Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sequel and Remake Culture

I don't even know where to begin with this post.  I've had this on the "blog post ideas" list since day one and think it's time to stop putting it off.  These days I personally feel bombarded by the number of movies that get sequels, multiple sequels, prequels, backstories, or remakes.  I find it hard to be unbiased by this because I am a strong believer of celebrating a good thing by leaving it alone.  However, I know this is not the popular belief.  When I hear that a movie is getting a sequel/remake I immediately cringe while the rest of the world rejoices.  It should also be said that I do occasionally enjoy the way a sequel is done every now and then.  But it's the fact that they are so predominant in our society that they are beginning to be expected, that I'm here to address.  It's the walking out of the theater and saying "Wow, I can't wait for the next one!" instead of perhaps "Wow, I can't wait to see that again and again!"

Disney has been a part of this trend since the 90's when they started mass producing direct-to-home-video sequels to their classic animated features.  It can be agreed that most of these turned out quite mediocre and have since been kind of pushed under the rug.  However Disney sequels were not always a thing, as we all know Walt would rather work on the next big thing than linger on a sequel.  But I think that sort of thinking has long gone, and now Disney is one of the best examples of sequel/remake culture in films.  

First off, Oz The Great and Powerful, as I'm sure you've heard, is a backstory of the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  This is also not the first backstory of Oz, as Wicked accomplished that already.  Do we need backstories to every character in a classic film? You know my answer.

A sequel for Finding Nemo and Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters Inc., has been announced as well, to accompany the Pixar sequels of Toy Story and Cars. 

Then there is the Pirates of the Carribbean line of films, which has announced its 5th movie starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.  (For me Pirates ended with the 3rd as we lost some of the series' most likable characters).

Moving along we address the Marvel universe, which is also Disney owned, and you've got Iron Man 2 and 3, Captain America 2, Thor 2, and The Avengers 2 either out or being released in the near future.  It's unclear how many sequels this franchise will pump out because the end seems nowhere in sight.

And then of course Disney just acquired LucasFilm and immediately announced the continuation of the Star Wars series, starting with a seventh movie.

Let's talk about some remakes.  Disney has since made revamped versions of a few of their older classics, Flubber, The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, and The Shaggy Dog among them.  

Double trouble! A sequel and a remake!

There is also the Tim Burton directed live action Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger remake, and a live action backstory to Sleeping Beauty called Maleficent to come out in the future.

I could go on regarding other studios' involvement in the sequel and remake culture of today but decided to stick with Disney.  I also realize sequels and remakes have been happening for quite a while and aren't a new concept, but as I said before it's the phenomenon of expectation that I'm speaking of. 

I'm very open to comments on this.  I love hearing other points of view or examples even though I'm clearly biased :)


  1. I think OZ is a grey-area in this argument because the original story was a huge, long book series. And it's been a very popular series. I'm more surprised that Disney Co waited this long to make use of their film rights to the other books.

    I've also been watching a lot of classic films (30s-50s) in the last few years, and it's been surprising the sheer number of remakes of popular films - especially between the 30s and 50s (B&w to color, often also becoming awful musicals). And there are *so* many mid-level films that ended up spawning series - I don't know if they were originally planned that way, though.

    I had thought similarly to you, despising this sequelitis, especially in modern films as a whole and not just the Disney ones, but...I think maybe that's just the recency fallacy? because it seems like maybe it's always been the case, we just tend to mostly forget the previous generation's sequels and remakes (because they're usually not as good as the originals).

    On the other hand, maybe there has been a marked increase in sequelitis in the last decade.

  2. Also also it occurs to me as I leave my comment that the density and scope of Disney's case of sequelitis seems to be especially strong. Is there a film that has been even remotely popular that did not get another film OR a tv series? They were really bad about the tv series in the late '90s, especially. 101 Dalmations, Aladdin, Little Mermaid, even Tarzan iirc... and Dumbo got an alternate story maybe, but in particular it was one of the earlier tv series - I remember watching "Dumbo's Circus" on the Disney Channel as a tiny kid when I stayed the night at my grandparents' house in the '80s.

  3. This is a fine observation on a relatively recent phenomenon, the basis of which lies within two parties: the content-provider and the content consumer. Keeping within the framework of social behavior, a Studio's choice on reinforcing an established or re-emerging franchise is based on profit, by way of manipulating or re-shaping consumer behavior. A set of familiar concepts, themes and characters stirs up affection, nostalgia and anticipation for the consumer... if it works well, the production can attract a new base of consumers that might otherwise keep away from a perceived "outdated" or "nostalgia" properties (unfortunate marketing labels.)

    Hyperactive synergy can work for or against a property, again, when handled well. The best current example of refreshing a Studio's I.P. is the "Disney Fairies" line which expands the world of TinkerBell, without completely disassembling the character or bringing her "up to date" — a trend that constantly falls on its face. It works only for Ross Bagdasarian's evergreen "Alvin & The Chipmunks" which gets tweaked every generation, but stays the same at it's core. "Alvin"'s success comes naturally, since that property relies on each generation's pop music, providing the aforementioned familiarity to the consumer — high-pitched covers of top 40 hits can draw in a youth market because they know the songs.

    The reliance on sequels/prequels/remakes comes more on the heels of the economic landscape: a Studio owns an I.P., and due to it's familiarity to a percentage of the audience, feels it's financially wiser to re-introduce it with the cushion of a "built-in audience" accepting the project with comfort/familiarity to cover costs, versus paying for development of a brand new property. In a wobbly economy, the proposal of a "built-in audience" who are claimed to have an emotional reaction to an established property certainly gives the budget folks a lot more security than risking 2x-3x the amount for something unknown/unproven. Keep this up for a decade or so, and it becomes the norm: breeding consumer habit and expectation.

    (On a related note: despite an uneven level of quality, the direct-to-video films did do good business. However, had the original "Toy Story 2" been released to video in it's original simple (and uninspired) form, things might have been different on the theatrical release front. "Toy Story 2" received an aggressive re-working proving the film worthy of a major theatrical release, became a mega-hit. It was the signal that the caused the Walt Disney Studio to really did the math on how well a sequel can work out in the ledger books)

  4. While I have enjoyed some of Pixar's sequels (particularly "Toy Story 2"), I find it a bit disappointing that they have jumped into sequel production to this degree.

    Then again, I am a total hypocrite because I still hope for a sequel to "The Incredibles"!

  5. Haha I did enjoy Toy Story 2 but some of the dialogue was iffy. I know there's a demand for it and people will keep watching and waiting for sequels as long as they keep getting made. I'm just more in the "original ideas" camp, but I'd also rather have quality sequels than the 90's spinoffs which just came off as half-assed moneymakers.