[6 August 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There was a time when Disney “got it”. They preserved their legacy via carefully protecting their animated classics, making each seven-year stretch between releases an event. Audiences of all ages would line up to revisit beloved characters and cartooning excellence, and when a movie didn’t make the grade, it was relegated to the vault and the myth of many an oldster’s tale. Then home video came along and the House of Mouse saw a way to profit from their past. Again, they initially went about it right. They offered up their most choice titles, and when a film didn’t live up to said label, it wouldn’t be captured on magnetic tape for all eternity. Then someone got the bright idea to craft direct to VHS sequels, spinoffs of the best made for one reason and one reason only: to bank a bit of extra cash with trading on a parent’s sense of security with any of Walt’s works.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, before present studio head John Lasseter put the kibosh on the practice, dozens of these dopey non-theatrical knockoffs were tossed out like so much smelly trash, the adults in the consumer sphere lapping them up like the lame electronic babysitters they are. Let’s face it. Disney is a trusted name. If you can’t sit your wee one in front of the boob tube with a piece of Mickey’s manufactured domain, why bother? Well, here’s why. Cars 2. And now the equally awful Planes. Even when they say they won’t, the Happiest Hucksters on Earth can’t help themselves. If there is money to be made, they will merchandise it out of us. That being said, here are 10 more examples of awful entries into this who specious scheme. Call them sequels, prequels, or spinoffs, but they really only have one official moniker: ripoffs.
As the company’s first direct to video feature, there was a lot riding on its success. Aladdin had made a mint and the studio was hoping to use this novelty as an introduction to a regular TV series based on the film. Unfortunately, Genie voice Robin Williams was in a dispute with the House of Mouse over his fee for the original, so he did not return. Instead, Homer Simpson himself, Dan Castellaneta did the honors. He’s okay, but like most of this pointless revisit, there is nothing new or novel. Just a cash grab coat-tailing onto an already established triumph.
Curious about what happened to the meerkat Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and warthog Pummba (Ernie Sabella) before, during, and after their run in with Simba and the rest of the Lion King gang? Well, here’s your retread, a lax buddy comedy which sees the mismatched animals wander around, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern style, bopping in and out of the established classic while filling in some blanks about their background. We learn that Timon is an outcast because her nearly got his family killed, and that Pummba is a bloated, overweight waste of space. Even with an MST3K shout out at the beginning, this movie is a mess.
How do you sully (or at the very least, attempt to sully) the good name of the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? Why, you craft a crappy holiday special which is supposed to showcase what happened in between two major plots points in the first film. Disney loved doing these mid-quels, looking over their catalog and smacking their head, shouting, “Dang! We never found out what happened before Dumbo’s mom was tortured. Let’s find out.” As a strategy, it never worked. Not here. Not ever.
Another House of Mouse gimmick was taking a classic title, in this case, the beloved story of star-crossed curs who fall in love, and focusing on their offspring. Here, Lady and Tramp have a son, Scamp, and this little rascal loves to get in trouble. In fact, he longs to be a “wild dog”, unlike his pampered and (somewhat) polished parents. So what does he do? Why, what any anthropomorphized canine does, he joins a gang known as the Junkyard Dogs. Now that’s a terrific lesson for the kiddies, isn’t it. Of course, the pup learns from his mistakes. The audience? We’re not so sure.
As one of the most hated of Disney’s post-renaissance efforts (perhaps behind Treasure Planet and Home on the Range), Atlantis: The Lost Empire was accused of everything from causing boredom to blatant plagiarism (some have said that it was nothing more than a lift from the anime classic Nadia: The Secret of Blue Waters). Whatever the case, this follow-up went straight to video when the original belly-flopped at the box office. This revisit is just as mediocre, mixing old school adventure yarning with a bunch of New Age touchy feeling foolishness. As with many of these knock-offs, even the animation couldn’t match what came before.
Ariel saved the House of Mouse. While The Great Mouse Detective showed promise, Oliver and Company was like a poorly drawn stake through the heart. So, as with Belle and her Beast, Disney showed its appreciation by crafting this hackneyed tale of Ariel’s daughter Melody and Ursula’s angry sister, Morgana. The former is forbidden to go in the water. The latter is desperate for revenge. Naturally, Melody ends up in the sea, transformed into a mermaid, and pitted against said rival. What happens? Who cares. And to make matters worse, there are sad ripoffs of the classic tunes crafted by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
A good 64 years after the original (an official Guinness World Record), Disney decided that we needed to see the affects of Bambi’s mother’s death on her herd. There’s more human hunters, a weird rivalry between our lead and another deer, and a horribly dysfunctional bit between Bambi and his insolent dad. This is a film made up entirely of threats, low self-esteem, poor sportsmanship, and above all, death. Death is everywhere here. There’s no attempt to lighten the mood or mimic the original’s old world German designs. Just death, death, and more death, and an angry deer dad who couldn’t care less.
Some love the Disney movie featuring Kurt Russell and Mickey Rooney as two natural enemies that become the bestest of buddies. Of course, unable to leave middling well enough alone, the House of Mouse crafted this “in between” tale, hiring new vocal talent and offering up the story of a dog who wants to join an all hound singing group. No, seriously. They even end up making an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Since the first film was so slight, really nothing more than a cobbled together collection of cliches about incompatible creatures becoming bros, this fill in the blank business becomes a question mark the first film never anticipated, or addressed.
Sorry, but all we can think about whenever we see this title is the old comedy duo from the blaxploitation days, Leroy and Skillet. They made the Rudy Ray Moore epic Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son in Law a regular hoot. Anyway, this final entry in the franchise no one asked for was actually the big finale to the TV series (again, who requested said show, exactly?). It offered up the completion of the mission to capture and repurpose all 625 experiments and the final showdown between Stitch and his evil “clone”, Leroy. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, and represents Disney at their most desperate, until…
Yikes! It takes a lotta nerve to deconstruct a classic fairy tale like this one, but the House of Mouse decided they needed to do it. The evil stepsisters come across Cinderella’s Godmother’s wand, use it to go back in time and make the slipper fit the foot of one of those hideous trolls. She agrees to marry Prince Charming, only to have a change of heart on the altar and deny his affections. What happens next defies description, logic, and a parent’s pocketbook. Again, it requires cajones of carbonite to undo eons of established folklore. For the dudes at Disney Direct to Video, it was all in a day’s work.