Friday, June 25, 2010

The Sequel Trap

| by Allan Stackhouse |

In reference to this article, I must express my excitement over this movement away from BS sequels and toward original content. It would be foolish to believe that this pending wave of new ideas guarantees the improvement of the state of film; however, I believe that Hollywood, for too long, has taken advantage of the possibility of earning more money on one film and developing it into a franchise. Pirates of the Carribean, Mission Impossible, Batman, Ice Age, there's a slew of them out there that were once successful singular films yet stretched in every which way just to make money. There's absolutely nothing wrong with franchises but these films need to be done well and not hawked like some handmade goods at a flea market. I resent this idea that writers are called back and asked to toss around ideas like a clown juggles pins at a birthday party. On the likely chance that the original writers weren't clowns, their work was more than likely turned into garbage by a team of re-writing clowns. For the purpose of keeping this editorial concise, I will be using animated films as my main examples.

Disney was the main culprit (and victim) of this free-wheeling sequel mentality. The Lion King was one of Disney's best. Yet, in attempts to turn a quick buck, Disney released The Lion King II: Simba's Pride 4 years after the original. The Roman numerals are obnoxious to me, almost as if insisting that the film is worthy of the formality apart from a numerical '2.' It is not worthy. Flip Kobler, I'm calling you out. Why Disney at the time thought you were worthy to write for them, I will never know. You wrote one okay episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine by some miracle, you got to work for Disney and wrote Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas. Some executive at Disney must have been extremely pleased with your work since you went on to write sequels to Pocahontas, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You are guilty of f*cking up Disney classics. Bear in mind that I do not use the term “original,” when referring to first films, loosely. These sequels are almost as bad as a knock off film found in the $1 bin at Wal-Mart. Yeah, I'm calling out you too, Wal-Mart. To further destroy people's memory of the original, Disney released the abysmal Lion King 1 ½. How it passed for acceptable to anyone at the caliber of Disney is not beyond me because I just realized I typed Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure. John Lasseter's infamous shakedown of Disney did not occur until 2006. What I would pay to have been there for that. Or to at least have John Lasseter tell me about it.

Cinderella III: A Twist in Time and Shrek Forever After further this grievous affliction of sequels by relying on some stupid event that tells the same story from the first film. I haven't even seen Shrek 4 but I will tell you the secret formula for a Part 3 or Part 4 of an animated movie: the villain, through some sort of time-warping magic, undoes the fairytale relationship so hard-sought in the first film, flashbacks ensue, sprinkle opportunities for the lovable supporting characters, break the spell with a touching reunion with sparkles and BAM! Send the finished product out to all the theaters, call McDonalds or Burger King to sell little toys that will ultimately lead them to an $8 waste of an afternoon at the movies, and call it day. Telling the story from another perspective is simply not interesting to me. Perhaps in a short but definitely not a feature. These tricks prove nothing to be more than a narrative crutch – better yet, a walker with the tennis balls on the bottom – for telling a story. It's my greatest hope that Hollywood realizes the ridiculousness of this vile process and will either develop sequels beyond the strength of its initial concept or just leave the first movie alone and move on to original content.

The idea of providing an enjoyable continuation in story is legitimate however, the story – or lack thereof – and execution almost always loses this legitimacy. I recall watching The Lion King 1 ½ and regretting the experience entirely. Despite already feeling awkward since my friends and I were playing white elephant, this “movie” gave me such a great level of disappointment. The only redeeming quality of that evening was winning the Extended Edition of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Forgetting about this jackpot of a prize, turning this epic film and grand piece of art into a joke was insulting to me as a writer and I'd also argue misleading for aspiring writers. No writer should aspire to be hired into positions to dumb down material or walk into amazing material and grind out some disgusting byproduct. For Linda Woolverton, one of the scribes of The Lion King, this has to be a bastardization of her blood, sweat, and tears. For the consumers, they're being sold garbage that is playing on their attachments rooted in the original films.

Toy Story 2, Pixar's first foray into the dangerous territory of sequels, did not fall into the trap of being a low-budget, direct-to-DVD piece of garbage. Quite the opposite. I've even heard it being a favorite among the Pixar films for some and it's currently #242 on the IMDB Top 250. The film did not solely rely on our familiarity with the characters and at least attempted to move the story along into an unfamiliar territory with higher stakes. Just the presence of Buzz Lightyear does not promise magnificence. Toy Story 3, Pixar's second sequel, also successfully steered clear of a rehashing and was enormously successful. Everyone involved with the film can sleep like a baby at night and look at themselves in a mirror and smile knowing they achieved brilliance.

This convention of familiarity promising success is disappointing as a writer and a fan of original content. An older example of an original animated movie that had no familiarity to me yet was completely enjoyable was Surf's Up. Great characters, no stupid fake accents, and beautiful imagery all combined to make a wholesome and entertaining film for all ages. It was a film that had to be sold on its own merits through its trailer and good old fashioned word of mouth and advertising. Of course there could be sequel but there isn't and it doesn't make me love the original any less having only one film to admire. Simply adding a 2, 3, or 4 to a film's title simply does not sell it for me. It never did and from the article, I believe this mentality is catching on.

I believe the problem with sequels lies first and foremost with the development. Instead of a writer or writers brains burning with these phenomenal ideas in their heads, the formulation is rooted in “insert negative noun here.” Greed so often gets in the way of creativity. Hollywood has many a time found synergy in this area however, with sequels, this synergy is almost never there.

When Hollywood figures out the formula for a successful sequel is when I believe people can start taking sequels seriously. For all I know, this formula already exists but is whittled down into nothingness by money-hungry studios, zealous directors, and miscast actors. As an avid lover of movies, I am thrilled beyond words for a flood of original films. I don't need another Die Hard, Terminator, Ice Age, or Superman. Keep giving us your best shots, Hollywood, but don't sell me anymore watered down sequels.

P.S. If anyone out there knows Linda Woolverton, tell her I'm thrilled that she's writing Maleficent.

No comments:

Post a Comment