In defense of the Disney “cheapquel”

Way back in April, I told you about Disney’s decision to axe direct-to-video sequels.

Yesterday Slate ran a brilliant piece by Dan Kois on why some of the Disney DTV sequels were better than the originals. He starts out by aptly characterizing the discontinuation of said sequels:

[T]he move was viewed by many as a triumph of class over commerce. The artistic geniuses at Pixar were axing the money-grubbers who had sullied the good names of classic Disney cartoons.

But then he goes on to defend the (wrongly, according to him) maligned movies, and I found myself feeling ashamed, by the end, that I’d been so quick to jump on the “those movies were trash, anyway” bandwagon. His points are varied and valid.

1) The animation is superb:

Despite their straight-to-DVD status, there’s nothing cheap or knocked-off about the animators’ work on these sequels. They have a rich, hand-drawn look that few studios’ CG efforts can match. [...] The dogs of Lady and the Tramp II are wonderfully expressive, stumbling through their junkyard environs in an endearingly imperfect way that sleek, computer-generated characters simply can’t manage. And Bambi II is filled with some of the most painterly, awe-inspiring forest settings I’ve ever seen onscreen. Computers can make a forest look real; old-fashioned animation can make a forest look at once imposing and alluring.

2) The story isn’t just a series of gags:

And unlike the current crop of animated features, Disney’s direct-to-DVD sequels tell their stories simply, without a constant barrage of slapstick and winking pop-culture references. All three films I watched were entirely free of crotch-kicking, and the only fart joke belonged, appropriately, to a skunk.

3) Sometimes the characters actually improve:

In Bambi II, Bambi’s father learns how to be a devoted, hands-on dad. As a father myself, I’d rather have my daughter watch the kinder stag of Bambi II than the distant, regal cipher of the first film. Plus, while his mother’s death certainly weighs on Bambi in the sequel, there’s nothing approaching the traumatic sequence in the original when Bambi’s mom gets shot.

Kois’ ultimate point is that these films are worthy in their own right, and wrongly accused of being throwaways.

Far from sullying the spirit of the original classic films, Disney’s straight-to-DVD sequels respect their inspirations while finding new stories to tell.

It’s a fabulous (not to mention well-thought-out and interesting) piece of commentary. You should definitely read the whole thing and then maybe go rent one of the movies in question.

[Hat tip: Cartoon Brew]

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