Commentary: Disney mars classic movies with disappointing sequels

Disney classics – we all have them tucked away among the rows of VHS tapes in our movie collections. “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” – they’re staples of our childhood, ones that seemed so steadfast they would never change. If you have younger siblings, however, you know that they have.

Looking at a child’s movie collection today, one might see the following: 10 different films of “The Lion King,” 10 of “Aladdin,” three of “Beauty and the Beast” and nine of “The Little Mermaid.”

Making sequels of classics and capitalizing on popular ideas are not uncommon methods in the film industry – actually, they’re quite the norm these days. And it is also expected that the sequel will not be as good as the original. But, for some reason, we tend to hold the company that began with a magical little mouse – one whose inventor claimed to love him more than any woman – at a higher standard.

Disney is considered a savior to parents worldwide. The company offers a basic guarantee that its movies are child-friendly. I know the first movie I saw in the theaters was a Disney production and I’m sure it was for many others.

In recent years, Disney has been churning out alterations of their classics – most of which have gone straight to video – like a well-oiled machine, but one has to wonder about the company’s motives. Disney may argue its motive is to promote the G-rated viewing experience in a world of increasingly violent media, but to many viewers it may seem that a company that was once all about the magic is now all about the Benjamins.

If Disney sequels held a high standard of quality as far as storyline and animation go, it would be one thing, but it is quite another when viewing the substandard conditions of movies like “Cinderella II,” “The Lion King II” and “The Little Mermaid II.”

In “Cinderella II,” the main problem is the animation. With a different team of animators than that which worked on the original, it is to be expected that depiction would differ, but it does so to such an extent that it’s a sacrilege to the first film, which debuted in 1950. Trying to build on something that was released a year before is one thing, but this attempt to gap 50 years is almost worse than comparing “Star Wars: Episode I” to “A New Hope.”

Though bad animation is a problem with many of the sequels, the replication of plot is worse. In “The Lion King II,” Simba’s daughter, Kiara, has to go up against Scar’s predecessor. In “The Little Mermaid II,” Ariel’s daughter, Melody, is threatened by the sister of the evil seawitch, Ursula. All the writers do is change some names and produce a haphazard clone of the original.

Still, people buy the sequels because they trust Disney. They’re used to the old Disney – the one that made them cry when Bambi’s mother died and cheer when Prince Phillip slew the dragon in “Sleeping Beauty.” But these sequels don’t even offer an emotional thread.

Kids who watch these movies may find them amusing or even entertaining, but nothing more. The sequels lack impact and feeling and seemingly lack the effort that was put into the originals. They therefore lack the very elements that made us buy the classics in the first place, the reason some of us may even have them here at the College despite the fact that we are between 18 and 21 years old.

It’s not to say that Disney has lost its touch altogether, though. Apart from sequels, a good animation flick like “Mulan” pops up every few years. Movies like “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters Inc.,” have broken into a whole new type of animation.

Not all Disney’s sequels fit the low-effort mold, either. From “Aladdin and the King of Thieves” – one of the first sequels – to “The Lion King 1 1/2,” which was released this year, Disney has managed to prove it may still have a twinkle of magic buried somewhere under its heaps of cash.

Just as Mickey changed from being Steamboat Willie to a sorcerer in the sky, Disney has obviously changed over time and will continue to do so. With these changes come alterations to the way Disney plays a part in a child’s youth. However difficult it may be to accept, this future may be sequels.

All Disney fans can hope for is that the company remembers that its responsibility is to children and magic – not to money – and follows the late Walt Disney’s advice for the empire he began: “My only hope is that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”