Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
For more than 50 years after they produced their first feature-length animated film - 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Disney didn’t create a single sequel to any of those efforts. Even though many of these movies were enormous hits, each new offering took on a different tale previously unexplored. Yeah, one could claim that 1945’s The Three Caballeros in a way acted as a sequel to 1943’s Saludos Amigos, but that’s not really true. They share some characters but neither offers a real plot; they’re mainly conglomerations of related shorts.
That started to change in 1990 with the release of The Rescuers Down Under. Some will argue it wasn’t a real sequel either, as it didn’t really continue a story; it presented some of the same characters but didn’t move along a progressing storyline.
However one wants to view the semantics of the case, the fact remains that Down Under broke an apparent taboo at the studio. After that, they slowly became more and more enamored of sequels to their big-screen hits. As of early 2002, only two other than Down Under debuted in movie theaters: the recent Return to Neverland and 1999’s Toy Story 2.
Otherwise, all of them went the “direct-to-video” (DTV) route. That started with 1994’s The Return of Jafar, a continuation of 1992’s smash Aladdin. Actually, Jafar came as an extension of a then-current Aladdin TV program. Apparently it did pretty well, and a third flick - entitled Aladdin and the King of Thieves - resulted in 1996.
Buoyed by the positive financial returns, Disney gradually got more and more into DTV sequels to big-screen animated offerings. 1997 saw the release of Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, a tale that actually takes place during the story told in the 1991 hit. 1998 brought us two DTV sequels: Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World - a spin-off from the 1995 flick - as well as The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, the extension of the 1994 picture that remains the highest-grossing animated movie of all-time.
You may notice a pattern in these releases. All of them came from recent films, and that pattern continued through the next couple of years. In addition to Toy Story 2 - which originally was planned as a DTV offering - the studio knocked out The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, an extension of the 1989 smash.
This pattern made sense for a number of reasons. For one, they could utilize much of the same talent found in the theatrical releases. Some notable absences occurred; you’ll not hear Mel Gibson in Pocahontas II or Robin Williams in Jafar, though he was enticed back into the fold for Thieves. (Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellanetta handled the Genie for Jafar and the TV series.)
In addition, although the films extended via sequels were big hits and generally well regarded, they lacked the long-time “classic” status enjoyed by movies from Disney’s past. New material based on recent flicks didn’t seem like a stretch, but if the studio went farther back into their vault for inspiration, the situation likely would become stickier. Older fans might not be wild to see their childhood favorites revived for new editions.
But that’s the studio did. This started with 2001’s Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure - a sequel to the 1955 treasure -
Disney have started to raid the archives. In addition to Return to Neverland - intended as a DTV project but ultimately released theatrically - Disney apparently have DTV sequels to 1967’s The Jungle Book and 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, and 1941’s Dumbo in the works. They’re also making new tales based on recent flicks like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan.
Personally, I’m still not totally sure how I feel about these extended explorations. On one hand, I’ve always liked the idea of sequels that tell us what happened to characters later. Many flicks show participants involved in major life-altering events, and I think it could be fascinating to see how they deal with those after the fact. It may sound stupid, but I’d love to know what happened to the survivors of something like ID4; I mean, after you go through all that drama, how do you cope with it?
But on the other, I can agree with those who see the sequels as cheapening the originals. Rarely will that be more true than with the latest Disney DTV sequel, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. An extension of the 1950 classic - one of the studio’s most revered gems - we find out just what happened to Cindy after Prince Charming took her away to live happily ever after.
If you’re expecting some dirt - like Cindy (here voiced by Jennifer Hale) gets slapped around by her hubby (Christopher Daniel Barnes) - then you’ll clearly be disappointed. Actually, if you’re expecting a single coherent narrative, you’ll also be disappointed. Instead, Dreams consists of three shorter vignettes, all linked together by one general device.
At the start, we meet up with our old mice friends Jaq and Gus (Rob Paulsen and Corey Burton). They miss out on story time with the Fairy Godmother (Russi Taylor) and decide that the mice should create their own book about their adventures with Cindy. From there we launch into the three subsequent mini-stories:
As soon as Cindy and the Prince return from their honeymoon, she learns she must plan the big royal ball. Her advisor Prudence (Holland Taylor) tells her how she must behave. Cinderella doesn’t like having to be someone she’s not, so eventually she decides to follow her own thoughts and everyone’s happy, even though she does some mildly unconventional things;
Jaq becomes frustrated with his inability to effectively assist Cinderella. He wishes he was bigger, and the Fairy Godmother makes him human to achieve this goal. Jaq soon learns the pitfalls of this and happily returns to his old mouse form, at which time he solves a problem he caused as a human;
Cindy’s stepsister Anastasia (Tress MacNeille) meets and falls for the town’s baker (Paulsen). However, her mother - aka Cindy’s wicked stepmother (Susanne Blakeslee) - thinks the breadboy is beneath her station, so she forbids the relationship. Eventually Anastasia - with a little prompting from Cinderella - follows her heart and hooks up with Mr. Yeastie.
Notice a theme in these three tales? Dreams is all about being true to yourself and doing what you think is best. Actually, aren’t the vast majority of Disney plots along the same lines? Nothing here seems new, but since very few Disney flicks offer fresh, lively stories, I can’t really criticize Dreams for following the same trend.
However, I can knock it for being a cheap, uninspired piece of work. Regurgitated plots are fine as long as the film does something with them, but Dreams is just a piece of product. There’s absolutely nothing memorable. The voice acting seems serviceable at best, and the animation looked atrocious. The artwork itself replicated the original film reasonably well, but Walt would spin in his grave if he saw the stiff movement on display here. Much of Dreams barely rises above Saturday morning TV caliber work; it’s an awkward piece of work.
I also didn’t care for the film’s nods to current attitudes. I think a Cinderella sequel could have remained true to the original’s tone without seeming square or outdated, but the filmmakers instead decided to make things appear more modern. Admittedly, they didn’t go nuts in this regard, but the moments I saw were disconcerting. From Gus’ finger down the throat gesture to express disgust to the annoying pop update of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”, the acknowledgements of the 21st century did little more than remind me how weak this film was.
I’ve felt unimpressed with most of the Disney direct-to-video sequels, but Cinderella II: Dreams Come True represents the nadir of the form to date. The movie totally fails to recapture the charm of the original and it seems almost absurdly bland and generic. Stack onto that some of the crummiest animation ever to emerge from Disney and you have a nightmare come true.
One casting oddity: Barnes played Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid. However, he was the only unexplained absent actor during Return to the Sea. I understood why Jason Marin didn’t do Flounder in both flicks; it’s a role for a kid, and he clearly would have been too old to do it after 12 years. If Barnes simply balked at all things Disney, I’d comprehend his absence from Sea, but since he turns up here, it seems very confusing.