner in the village, much to her mother’s chagrin. This final story-line is particularly ridiculous because Cinderella ends up helping Anastasia win the baker’s affection, even though in the original movie, Anastasia did nothing but harass and humiliate her to no end. Cinderella would have nothing more to do with her step-sister, let alone become her matchmaker buddy.
Another enormous difference between the two films is the animation itself. The original Cinderella is a gloriously looking film, rich in color and detail, still looking as gorgeous as ever fifty-six years later. Each setting has a dynamic character, with the large scale of the castle and the bright colors of the central household. The lavish spectacle of the dance Cinderella and the Prince share during the song “So This is Love” still looks ravishing with its variety of colors and backgrounds. In Cinderella II, however, the animation is something not worthy of Saturday morning cartoons. The characters are flat, with no discernible features. Cinderella’s face is essentially a light brown blob. Most of the backgrounds are just single colors, with possibly an ambiguous-looking grey building of some kind. When characters interact, there is no humanity — the animation makes them cartoon puppets without souls.
Other horrendous aspects to this movie include the shockingly bad songs and the unusual belated release date. The songs in Cinderella II consist of tweenie-bopper renditions of timeless classics from the first movie, like “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” which is given a modern twist over the end credits that would have Walt Disney turning over in his grave. The songs of the original, which also include “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “The Work Song,” and the beautiful “Sing, Sweet Nightingale,” all have their own magical quality, but the songs of Cinderella II are instantly forgettable. In terms of the release date of the sequel, 2002 seems a little too late for a sequel to a movie released over fifty years prior. Disney knows that not one person needed a sequel to the original, but they do know that parents ultimately will buy trash like this for their kids, because ignorance and childhood video entertainment can sometimes go hand in hand. Many parents don’t care about the quality of the animated program, just as long as it entertains the kids, and therefore, pitiful excuses for animated features like Cinderella II exist in the first place. If the original Cinderella is a rich New York cheesecake drenched in raspberry topping, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True is a bloody raw liver covered in black asparagus.
Since the release of Cinderella II, Disney continued to churn out more direct-to-video animated sequels, with seemingly no end in sight. 101 Dalmatians II, Atlantis: Milo’s Return, Mulan II, and Tarzan II were all released, with Bambi II coming out some sixty-three years after the original was released. Even Cinderella II got a sequel — Cinderella II: A Twist in Time. Disney changed its ways considerably by the start of the new decade, and now most of its animated sequels are released theatrically, like Finding Dory, Cars 3, and Incredibles II, but here’s hoping Disney continues to champion original properties and not forever churn out sequels to the infinitely better originals.