Dr. Toon: Sequel Justice
Therefore, in a box office range from $440 to $217 million, only 29% of the animated films on that exalted list have had an actual sequel produced. Add the other three projected, and the percentage rises to 41%...less than half. It is rare for any film to earn in the $200 million range in 2012 and not have a follow-up. However, the original Ice Age clocks in at $170 million, sits in 176th place on the list, and has multiple sequels.
Popularity and critical success also do not seem to be a guarantee that a sequel will be produced, either. To date, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, despite undying rumors, still has no “2” 4 U. The Incredibles? Incredibly, no. The Iron Giant? Again, rumors and nothing but. The latter two films may actually be orphans, since Brad Bird is determined to make it a go as a live-action director, but piddling details like that have never stopped the Hollywood profit machine from making a stretch.
Some films appear to have sequels because there is a misguided expectation that they will succeed on reputation alone. Such is the apparent story with Cars 2, which should have gone to the junkyard prior to pre-production, and Happy Feet 2, the sequel to perhaps the weakest Oscar winner in animation history. Yet, this formula sometimes works; the aforementioned Ice Age and the “Madagascar” series have had multiple sequels on the studio expectations that the characters are likeable enough to have “legs” (four of them, in the case of these films).
The Toy Story and Shrek franchises are by far the most successful, managing to capture that rare confluence of critical success, popularity with mass audiences, and overwhelming financial success. The Toy Story trilogy, beloved by audiences and critics alike, checks in at a total of $852 million dollars. The four Shrek movies boast earnings of a mere $1.3 billion dollars. They are perhaps the only two series to which slam-dunk rules of sequels apply. No other film can expect “sequel justice” with any degree of certitude.
There is a good reason why predicting theatrical sequels is difficult, or understanding why less than half of high-profile animated films get a “2”. Simply put, sequels have become a multi-presentational phenomenon. Studios now carry the process of making sequels to direct-to-video markets, and more recently, to television. For example, Disney made the (ill-advised) decision to issue sequels to their classic films in direct-to-video format, incensing purists and putting inferior material on the market. The furor ceased after Disney shelved a Dumbo sequel and vowed to sin no more. That did not stop the company from making DVD sequels to recent films like Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, or Aladdin. Even non-classics like Atlantis and Brother Bear got DVD sequels. Timon and Pumba and Hercules (among others) were made into television fare. Paramount Studio teamed up with Nickelodeon to produce a televised version of Barnyard.
Consider the case of DreamWorks: After the rousing success of How to Train Your Dragon, we will be seeing both the theatrical sequel and the TV show. Some successful films get sequels in the form of TV/DVD holiday specials, as was the case with Madagascar’s madcap penguins, or the Monsters vs. Aliens bunch. Some serial films exist mostly as direct-to-videos; The Land Before Time series, which may have been started in 1910 by Winsor McKay and Emile Cohl, has almost as many Roman numeral entries as the Super Bowl but virtually none of them in theaters.
It would be hard to believe, however, that these developments completely spell the doom or eventual extinction of theatrical sequels. Audiences really do like and expect them. Very few of them have been misfires; for every The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat there is a Toy Story 3 to more than atone for it. If the only problem is their unpredictability, that’s really not much of a problem at all. Except that we don’t have an Incredibles 2. And now, here’s something you’ll really like. The addendum.