Monday, July 29, 2013

Prequels and Sequels: When They Don't Work

Good Monday,

It’s going to be a ranty kind of week. Bear with me. I swear they are informed rants.

Prequels and sequels. I understand the point of them, but really, why are some of them made? Books come in series all the time. Usually, books 2 through whatever further the story, develop the characters, and progress in a normal, coherent timeline. Same should go for prequels, but I’ve noticed this often isn’t the case. For example...

Apologies, Disney. You know I love you, but I’m lookin’ at you.

I’m visiting a friend at her school this week (someone who doesn’t study popular fiction? *gasp*). Amid catching up, we watched a few as-of-yet-unwatched Disney movies last night. Well, I’d seen one and upon deciding to watch it, told her “I’m not really sure why they made this movie.” The second, neither of us had ever seen. We took a shot in the dark.

Movie 1 was “The Little Mermaid III.” I know what you’re thinking. “They made a Little Mermaid II?” Yes, and they made a third one, too. Without giving too much away, LM3, semi-accurately subtitled “Ariel’s Beginning,” takes us back to before movie 1. “Beginning” here is deceiving because you expect it to be about when Ariel was very, very young—five or so. Not the case, she’s about 14 and still voiced by Jodi Benson. (That’s the most mature 14-year-old singing voice I’ve ever heard.)

The movie opens with Ariel and her sisters all pretty young. In keeping with untraditional Disney fashion, their mother is alive and has a healthy relationship with their father. Tragedy strikes, however, and mother is killed in an accident with a pirate ship. Father goes into a deep depression, which proceeds to last for ten years. Because it reminds him of his wife, he bans music from Atlantica. Jump ahead 14 years, King Triton is still dead inside, and Ariel wants change.

What can I say about this? In terms of understanding Ariel’s motivation to leave her mermaid life behind in movie 1, things make a bit more sense. Without spoiling, if her childhood was anything like what this movie portrayed, I can understand her wanting to escape. Otherwise, the two movies really don’t seem to match up. Things leave off on an upbeat, happy note at the end of LM3, so what happened between movie 3 and 1 on Ariel’s timeline that made her so desperate to leave? I feel that the LM miniseries explained much more.

Some important questions need to be framed before one writes a sequel or prequel. How necessary is it to the world the movie/book is set in? Does it answer questions not answered in other books/movies of the series? How vital is what’s presented in the prequel/sequel to understanding the characters and their motivations? Does it really further understanding of the characters and their motivations? I know this particular example is a Disney movie, and that I’m reading a lot into it, but these are important questions. As a writer, I don’t feel that LM3 contributed to understanding Ariel in the later movies. It’s a cute little movie, but it feels disjointed. It doesn’t feel as if it actually happened. After watching only LM1, I would not conclude that Ariel’s childhood was anything like LM3 portrays it, and there is the problem.

Movie 2 watched yesterday evening was “Atlantis II.” K, “watched” is too generous. We gave up about fifteen minutes in. Since the movie is only an hour and fifteen minutes long, that’s a fifth of the way through.—not a lot. At that point, my friend turned to me.

Her: “Do you know what’s going on?”
Me: “Not even a little.”
Her: “Wanna watch something else.?”
Me: “Yeah.”

Writers of all stripes, you never want this conversation to take place between people observing/reading/watching/whatevering your work.

And so “Atlantis II” returned to the back of the pile, most likely never to be watched again. So sad because A1 was such a good movie. A2 just didn’t make sense. I don’t review movies or books unless I’ve read/watched the entire thing, but I will do my best to describe what didn’t work.

The beginning of the movie was good. It began with a hook—two guys on a boat who are attacked by a giant monster with huge tentacles. That got my attention. I kept watching. After that, we flashed forward (downward?) to Atlantis. (I guess it was a night for locations beginning with Atlanti…carry on.) There’s a dubbed-over recap of the events of movie one while the camera shows us how Atlantis has grown and changed. Lovely—normal world.

Milo’s former team of researchers then drops in for a visit. Unexpected and “bam,” normal world is shattered. They come baring news of a monster attacking ships at the surface. So Milo and Kida pack up and head upwards. I don’t really remember the trip to the surface. The next thing I knew, they were being threatened by a dark-aura guy with a deep voice. They told him they weren’t afraid of him and then there was an inn with a lady, something about a curse, and the beginnings of an explanation.

This was about where we called it quits. After the normal world portion of the film ended, the new world of conflict made very little sense. Too much was thrown at us at once, and neither of us could keep up.

Lessons to be learned—prequels and sequels can only ride on the original story for so long. They need to be as carefully thought out and well executed as book/movie 1. They need to gain and keep my interest. I loved LM1. I liked LM2. LM3…eh. A1 held my interest. A2 did not, and I wish it were different. But I don’t think I’ll try watching A2 again, and I’ve seen LM3 twice. Unless I come across another of my friends who hasn’t seen it and needs to “watch it so he/she can check it off the bucket list, I doubt I’ll watch it again.

Another important concept to take away from this—writers often say that great characters can carry a story and keep readers. Not always the case. I loved Milo and company in A1. My love for them did not carry me through A2. Plot is important. Cohesiveness is important. That is all.

On a more modern note, “Monster’s University,” prequel to “Monster’s Inc.” is in theatres. If you haven’t, go see it. That is a great example of a masterfully accomplished prequel. I won’t talk about it because it’s still so new, but it explains so much of “Monster’s Inc.” while remaining its own story. I would have watched it and, more importantly, could have watched it without confusion even if I’d never seen “Monster’s Inc.”

As always, thank you for reading. And join me on Wednesday for another rant-ish post.

@desantismt on Twitter


  1. I honestly hate most of the Disney sequels/prequels. I mean, Pocahontas 2 (an epic love story killed when a handsome brunette comes in and the blonde becomes a cocky jerk on his homeland), Mulan 2 (I don't even remember what it was about so I'm guessing it was a waste of time). There are some exceptions like Lion King 2 (Kovu and Kiara ftw), Toy Story 2 (cowgirl Jesse!). Also, from their other films I liked Pirates of the Caribbean and the sequels, and Princess Diaries 2 (with Chris Pine) was also okay. But yeah. Whatever sequel to a childhood Disney movie I've watched, I ignore it as a rule.

    1. I try the prequels and sequels once just because. Usually it's only once. Mulan friend's reaction to that one when she saw it for the first time (and I saw it for the second) was "That was a good experience. Let's never have this experience again." You know if it comes out "straight to DVD," there's going to be issues. lol