Although the Walt Disney Company would rather you would, it’s often hard to forget the infamous Disney ‘cheap-quel’ trend that dominated the Walt Disney Company from 1994 until 2007. The trend began with the direct-to-video Aladdin sequel Return of Jafar, which was released on VHS in May of 1994 and quickly became a monumental success for the company, selling over 1.5 million copies, making it a financial juggernaut for the company especially due to the low-cost of producing the film. The incredible financial success of Return of Jafar inspired the studio to push out even more low-cost direct-to-video sequels, and so, in the years that followed came an overabundance of cheaply produced sequels like The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, Bambi 2, Tarzan 2, and, okay, I guess you’re getting the trend here. The Disney sequel game pretty much got out of hand.
These sequels have come under a lot of criticism from Disney fans and critics alike as the films although might have some redeeming value, overall the films often disrespected the legacy of the original film they were cashing in on, and never lived up to the integrity of the original film. The ‘cheap-quel’ trend thankfully came to an end in 2007, when the Walt Disney Animation Studios began to shift to a new era of filmmaking, now under the leadership of John Lassetter and Ed Catmull from Pixar, appointed by the new Disney CEO Bob Iger. One of Lasseter’s first moves was to shut down the sequel department at Disney, as he felt these films were disrespecting the original films they were based off, as well as being cheaply produced and poorly written, resulting in nearly two dozen lackluster movies. Luckily, Disney has not made a direct-to-video sequel based off their theatrical works since Lasseter shut down the department, and their animated theatrical library has continued to strive.
However, though it’s been quite some time, many of these unnecessary sequels still cause a lot of confusion to fans in regards to what is considered ‘canon’, or considered to be part of the official story in regards to each franchise. One of the biggest instances of this result is within the The Lion King trilogy, which spawned two direct-to-video sequels, a recent television spin-off and an upcoming live-action remake. However, there’s much dispute as to what is considered canon and what isn’t within The Lion King universe. The first direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King: Simba’s Pride is often under much dispute as to if it is, or ever was, considered official canon to the franchise. To date, there has been no official word by Disney whether these films are worth regarding or if their existence has been disregarded, akin to the Star Wars “Expanded Universe”, which was a collection of novels deemed as canon, by Lucasfilm, yet became disregarded with the release of The Force Awakens. Are the Lion King sequels no longer relevant, and to be no longer considered to be of interest? This discussion only becomes more confusing with the introduction of the new television spin-off, The Lion Guard on Disney Junior, which features Simba’s Pride character Kiara, yet contradicts elements that took place within Simba’s Pride, confusing fans of which project is actually official. Thickening the plot even further, The Lion King 1 1/2 also contradicts the Timon and Pumbaa television series, which featured a pre-existing storyline of how Timon and Pumbaa first met. Additionally, Disney also published series of books in 1994 called The Lion King: Six New Adventures which featured a son of Simba named Kopa. Of course, this has been disregarded since the sequels, which of course have become disregarded in the face of a new television series, proving that being a fan of The Lion King has become awfully confusing.
While The Lion King is the only current continuing franchise of those affected by the ‘cheapquel’ trend, the confusion continues on to all of the other films as well. Does Ariel truly have a daughter? Did Wendy actually return to Neverland? Did Kronk really have a new groove? To date, Disney never commented on the fact that their sequels have, of course been awful, but if they actually carry any weight or if they should be cast aside like the Star Wars Expanded Universe. While the cheap-quel trend has been long-forgotten, confusion as such only continues to tamper with franchises such as The Lion King, which since is such a fantastic set of films, we feel the franchise deserves its own mythology in a sense to refer to. It would be nice to see Disney find a way to incorporate their previous projects into a continuous respective flow, instead of disregarding previous entries every time a new Lion King project comes along.
So are Disney sequels considered canon? At this point, it’s truly a matter of your personal opinion. Disney has yet to (or if ever) comment on the status of these films in the Disney library, and it only continues to grow more and more confusing with each new entry. Despite that these films have been hit with much criticism, some of them have significant redeeming values (as far as I’m concerned, The Lion King 1 1/2 is an absolute delight), and many fans hold a personal nostalgic connection to these films. Until Disney makes an official statement in regards to these films, it’s up to fans to make their decision to what they consider to be deemed worthwhile and canonical, and as each new entry continues to confuse fans even further. While many of these sequels, spin-offs, and television series have been long forgotten, their legacy still continues to create an impact on the franchises going forward, and we hope that one day, Disney will give some closure whether these films are worth regarding.
What Disney Sequels Do You Consider to Be ‘Disney Canon’?