Who is to blame for Disney's new direct-to-video plan of a sequel for every classic? Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman thinks it is all of us.
Not long ago movie audiences were treated to not one, but two blockbuster films in the same year that featured large chunks of space rock threatening to obliterate all life on Earth. While neither film made a deep impact on theatergoers (possibly signaling Armageddon for the genre), the directors could have made much better films had they used the following material: A direct-to-video sequel to a 1955 Walt Disney film is released in 2001. It is sent hurtling toward legions of animation fans, students, professionals and critics, and the resultant collision threatens to shatter the last bastions of purist traditionalism -- if not the very sanctity of animation itself. We watch as this awesome phenomenon enters the cultural atmosphere, breaking up into millions of pieces that strike every Wal-Mart in America with unerring accuracy as fans scream their outrage or descend into a benumbed state of shock. Tsunamis of unimaginable forceinundate the animation community, and readings on the Richter scale become meaningless in the face of such abject devastation. But wait! Deep in the recesses of this deadly video, animation survivors have found evidence that another OAV sequel, this time to a 1950 Disney film, is streaking into their world's fragile orbit...
For some reason (or perhaps many of them), Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure has many hardcore animation fans shaking with anger, disgust...and yes, a sense of betrayal. 'How could Disney do such a thing?' they sputter. I should know; I was among them back in January of 1999 when I poured forth my vituperation in a column for the late Animation Nerd's Paradise Website. Let's see, now...oh, yes: "Nothing could equal the shock of this wanton sacrilege...Abomination!" I then went on to create farcical titles for future Disney sequels to their animated classics, but this is no longer a joke; as we now know, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True actually exists and will be on shelves next year. In fact, The Mouse has announced plans to produce OAV sequels to every Disney classic that ever graced a silver screen. Oh, the kiddies won't mind; a cartoon is a cartoon. No, the apoplectic screams one hears are issuing from the older fans, who seem to see their loving memories sullied in the name of mega-corporate greed.
Animation journalist Michelle-Klein Hass, for example, let Disney have it in a recent piece for TOON Magazine, averring that "Eisner's Disney Hits a New Low." Ms. Klein-Hass decries the cheapening of the medium in general, including Warners commercially successful but much-despised Space Jam, the spate of live-action features based on cartoons, and now the sequelization of the "most treasured of the Disney features." This is equivalent to a "slap in the face" and "one more sucker punch" to animation's devoted fandom, all done "strictly for the almighty dollar." With a final plea to Michael Eisner to "stop the madness," Ms. Klein-Hass sums up most, if not all, of the reactions typical of animation aficionados everywhere. Yet beneath her anger is a genuine sense of hurt, shock and sadness; the special, unforgettable films of her -- and our -- childhood have been reduced to set-up pieces for modern, quickly made commodities that are pre-sold by the power of the Disney logo. It is as if some malevolent Medusa gazed back in time and turned the original classics into soulless reels of stone by linking them to these modernized sequels, leaving us forever unable to look upon them without feelings of grief and revulsion.
Clear and Plain
Each of these viewpoints may hold some validity, but what has Disney truly wrought, and why was it produced at this particular time? I have gone to some pains to present varied interpretations, but only to highlight the following point: The reason for this film's existence (and by extension the existence of sequels to come) is not tied to any particular idea or ideology, and an interpretive search reveals virtually nothing. Lady and the Tramp II is with us because We The People gave it our explicit permission to exist, because we have been conditioned to accept such artifacts, and because due to advances in entertainment technology we're able to exploit the above two reasons much more rapidly. Of course, to admit to any of this is extremely painful. Far better to rant than to admit our complicity in having these "abominations" descend upon us in countless clamshells. Better still to embrace the belief that we are hip, cynically detached audiences secure in our sense of what's cool. We will evade any snares set by entertainment moguls and their marketing drones, and so will our kids.
What has Disney truly wrought, and why was it produced at this particular time?
"Just a minute!" you may scream, "I didn't give my permission!" No one individual did; our guilt is collective. How did we permit this OAV to exist? First, while we may abhor the idea of Disney making sequels to their Golden or Silver Age films, we had little to say when the company released OAV follow-ups to their "Silicon Age" (Little Mermaid to present) films, or turned them into prequels via Disney TV. To be fair, Ms. Klein-Hass did vent her bile over Hunchback of Notre Dame II, and I have received e-mail from at least one fan who considers Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas the equal of the Manichean heresy. However, where was our outrage over Simba's Pride, The Return of Jafar, or Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World ? I didn't protest; neither did many others. Who stampeded Disney when Timon and Pumbaa came to the small screen, or raised waves of protest over Ariel cavorting on cable? Where was our muscle when Hercules alit on Earth for the first of his twenty-six weekly labors? If we did not boycott the sequels or refuse to watch the prequels, why then do we complain when Disney reaches into its past and gives us more of them?
This is, after all, nothing out of the ordinary. American cinema is notorious for cursing us with sequels each time audiences pour $120 million into the tills for any particular film. The fact is, there have been perhaps five worthy sequels in the past twenty-five years, and nearly half of them comprise The Godfather Trilogy. Some unworthy films, in which disfigured maniacs shred their victims into teenfetti get multiple reprises... only to have films which parody them sequelized. The endless parade of IIs, IIIs, and often IVs, are now an accepted fact of life, and as long as we are willing to keep these corrupt bloodlines flowing with our dollars, then so shall it remain. We are conditioned to accept sequels, even though they may be as wretched as Batman and Robin or Exorcist II: The Heretic. We would react with puzzlement if we did not get them. As reprehensible as a follow-up to Pinocchio may be, sequelization is one of the most successful economic strategies ever pursued by Hollywood. We are the people that pay to see these products, thus sealing our pact with the devil. Why should Disney expect an entire nation to change its predilections when said nation has already shelled out over $160 million for Hannibal?
The final factor making Lady and the Tramp II inevitable has to do with modern entertainment technology. Today's children do not wait five years for re-releases of Disney films; parents purchase the movies and plug them into VCRs and DVD players (or, if frugal, record them off the cable or the dish). Technology has sundered the line between classic animated features and their modern counterparts, and the generation that most welcomes Disney's blasphemies has no idea that Lady and the Tramp was made at a time when the concept of a DVD was straight out of Harlan Ellison. Kids will be able to watch Cinderella and its sequel back-to-back, five times running if they are so inclined. As long as Gus and Jacques stay on-model, those kids will never even know the two films were made decades apart. This is their reality, and it is an indiscriminate one. If Jasmine -- or Bambi -- is in the movie, the video sequels and the TV show at the same time, it makes little difference. The big picture is one great blur of past and present, ink and CGI, paint and pixel, Tytla, Keane, Moore and Goldberg...and no child truly cares. Perhaps one could explain to their progeny that these videos are doo-doo and shouldn't be seen, but the chances of getting through are unlikely in the face of tantrums, marketing and the fact that their all friends have copies anyway.
I am Scamp
I have now watched Lady and the Tramp II three times. If nothing else, this video puts forth a monumental effort in presenting itself as an authentic II. The first scene is an elaborate musical number built around preparations for a Fourth of July celebration, and this device allows every major and incidental character from the first film to pour out into the street while introducing the newly created characters at the same time. No one is omitted (including Si and Am), and there are several shots of the Darling home, painstakingly recreated down to the smallest gable. One can almost see the young animators squinting beneath wrinkled brows, or hear the drops of their sweat spattering on yellowed model sheets dredged up from the Disney archives. In watching this establishing scene, I was reminded of nothing more than a transplant team working feverishly to prevent their sinking patient from rejecting an experimental baboon heart.
I joined the many who inherently told Disney: "Thank you sir, may I have another!"
That patient's life or death, however, depended on us. Judging from the sales of Lady and the Tramp II, we have voted for a full recovery. In doing so, we have given our benighted blessing to future experiments, and we have chosen to live with the consequences. Ms. Klein-Hass brings up the cogent point that Disney has the resources and talent to create entirely original OAV series. She's right, but we have already demonstrated our willingness to invest in sequels and knock-offs, thus saving Disney quite a bit of time and trouble. If this is what the people truly want -- if they do not protest the productions or vote with their wallets -- then reserve your copy of Snow White II now. As for me, I am as guilty as anyone. I kept my mouth shut. I paid my $16.95, and when I added Lady and the Tramp II to my collection I joined the many who inherently told Disney: "Thank you sir, may I have another!" I am Scamp. You are Scamp. God help us, we are all Scamp.
This column marks the completion of my second year with the fine folks at AWN; my thanks to them and to you, my esteemed readers. Dr. Toon
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.