When it comes to animated feature films, Disney has long been the global gold standard. A run spanning from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to last year’s Zootopia has earned the Mouse House countless awards and raked in billions of dollars in box office revenue, though you can’t talk about Disney’s cinematic successes without also discussing their less proud history of direct-to-video movies.
While they have had some success in the home market over recent years with their Tinker Bell films, the majority of Disney’s direct-to-video releases have drawn nothing but negative reviews from critics and accusations of greed from viewers. In most cases, these substandard films are made from recycled and unwanted footage, clumsily assembled and shipped to bargain bins everywhere. Even if as children we had fond memories of these budget sequels, there have been some real stinkers over the years. Here are the 15 worst direct-to-video Disney movies to date.
15. The Return Of Jafar (1994)
Aladdin was a key player in the Disney renaissance period of the 1990s, one of the early success stories during a decade of creative resurgence at the Mouse House. Based on on an Arabic folk tale from the Islamic Golden Age, the story of the beggar boy shaking off his rags and winning the hand of the Princess seemed to resonate with viewers of all ages. But the main reason the film was such a hit was the performance of the late Robin Williams. When the actor confirmed that he wasn’t to take part in 1994 sequel The Return of Jafar, the writing was on the wall.
That film follows Aladdin and co. as they attempt to deal with an escaped Jafar, back in Agrabah seeking his revenge, but the problem was not so much the plot as it was the execution. With a runtime of 69 minutes, it quickly became apparent that the film was actually just three 23 minute low quality episodes of the upcoming Aladdin TV show stuck together and branded a sequel in an attempt to squeeze a little more money out of the property.
14. Aladdin And The King Of Thieves (1996)
Disney pulled out all the stops to get Robin Williams to return as the Genie in their second straight-to-video Aladdin sequel, reportedly coughing up as much as $1 million to secure his services. Unfortunately for Disney and fans of the original Aladdin movie alike, even Williams couldn’t save this one.
Inspired by the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves , another famous Arabian Nights tale, the film sees Aladdin and Jasmine finally tying the knot, though the ceremony doesn’t go as planned when the groom’s father shows up with his band of robbers in search of an ancient charm. Charm is exactly what this film was lacking (and something that the first film had in abundance).
Whereas Aladdin had a story and a set of characters that you cared about, this sequel plays as a handful of Genie set-ups occasionally injected into an otherwise forgettable film that suffers not only from a lack of real plot, but from sub-standard animation, too.
13. Cinderella II: Dream Come True (2002)
Somebody really needs to let Disney know that when they tell us a princess goes on to live happily ever after, we take them at their word. What we don’t need is proof of that happy existence, especially when it comes in the form of (you guessed it) three unused clips, only one of which actually features Cinderella as the main character. The only positive thing that can be said of this film is that they went to the effort of blending the clips together, using Cinderella’s animal friends (who are busy putting together a storybook) as a framing device.
The stories the mice spin between the vignettes are all maddeningly predictable, each limping on painfully until they all finally reach the same message– just be yourself. Not that this is a bad message to be teaching young viewers, but at least shake it up a bit. Although, if shaking it up means more pop covers like the version of “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” that closes this film, perhaps not.
12. The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998)
The much-maligned sequel to Disney’s 1994 box office smash, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride picks up a generation after the first movie, following the adventures of Simba and Nala’s daughter Kiara as she falls for a male rogue named Kovu. It’s something of a Romeo and Juliet tale, with Kovu belonging to a banished pride who were previously loyal to Simba’s nefarious uncle Scar. Much like their stalemate with Robin Williams, Disney were unable to convince Rowan Atkinson to reprise his role from the original, and while Zazu wasn’t quite as central to the Lion King as the Genie was to Aladdin, the actor’s presence was still a miss.
This was compounded by the fact that the cast members who did return sound utterly flat, apparently as unconvinced by the film as the majority of critics seemed to be. As a sequel, Simba’s Pride fails on all levels – it doesn’t develop the characters we came to know in the first film (Simba and Nala are supporting characters at best), it is a world away from the original in terms of animation quality, and the Academy Award-winning music that was so vital to the success of The Lion King was replaced by second grade singalongs.
11. Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search For Christopher Robin (1997)
Disney’s decade-spanning fight to keep the rights to Winnie the Pooh ended in victory in 2012 when the U.S. Court of Appeal dismissed a challenge from publisher Stephen Stesinger. Retaining the trademark for Christopher Robin’s honey loving bear was a big win for the Mouse House, though there’s an argument that Disney have failed to make proper use of A. A. Milne’s (the subject of an upcoming biopic) classic source material. This was just one of many accusations leveled at Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin.
The film takes leave from the domesticated adventure of Milne’s books as well as Disney’s previous Pooh releases (1977 film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and ’80s TV show The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), both of which were centered around the familiar Hundred Acre Wood. Here, Pooh leads Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, and Eeyore to barren wastelands in search of Christopher, all the while being chased by an unknown terror they call Skullasaurus. The Pooh ethos that Disney themselves helped to create was not adhered to and the result was a misjudged entry in a series that has never reached its cinematic potential.
10. The Little Mermaid II: Return To The Sea (2000)
Disney’s The Little Mermaid is just one of a number of classics in line for a live action re-imagining in the near future. The huge success of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book reboot has the studio focusing on dusting off past properties, though this Little Mermaid remake won’t be the first time the Mouse House has returned to sea.
Their perfunctory straight-to-video sequel to the film that began the studio’s second golden age was simply a rehash of the original, this time following Ariel’s headstrong daughter as she rallies against her mother and longs for a life at sea. When the twin sister of vanquished villain Ursula offers her the chance to become a mermaid, Melody accepts, leaving Ariel with no choice but to grow her own tail back and go after her.
Return to the Sea is so lazy an effort that Glen Keane’s pencil work from the first film seems to have been traced in parts, and the story is no less shy about borrowing from its predecessor and other Disney films– comic relief comes from a penguin and walrus combo that are basically underwater versions of Timon and Pumba.
9. The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning (2008)
Eight years after the uninspired sequel, Disney returned to the kingdom of Atlantica for a highly unnecessary prequel, this time focusing on a young Ariel in a time when her father King Triton has outlawed music due to the death of his wife. It’s up to the tenacious teenage mermaid to convince her father to lift the ban and bring music back to the seas.
Sidekicks Flounder and Sebastian the Crab return to the fray with marginally more to do than their last on-screen outing, but the sparse story lets Ariel’s Beginning down. With a lack of music throughout the movie practically unavoidable due to the nature of the plot, a strong backstory was needed, but unfortunately it was not forthcoming.
This is yet another retread of a far superior original. with Ariel’s longing for life on the sand simply swapped out for her love of music. The only good thing about this movie was that its release on DVD marked the end of Disney’s abysmal run of cheap and cheery sequels.
8. Lilo And Stitch 2: Stitch Has A Glitch (2005)
Lilo & Stitch would have been a shoe-in for the 2002 Best Animated Feature award at the Oscars had Japanese powerhouse Studio Ghibli not released their definitive anime fantasy Spirited Away that same year. Disney’s tale of a Hawaiian girl who adopts an extra-terrestrial fugitive was Certified Fresh by critics, who praised the film for being edgier than traditional Disney fare, though they were less friendly when reviewing this slapped-together sequel.
Stitch Has A Glitch was actually pre-dated by 2003’s Stitch! The Movie, which escapes this list only because technically (despite the title) it isn’t a movie, but rather an hour-long pilot for a TV series that was sold as a feature in the opportunistic tradition of Disney. It still had more laughs to offer than Stitch Has A Glitch, however. This movie is a true sequel and a true waste of time.
The sci-fi elements that made the original film so interesting take a back seat to cheap and painfully contrived melodrama, with Disney hoping that a good old tug at the heart strings is enough to make audiences overlook the movie’s many flaws.
7. Belle’s Magical World (1998)
Belle’s Magical World is a so-called midquel, a film set within the time frame of the original cobbled together from episodes previously destined for television spin-offs. Most of the time an effort is at least made to hide this, but this certainly wasn’t the case here, as fade-outs intended to lead to commercial breaks are bizarrely left in, splitting the movie into three distinct parts that form nothing close to a coherent plot. The only thing lazier than the editing here is the animation, which is sketchy (no pun intended) throughout and didn’t look much better when the film was re-released on DVD in 2003.
Re-titled Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s Magical World, the film was lengthened by 22 minutes (through the addition of an episode previously used in TV series Belle’s Tales of Friendship) and shamelessly sold as a special edition. The only thing the new footage had in common with the three previous episodes was that it was also set in a period covered in the original film during the song “Something There”, though it did nothing to prove that this was anything more than an attempt to recycle useless footage for a quick buck.
6. Mulan 2 (2002)
It’s rare that a film scores a zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s even rarer that a film scores zero percent and actually deserves it. Mulan 2 is one of those rarities; a sequel so bad that it undoes everything the 1998 original achieved. On paper, the premise comes across as promoting the empowerment of women, with a trio of girls set for arranged marriages given a choice on whether they want to get married at all. Then, in the end, all three follow the grain and submit to the will of their families and their country’s traditions.
Speaking of which, Disney’s take on Asian history (especially their depiction of the Mongols) leaves a lot to be desired. From gambling to fireworks and even fortune cookies, every Chinese stereotype you can think of is ticked off the list over a 78 minute run time. Lets hope that the upcoming live-action remake doesn’t come unstuck in the same way.
On top of the casual sexism and racism, the film is simply ugly. Perhaps it’s not so bad not in comparison to other Disney direct-to-video movies, but characters that were present in the first film (pretty much all of them) look terrible here; they’re all poorly defined and incapable of more than three distinct facial expressions.
5. Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers (2004)
Very, very loosely based on the Alexandre Dumas novel of the same name, Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers follows this threesome of Disney favorites as they attempt to foil Peg-Leg Pete’s plot to overthrow Princess Minnie and plunge her kingdom into chaos. Being criticized for taking artistic liberties with source material is nothing new for Disney, though the problem here isn’t how faithful the adaptation was. It was the way that they altered one of their core characters: Donald Duck.
The mischievous Donald is known and loved for his temperamental personality, but here the writers make him more of a chicken than a duck; a cowardly musketeer whose only purpose seems to be making Mickey’s action seem more heroic in a film that lacks in both energy and effort. The animation is barely fit for purpose; the kind of quality you expect to see when you sit down in front of the TV on a Saturday morning. It’s Disney in trademark only, with none of the loving care that went into crafting Mickey classics like Steamboat Willie on show.
4. Tarzan II (2005)
Tarzan II breaks the straight-to-video mold in that the quality of animation on show here isn’t actually awful– one of the few times that the DisneyToon branch of the studio has been able to produce something that doesn’t look a million miles away from the original. For the most part, anyway. There are several instances of lazy backgrounds and a number of scenes seem suspiciously similar to parts of the original but, next to the infuriatingly bad spate of sequels that filled bargain bins throughout the ’90s, it is easy on the eye.
Yet, despite the obvious visual improvement over earlier efforts, Tarzan II still leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. This prequel gives the viewer an insight into the jungle man’s childhood as he begins to recognize that he is different to the apes that raised him and sets out on a path of discovery. Unfortunately, this path is a formulaic one; one that Disney have taken us down before with slight variations in The Jungle Book and The Lion King.
3. Atlantis: Milo’s Return (2003)
While it was commended for an impressive blend of hand drawn and CGI animation, 2001’s Atlantis: The Last Empire wasn’t the success that Disney had hoped. Reviews were lukewarm at their friendliest, and the film posted a significant financial loss, returning only $84 million domestically from a budget of $120 million. While the film did well enough in foreign markets to keep figures in the black, Atlantis was still considered a flop for Disney, who subsequently canceled their planned tie-in TV show after only three episodes had been made.
Of course, unused episodes of canned shows are the number one source of sequels in the world of Disney, and these three were inevitably recycled into yet another incoherent feature. Three separate plots that concentrate on the search for Atlantean technology in Norway, the US and Iceland end with Atlantis being raised from the depths, which is presumably where things were scheduled to get interesting in the show.
There are problems with lip syncing throughout and there is a significant drop off in quality of animation, though this so-called sequel had problems beyond aesthetics. Despite the title, Michael J. Fox didn’t return to reprise the role of Milo, whose character (a linguist and cartographer at the Smithsonian) was inexplicably dumber than he was in the original.
2. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II (2002)
Often credited as being one of Disney’s most underrated films of the ’90s renaissance era, The Hunchback of Notre Dame had to follow some tough acts: The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King. It was a film that never quite lived up to its predecessors. Despite being Disney’s most serious and, in many ways, their most ambitious feature of the decade, words that cannot be used to describe the sequel.
The complexity of the Quasi-Esmeralda-Phoebus love triangle that was at the heart of the original has long since been resolved, and the nefarious Judge Frollo is also a big miss, replaced by the completely forgettable villain, Sarousch. Also missing is the choral-heavy music of Alan Menken, whose brooding score is replaced by a soundtrack of sickly-sweet soft-pop. Making matters even worse are the constantly changing skintones of the characters from scene to scene. It’s the lumpy icing on this ugly cake.
1. Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World (1998)
While 1995’s Pocahontus focused on the historical Powhatan princess coming face to face with the first British settlers in Jamestown, this direct-to-video sequel dealt with the tricky aftermath. In Pocahontus II: Journey to a New World, the titular heroine accompanies John Rolfe (a real English settler who ended up marrying the princess) to his homeland in the hope of brokering a peace between their two nations. It’s a topic that needed some serious Disney treatment to be suitable for their target audience.
Pocahontus died of disease before she could make the journey home– something Disney have been criticized for overlooking– but in reality historical inaccuracies were the least of this film’s problems. The vivid colors and wild landscapes that made the original movie just about bearable (it was far from Disney’s best that decade) were replaced with economical backgrounds and poorly rendered characters, in terms of both development and animation.
Do you have a soft-spot for any of these substandard Disney sequels? It’s understandable because Disney embodies nostalgia for many of us. Let us know which ones in the comments.