by Dru Hunsaker
There are few things in life that are as magical as a Disney movie. Growing up, most children will be exposed to countless tales of kindhearted princesses, courageous animals, and loyal friends. The Lion King spins a tale of a young lion prince who overcomes his mistakes and fears, and accepts his role as the leader of his pride. Mulan tells of a young girl who poses as a boy and takes her father’s place in the war against the Huns, eventually saving all of China, despite her gender. Pocahontas is a narrative about love and tolerance for other cultures and people that are less understood. The Little Mermaid is about accepting identity and having the courage to venture beyond a certain realm of knowledge. All of these movies have things in common: admirable heroes, brilliant soundtracks, and sequels that ruined the franchise.
Unlike the first Lion King movie, the second was trite and obnoxious. Simba and Nala’s daughter Kiara seems to follow exactly in her father’s rebellious footsteps, but resents her father and lashes out when he does not act the way that she would like him to. She prioritizes her love of Kovu over her loyalty and respect for her family. While Simba is not necessarily in the right when judging Scar’s family for Scar’s mistakes, it is difficult to fault him for doing so when Kovu is one of the only exceptions to this vendetta that they carry. As a whole, the movie was completely unnecessary and an obvious ploy to make more money off of one of the most popular Disney franchises.
The first Mulan is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time. It is humorous, heartwarming, and empowering on so many levels. Where the first is a tale of growth and strength in a young woman, the second is a tale of an impulsive, childish girl who follows her heart to the detriment of others and constantly fights with her annoying, stringent fiancé. Shang loses all of his charm, his kindness, and his intelligence in the sequel, while Mulan’s personality can best be likened to stale bread. Disney threw in three actual princess to spice things up a little, but it was kind of like throwing a bucket of water on a raging inferno: humorous in its sheer ridiculousness. The girls did nothing to improve the movie. In fact, they made it all seem sillier than it was before. The truth is that the second movie was not only an enormous letdown, it also destroyed some of the magic of the first. Rather than the blossoming, courageous young woman who saved China, Mulan is transformed into a petulant teenager in serious need of a reality check.
Pocahontas is perhaps the worst offender of the lot. The first movie completely ignored historical accuracy, instead creating a romance between Pocahontas and John Smith, who then bring their two cultures together with their love. Unfortunately, John Smith is shot at the end of the movie while protecting Chief Powhatan, so he must return to England for medical attention. The film concludes with Pocahontas standing atop a cliff, watching as John Smith sails away with a promise to return to her. As someone who is not particularly offended by historical inaccuracies, I enjoyed the first movie. The plot was engaging, the writing humorous, and the premise fairly original. Apparently, Disney decided to throw all of this out the window and attempt some kind of convoluted accuracy in the sequel, which probably never should have been made in the first place. The original was great; there was no need for a reprise. The only motivation that I can find for making one is money, which is a shame because the sequel ruined the franchise for many people. The second movie begins with Pocahontas mourning John Smith’s supposed death and sailing away to England to negotiate peace between the Native American tribes and the English people, and ends with her choosing John Rolfe over John Smith (who of course did not actually die), and the two of them sailing back to Jamestown together. Never mind that she apparently adopted an entirely new personality, the writers of the movie apparently decided to completely destroy the love between Pocahontas and John Smith. They made her look like a fickle, pampered gold digger. They tried to give her some redemption when she rejected the English court, but she lost an essential element of who she was, and the ease with which she cast aside John Smith is irritating at best.
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea follows Ariel and Eric’s daughter, Melody, on her ridiculous, dangerous journey to rebel against her parents and throw the fate of the ocean into the hands of Ursula’s crazy sister, Morgana. At the start of the movie, Morgana tries to use Melody to force Triton to give her his magical trident, failing but promising to return for the child some day. Consequently, Ariel and Eric have a wall built around the castle to protect their daughter, vowing that she will not know of her ocean heritage until Morgana is stopped. Years later, Melody is defying her parents and venturing into the ocean against their urgent pleas. One day while swimming she finds a memento of her heritage and demands that her mother tell her about her connection to the ocean. Rather than giving into the demands of her 12 year old daughter, Ariel tries to protect her and again warns her to stay away from the ocean. Apparently, Melody is incapable of rational thought, because she runs away and goes against every single lesson that her parents have ever taught her (stay away from the ocean, don’t talk to strangers, etc.) on a ridiculous quest to find out about her oh-so-magical bond with the ocean. In the process, she makes a deal with her arch nemesis, steals the most powerful instrument in the sea from her own grandfather, and almost gets pretty much everyone killed or enslaved. Her excuse? She was young and stupid, and she just didn’t feel like she fit in on the land. News flash: no 12 year old girl ever feels like she fits in. That is no excuse to run away from home and make yourself into a mermaid. The worst part of the movie is the ending reconciliation scene where Ariel apologizes to her bratty daughter and blames herself for the whole mess. Apparently the Disney writers thought that Ariel should actually tell her 12 year old that she was part mermaid and a sea witch was out to kill her, rather than just expecting that a child can trust that her parents know what is best for her. I’m not sure what kind of message they were trying to send to children, but defying your parents for inappropriate reasons was probably not a good one.
Disney movies are one of the highlights of my childhood. They were exciting, inspiring, and created admirable characters that were worth striving to emulate in many ways, even if they did make mistakes. Yet, in their quest to capitalize in the success of the originals, Disney studios created subpar sequels that hurt the franchise as a whole. They changed the characters, they overused plot lines, and they rewarded poor behavior, giving children an unrealistic view of the consequences of inappropriate actions. While the additional movies may not seem like a problem (after all, they can be ignored), they represent an increasing tendency in our society to sacrifice quality for profit and overuse good things. The originals were fantastic, but they needed no additions.