Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Movie Sequels I Have Ever Seen - Part 1


Movie sequels have become increasingly common over the past ten years or so. In fact, there are currently over 100 movie sequels in the works, ranging from the likes of Avatar and The Incredibles to The Goonies and Mrs. Doubtfire. However, cashing in on sequels is not simply a dubious trend or even a relatively new phenomenon. They first started to appear in larger numbers during the 1970s, with Hollywood's revival and the birth of the modern block buster. When done correctly, sequels help enrich the film series's previous installment and provide greater insight into the movie's fictional world. Of course, for every good sequel, unfortunately, there are always a good number of bad ones.

On the upside, they can be unintentionally hilarious because of this.

Below, I have composed a list of my ten personal favorite (and unfavorite) film sequels. Please note that remakes/spinoffs will not be counted (and trust me, there are plenty of other people that can inform you about the horrors of The Star Wars Christmas Special), and neither will movies based on book series. So without further ado, here are they are:

10.) The Best: Adams Family Values

While Adams Family Values is certainly not a perfect movie, it still manages to be quite entertaining at times. As opposed to the first film featuring the Addams Family, this installment focuses more on the macabre humor associated with the comics than the madcap comedy of the 1960s television series. This largely works in the film's favor and is refreshing to see in era when family movies started to become increasingly over sanitized for younger audiences. (The movie takes several jabs at over protective parenting, such as the way we retell the story of Thanksgiving to children.) The best segments of the movie focus on Wednesday and Pugsley who are sent away to summer camp after the family's newly hired nanny, Debbie, tricks Gomez and Morticia into doing so. They quickly become social outcasts at the overly cheery camp and develop a friendship with another boy their age. The film should have kept most of its focus here, but unfortunately it doesn't. The main plot concerns Debbie (who is actually a serial killer) trying to woe Uncle Fester and steal his money. It is somewhat funny at first, but becomes tiresome after a while. Still, Adams Family Values is all in all a fun film that sports a lot unconventional humor and memorable visuals to boot. 

10.) The Worst: A Christmas Story 2

Simply put, this movie, like so many other sequels, was unnecessary. Very unnecessary. It was released just last year directly to DVD and has thankfully attracted little attention. A Christmas Story 2 has just about every cliche in the book and is devoid of most of the charms of the original. The movie is set six years after the original, with Ralphie now being a teenager who only wants a used 1939 Mercury convertible for Christmas. However, when he tries to get the car off the lot he accidentally damages it, and must repair it before the police find out. The movie simply goes through the motions repeating the same jokes and gags from the first movie, but only as less funny. The film also informs as that Ralphie must learn 'the true meaning of Christmas,' but didn't he already discover it during the first film? A Christmas Story 2 was among the last of Warner Bros. direct-to-video releases due to the studio citing the decline of the market in favor of online streaming. Good riddance, it was even more disappointing to me than the Home Alone sequels. This sequel is so obviously phoned in it's just sad really.

9.) The Best: Shrek 2 

While Dreamworks is somewhat notorious for churning out a lot of theatrical sequels to their popular, gag-based movies, Shrek 2 was their first (and remains their best) animated sequel film. To this day, it is still Dreamworks's most successful film and is currently the 6th highest grossing animated film of all time. While Shrek 2 is largely recognized as being a humorous, light hearted film full of parodies and pop-culture references, it also manages to boast a storyline that adds substance to the original. It answers the question: What happens after the characters marry and decide to 'live happily after'? Having the main plot involve Shrek dealing with his new in-laws (Fiona's less than enthusiastic parents) makes this fairytale story both funny and relatable. While many of the characters in the previous film make appearances, several of the ones introduced in Shrek 2 are also memorable, including: the egotistical and manipulative Fairy Godmother; her spoiled son, Prince Charming; and of course…

 ...this little guy. Dawww...

9.) The Worst: Shrek the Third

Shrek the Third on the other hand, represents the worst to come out of Dreamworks. Not only is the film simply 'another unneeded sequel', it is visually unappealing and showcases some really ugly character designs. (Trust me, the baby ogres and 'dronkeys' are not cute. They're terrifying.) The plot involves Shrek having to deal with the responsibility of becoming king after Fiona's father dies and he also becomes a father to three triplets. This plot could have been used to explore Shrek's personality and his gripes with taking responsibility, but it doesn't. Instead, the audience is subjected to sitting through watching Shrek and his friends fighting off Prince Charming who wants the kingdom for himself (which is not that convincing since he was such a coward in the previous film), watching creepy babies that fall into the uncanny valley, and introducing the unnecessary character, Arthur (a scrawny kid who is the other possible heir to the throne). Much of the humor in the film feels forced and contrived. It simply falls flat more often than not. Not to mention, the movie's climax is completely underwhelming.

8.) The Best: The Great Muppet Caper

The Muppets franchise has garnered new interest due to receiving a recent reboot. In terms of sequels and reboots, however, the second Muppet film released, The Great Muppet Capper, remains one of the best. It was directed by Jim Henson himself and features the titular characters in a detective type adventure story. The Great Muppet Capper is considerably more complex than its precursor, The Muppet Movie, which was essentially a road trip movie. It stars Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear as two 'identical' twin reporters who must solve the case behind the disappearance of a priceless diamond necklace. They are aided by Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. To complicate the matter, Miss Piggy posses as fashion designer and is falsely accused of the theft. The fourth wall is constantly broken in this film, several running gags are made, and, like all Muppet films, several guest stars make cameo appearances (including other Jim Henson creations, such as Oscar the Grouch). Overall, The Great Muppet Caper is a fun ride and a great parody of the heist flick genre. It's nothing complex, but delivers its promise to entertain in spades.

8.) The Worst: Batman & Robin

Outside of the notorious Catwoman, Batman and Robin is largely recognized as not only one of the worst superhero films made, but as one of the worst films ever made, period. This is the film was so bad that it almost killed the Batman franchise before it was rebooted in 2005 with Batman Begins. Batman and Robin desperately tries to evoke fond memories memories of the original 1960s series, but its attempt at 'camp value' constantly backfires. The film's all-star cast (featuring the likes of Uma Thurman, George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger), can not save it from its incredibly bad punch lines, cartoony action scenes and sloppy editing. As for Batman and Robin's storyline, it is rather ridiculous. It concerns the titular duo attempting to stop the supervillians Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing the planet and repopulating it with mutant plants. People have even accused the film for its supposed homoerotic innuendo (because that's what everyone expects from a Batman film, right?) In fact, George Clooney himself even stated that this movie was "a waste of money."

7.) The Best: The Lion King II: Simba's Pride

As far as direct-to-video sequels go, The Lion King II isn't half bad. While it may not be entirely warranted, it is a surprisingly well executed film given its subject matter. Despite what the movie's title may suggest, the film is less about Simba and more about his mischievous and adventurous daughter, Kiara. One day, Kiara wonders too far from home and ends up befriending a male cub, Kovu. Kovu is from the Outlands, an area where the former followers of Scar have been banished. When their friendship is discovered, both Simba and Kovu's adoptive mother, Zira, separate them. However, Zira later decides to use Kovu as pawn in her plan to take over the Pridelands…As with the original Lion King, Simba's Pride is loosely based upon a Shakespearian play (in this case, Romeo and Juliet). Although the film's humor sometimes falls flat and not all of its songs are that memorable (excluding "He Lives in You" and the eery "Zira's Lullaby"), Simba's Pride is one of the stronger sequels Disney has put out. The filmmakers even managed to hire many of the voice actors from the original film and the film itself is well animated. 

It also has the most one of the most disturbing villains I've ever seen in a children's film.

7.) The Worst: Most Direct-to-Video Disney Sequels

Disney's Michael Eisner era was notorious for many things, among them milling out a ridiculous number of uninspired sequels. (You know, the kind of films parents simply buy their kids in order to shut them up for an hour in a half.) Between the years 1994 to 2008 the company spewed out a total of 31 of these direct-to-video bores. These sequels aren't just low quality because they were quickly made in order to cash in on their precursors' successes, they were also produced out-of-studio (specifically by Disney's TV animation department, DisneyToon Studios), thus resulting than less than stellar animation. 

Perhaps the worst offenders are The Return of Jafar, which sports production values about as high as an '80s Saturday morning cartoon, Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World, which makes the historical inaccuracies of the original tolerable in comparison, and The Fox & Hound 2 (actually a midquel) which trades in the heartbreaking tale of the original for a story about Copper joining a (singing) band of stray dogs. Others, such as The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's London Adventure, are simply rethreads of the original movie's plot, except that they star the previous film's protagonist's children. To top it off, some of these sequels (Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Atlantis: Milo's Return) are poorly stitched together narratives using footage from planned TV series that got aborted. Thankfully, John Lasseter asked for Disney to stop making all of these sequels after he became CEO at Disney back in 2007…and as a compromise the studio went on to make Tinkerbell movies and Cars spinoffs in their place…Oh well, you can't win them all I guess.

6.) The Best: Fantasia 2000 

Despite being released almost sixty years after its precursor, Fantasia 2000 is a great film. (Of course, it helps that both films are anthologies consisting of a select number of animated shorts set to famous classical songs.) Plans for creating a sequel to Fantasia date back to 1974, but the film did not go into production until year 1990. Overall, it was worth the wait. The best segments of the film, while not quite reaching the splendor of the original, are beautifully rendered and quite memorable. The best sequences in the film are probably Rhapsody in Blue which follows the lives of four people in New York City during the 1930s, Pomp and Circumstance which is a retelling of Noah's Ark starring Donald Duck and The Firebird Suite which is about a forest sprite who helps a forest recover after it is destroyed a volcanic eruption. My only major complaint about this film is that it includes the famous Mickey Mouse short, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, instead of featuring a new animated cartoon. It's also worth checking out the three animated shorts that were meant to appear in Fantasia 2000 but were removed from the final cut: Lorenzo, The Little Match Girl and Destino. (Really, why didn't they put these in the film rather than The Sorcerer's Apprentice?)

6.) The Worst: The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue 

The Secret of NIMH happens to be one of my favorite movies, animated or otherwise. So as you can imagine, I was pretty disappointed by this stinker when I first saw it as a child. Outside of Disney, Don Bluth's films have received the most sequels out of any other animation studios (and most of them were made without Bluth's personal approval for the record). The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue is by far the most painful to get through. As this awkwardly titled film suggests, it is not about Mrs. Brisby but rather her son, Timothy, the sick kid in the first film who barely had two lines of dialogue. For some reason, Timothy is declared to be a prophesied hero that will save Thorn Valley from NIMH, a medical agency that experiments on animals. This prophesy was made up on the spot for the sequel as it was never even mentioned in the first film. Mrs. Brisby's heroic deeds in the first film are pushed aside and glossed over, as Timmy is constantly told to aspire to be like his deceased father. The movie comes off as being borderline sexist in this way. But the most bizarre thing about this sequel is its illogical plot twist, where Timmy's older brother, Martin, is captured by NIMH and experimented on. Martin becomes the movie's insane mastermind villain. And sings. And is voiced by the Monty Python actor, Eric Idle…Don't even get me started on NIMH 2's animation. It makes Disney's sequels look flawless in comparison!