For many of us, the name “Disney” is synonymous with nostalgia and childhood. If you’ve grown up in the past eighty years (so, the vast majority of you), the chances are pretty high that you’ve been exposed to at least one of the now 56 film-strong line of their “animated classics” or any other number of their family-friendly entertainment ventures. The House of Mouse has been such a huge presence in our early years that it’s completely understandable that people feel so strongly about their output. As the media-savvy readers we know you guys are, you’ll also know that nostalgia is big business. Disney knows this too, and they’ve found all sorts of ways to sell your own childhood back to you.
As the perceptive amongst you will have already worked out, we’re talking about the really bad Disney movies that were made to capitalize on the success of a popular title and ended up not only being bad, but sometimes even ended up taking the shine off their source material – one of the worst sins a sequel can commit. The notion that children will watch anything is true to a certain extent, but that’s no excuse for some of the low-effort dross released in the past that masqueraded as youth entertainment. With the intent to name and shame some of the biggest culprits, here are the 15 Worst Disney Sequels Of All Time.
15. Cars 2 (2011)
The Cars franchise is the black sheep of the Disney/Pixar stable. The first movie was decidedly average and debatably didn’t possess the same magical spark that Pixar films usually have. Critical reception was lukewarm at best, so why was a sequel greenlit? Well, it’s possible that Disney didn’t hear any of the negative feedback over the constant sounds of checkout tills ringing. The movie made decent bank at the box office, but in the five years between movies, the merchandise made a staggering 10 billion dollars, smashing previous retail records into a fine powder.
Pixar co-founder and Cars 1 and 2 co-writer/director John Lasseter refuted the claims that the sequel was purely made because of merchandising opportunities, but it’s tempting to look at it as a reason behind the movie’s shortcomings. Whereas the first was centered on Radiator Springs, Cars 2 opts for a globetrotting adventure courtesy of a tired (no pun intended) spy caper. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) are whisked around the world and meet a suspiciously high number of new and marketable friends along the way. Had the movie had Pixar’s usual strong tenets of story and character, it might have felt less hollow, but these elements were noticeably absent.
Cars 2 isn’t the worst Disney sequel by a long shot, but as it stands, it’s the only title in Pixar’s vast and impressive back catalog rated as “Rotten” on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. With the surprisingly mature trailer for the forthcoming Cars 3 making a few waves recently, it seems like the franchise may be moving away from disposable silliness and getting back to the compelling storytelling we all know Pixar is capable of.
14. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
To be honest, there’s a case to be made for any of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels to appear on here, with On Stranger Tides or At World’s End being the two least liked. The deciding factor for us ended up being the Rotten Tomatoes score, with Stranger Tides rocking a paltry 32%, making it the lowest rated of the franchise. To its credit, the movie does make an effort to step away from the convoluted tangle of plots left by the first two sequels, but makes the mistake of centering everything on Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
Don’t get us wrong, Captain Jack is awesome, but he needs to be balanced. Some may have felt that Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann were one-dimensional characters, but they evened out the movies well when coupled with Jack’s antics. When there’s nothing but Sparrow, one character has to do the pratfalling and the serious emotional lifting the story requires, and it doesn’t really work. Factor in the fact that Ian McShane’s cool looking Blackbeard is given practically nothing to do for the entire film, and you end up with an underwhelming high seas escapade that bore all the hallmarks of a studio not quite knowing how to proceed with the story after the series’ big blowout of a third act. Here’s hoping the upcoming Pirates sequel Dead Men Tell No Tales steers the series back on track and gives us a similarly fun experience to the still-great first movie.
13. Bambi II (2006)
The Bambi movies hold a world record for the longest time between sequels, with a whole 64 years passing between installments. The sequel is actually more of a “midquel”, picking up around halfway through the original after the unlucky fawn has lost his mother to callous huntsmen. The film follows Bambi’s quest to win the approval of his father, the Great Prince of the Forest (voiced by the brilliant Patrick Stewart).
Bambi II does at least try several new things, but it’s a challenge to get over how unnecessary it all is. People who saw the original Bambi will know how the fawn’s story ends, and the sequel does little to justify itself as anything more than filler with a recognizable name slapped on the front. Bambi II isn’t the worst offender on this list by any stretch. Unlike some of the other entries, it’s clear that actual effort went into the production of the movie, with the art, animation, and songs doing their very best to match the original’s style and tone. It’s just a shame they chose such a shrug-worthy story to marry all that work to.
12. The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)
1989’s The Little Mermaid was a huge hit and a confident step into a new direction for The House of Mouse. The company lost its way a little after the death of Walt Disney and found itself in a rut, making some decent-but-hardly-classic animated features. After years of financial belt-tightening, Disney went all out on The Little Mermaid, with tons of extra resources going into making their biggest animated effort in decades. The result was a gorgeously rendered fairytale with Broadway quality musical numbers, courtesy of the great composer Alan Menken. The big gamble paid off and ushered in the “Disney Renaissance”, an era that produced all-time greats like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
With all this, it’s fair to say that the sequel, Return to the Sea, had a lot of expectations to live up to. Judging from the reams of negative criticism surrounding the film online, it’s also fair to say it didn’t meet that expectation. As will become a recurring theme in this list, Return to the Sea is a boring rehash of the first film. The sequel focuses on Ariel and Prince Eric’s daughter Melody, who has grown up unaware of her mother’s aquatic beginnings. After finding a mysterious locket, Melody sails away from home and Ariel must go after her. Melody gets turned into a mermaid and is told that the change can be permanent in exchange for King Triton’s trident. So yeah, it’s the same story, just back to front…and worse.
The third film in the Little Mermaid trilogy took the prequel route but didn’t fair any better, earning the same negative reception as its predecessor. At least fans of The Little Mermaid have had something to celebrate recently, following the announcement that a live-action remake is finally moving forward, featuring music from Menken and Hamilton star/Moana songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda.
11. Return to Never Land (2002)
Few Disney classics are as beloved as 1953’s Peter Pan. When it came time to make a sequel, a full 49 years later, Disney made Wendy a parent, with her daughter Jane growing up hearing tales of her mother’s magical adventures in Never Land. Jane isn’t convinced by the far-fetched stories about Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, but soon gets a harsh dose of reality when Captain Hook shows up and kidnaps her, dragging her off to (Never) Never Land. Wendy and Peter must team up to get Jane back and stop the villainous pirate once again.
If the plot seems familiar to you, it’s because you basically read the same story synopsis for The Little Mermaid II mere moments ago. Like Return to the Sea, this movie is also a dull copy of the infinitely better original. To be fair to the film, it isn’t as terrible as some of the others on this list, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movie is a bland retread of what we’ve seen before. All the characters from the first adventure are back, with the exception of the Tick-Tock Croc, now replaced by a giant orange octopus, which isn’t nearly as cool. For some baffling reason, the octopus still ticks like the crocodile, despite not swallowing a clock.
Unlike Little Mermaid II, Return to Never Land was actually released in theaters and made a tidy profit, but not before garnering some very mixed reviews as part of the bargain. As the sequel and the various interpretations over the subsequent years have shown, Peter Pan is clearly a tough property to get right.
10. The Jungle Book 2 (2003)
If the massive success of last year’s live-action remake is anything to go by, people still love The Jungle Book. It’s no surprise, either. It’s one of Disney’s more offbeat movies, featuring a fantastic voice cast and some incredibly memorable songs. Back in the early 2000s, Disney made the questionable decision to release a glut of belated sequels to some of their beloved classics, and it only took them three years to roll around to their popular Rudyard Kipling adaptation. Despite being made as a direct-to-video production, the movie did have a short run in theaters beforehand, if only so it could disappoint the maximum number of fans possible.
The movie wins some bonus points for casting John Goodman as Baloo the bear, but in general, it’s a pale imitation of the first film with a mere fraction of the charm. The original Jungle Book ends with Mowgli realizing that life can’t all be fun and games with Baloo, joining the human village where he belongs. However, the sequel undoes all that pesky character development as an excuse for Mowgli and Baloo to goof off again. The audience then has to endure Mowgli coming to the same realization he did in the original, and the movie essentially treading water until it’s all wrapped up in a neat little bow. At the end of the Jungle Book 2, Mowgli and his adopted human family strike a balance and visit the jungle regularly to see Baloo and Bagheera, pretty much undermining the whole point of maturity and sacrifice the climax of the first film hinged on.
9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is perhaps one of Disney’s more underrated animated movies. It’s a bleak and often dark tale that features one of the company’s most compelling and complex villains yet in the form of the hatchet-faced Judge Frollo. It deals with thorny themes like lust, sin, and faith in a sophisticated manner, and keeps things from getting too heavy with comic interludes from the Gargoyles or the occasional colorful musical number. It’s not a stone-cold classic, but it’s generally regarded as a solid entry in the Disney canon. In case you need reminding, at the end of Hunchback 1, Quasimodo accepts that his lady love Esmerelda and he are not meant to be, and he gives his blessing to her relationship with a man named Phoebus. It’s not all bad news, though, as our heroic hunchback gains the acceptance he craved from the Parisian people and becomes part of society.
Hunchback II, on the only hand, is considerably lighter in tone. Instead of dealing with a tormented zealot like Frollo, Quasimodo must now tangle with Saroush, a master criminal posing as a circus ringmaster to steal Notre Dame’s bell. “Downgrade” isn’t even the word. Worse still, the sequel takes it upon itself to undo the bittersweet ending of the first film and pair off the big Q as well by introducing the Jennifer Love-Hewitt-voiced Madellaine to the mix. The character unfortunately suffers from being quirky to a fault, turning the thing into more of a bad romantic comedy full of asinine misunderstandings and miscommunications. Even though the movie teaches us not to judge on appearances, the film also looks incredibly cheap, with flat visuals and subpar animation that pales in comparison to the impressive work featured in the original. We should all be very thankful they abandoned any further sequel plans after this one.
8. Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (2005)
Lilo & Stitch is an oddball but charming movie about a destructive alien who is tamed by a socially outcast little girl by the name of Lilo. The movie was steeped in Hawaiian culture and featured a witty script, a unique visual style, and the music of the legendary Elvis Presley. Surprisingly, the first direct-to-video sequel, Stitch! The Movie got mostly positive reviews, but it was the third movie that really let the side down.
In Stitch Has a Glitch, Experiment 626, aka “Stitch”, is having nightmares about turning back to his bad programming. It turns out that he’s malfunctioning, and he starts acting out in all sorts of crazy ways. Lilo (this time voiced by Dakota Fanning) thinks Stitch is being bad on purpose to sabotage her hula competition, and the two BFFs have a falling out. After accidentally hurting Lilo, Stitch decides to leave Earth, but suffers another glitchy episode and crashes his spaceship into the Hawaiian mountains. In an eyebrow-raising move, Stitch dies from his injuries. However, the family’s love for Stitch is so strong that it brings him back to life.
There are plenty of good values to take away from Stitch Has a Glitch, but maybe teaching kids that if they love something enough it can never die isn’t exactly the way forward for a healthy and stable upbringing.
7. Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure (2001)
One of the first titles to be cranked out of the Disney sequel factory was Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. The movie focuses on Scamp, Lady and Tramp’s only son and tiny tearaway. Whereas the couple’s daughters are as proper as their mother, Scamp dreams of being a wild dog like his father was. Tramp forbids this, which leads to his son getting loose and running away. Their son in danger, Lady and Tramp must work together and blah blah blah. Yep, it’s the same basic plot again. Child wants to be like parent, parent says no, child leaves home to discover the grass isn’t greener on the other side, parent/s must work to save said child. It’s as predictable as a particularly boring metronome.
The question you can’t help but ask springs to mind: why did Disney decide to do this? Surely these well-loved stories deserve better than the same cookie-cutter plot? Again, Scamp’s Adventure isn’t completely unwatchable, but it’s hard to get enthused about a bland, uninspired retelling of the same old story with worse songs, characters, and animation. The story ends precisely how you’d expect, with Scamp learning that home is where the heart is and Tramp learning to maybe go easier on his son. Characters learning lessons and undergoing change is part of what makes a story compelling, but when it’s attached to an uninvolving whole, they come across as meaningless.
6. Atlantis: Milo’s Return (2003)
When it was released in 2001, Atlantis: The Lost Empire proved to be divisive, with reviews split right down the middle. The movie marked a change in direction for Disney, who wanted more of an action adventure feature than the musicals they’d done up until that point. It tells a heavily Jules Verne-influenced tale of Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox), a scholar who is mocked for his interest and theories about the lost city of Atlantis. Milo ends up discovering The Shepherd’s Journal, a text he believes will lead him to Atlantis and the secrets held within. Thatch finds himself on an expedition to the sunken city with a ragtag crew eager for adventure. The movie didn’t do terribly, but it certainly underperformed at the box office, leading Disney to cancel their plans for both a television series called Team Atlantis and a theme park ride based on the property.
As you probably inferred from the title above, Disney wasn’t done with the franchise yet. They cobbled together the first three episodes of the abandoned TV series and released it as a direct-to-video sequel instead. The movie functions exactly as well as you’d think it would, with the ramshackle plot and obvious narrative staples barely holding everything together. Compared to the lavish, big-budget release of the first adventure, Milo’s Return looks like it was made for pocket change, with flat, lifeless art direction and animation. Had the Disney executives not immediately given up on Atlantis as a series, there may have been a few worthy ideas to salvage. However, with only the insulting sequel as part of its legacy, it’s unlikely to resurface in the near future.
5. Belle’s Magical World (1998)
Perhaps serving as the inspiration for Milo’s Return, Belle’s Magical World was a collection of three connected stories, each around 20 minutes long. The film is also a midquel, with events taking place whilst Belle is still the Beast’s “guest”. It’s a cheap cash-in through and through, complete with shoddy animation and shallow storytelling. On the plus side, it does feature some of the best mid-frame animation goofs you could ever want.
There are three short morality tales included. The first one is probably the most interesting, although we use that term advisedly. “The Perfect Word” involves the castle’s scribe Webster, who was turned into a dictionary (see what they did there?). Belle, Beast, and Webster get into an argument and Belle storms off. Feeling bad about the situation, Webster forges an apology from Beast and Belle forgives him. The truth is eventually revealed, however, and Beast banishes Webster and his friends from the castle. Belle goes after them and Beast eventually forgives them all. If that sounds like the most interminable experience imaginable, bear in mind that there were two more of these things crammed onto the VHS for your viewing pleasure.
4. Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998)
1995’s Pocahontas, a fictionalized take on the life of the real-life Native American princess, isn’t exactly the best movie. It’s gorgeous to look at, but it has tonal problems from the start and ends up being pretty average. Pocahontas herself (voiced by Irene Bedard) and her romance with settler John Smith (Mel Gibson) are perhaps the best-handled elements of the original, with a lot of focus given to the strength and free-thinking nature of the Powhatan Princess’ character.
Journey to a New World opted for a different take on the material. The story opens with John Smith being ambushed by a group of soldiers in London. In the resulting scuffle, it appears that Smith dies. News of his death reaches Pocahontas in the New World, and she mourns for about five minutes and gets over it. It isn’t long before the unlikeable English diplomat John Rolfe (Billy Zane) shows up to broker a peace treaty with Chief Powhatan. The chief refuses, but sends Pocahontas to England in his stead.
Ignoring the massive historical inaccuracies, (the first movie wasn’t exactly a documentary either), it’s the sabotage to the leading lady’s character that does the most harm. Pocahontas is meant to be the ultimate free spirit, but she can’t wait to get a new man in her life after John Smith kicks the bucket. She falls for Rolfe hard, even though he’s presented as a bit of a jerk in the beginning of the film. When it’s revealed that Smith is still alive, it’s easy to presume he’ll win the princess back, but nope — Rolfe has now undergone a huge character shift and now he’s the most perfect guy who ever lived. The movie ends with John R. and Pocahontas literally sailing off into the sunset together. After emphasizing the character’s independence in the original, this take on Pocahontas seems to be a lot shallower and at times quite ditzy, torn between the men in her life.
3. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
As Christmas tends to be a very traditional time of year who those who celebrate it, the same things get trotted out year after year. We all have our personal traditions when it comes to our seasonal entertainment, be it rewatchings of Die Hard, It’s a Wonderful Life, or Elf. One Disney holiday movie unlikely to be in many yearly rotations is the third entry in the Santa Clause trilogy, The Escape Clause, starring Tim Allen and Martin Short.
The Escape Clause managed to simultaneously tread old tired ground and explore new terrible directions at the same time. Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin struggles to balance his time as both Saint Nick and his personal life, and it’s the same old hackneyed family angst formula. However, just when you think you can sink into the dull, but weirdly comforting monotony, Martin Short turns up, being all kinds of irritating as Jack Frost. The plot revolves around the jealous Frost managing to alter the events of the first film and becoming Kris Kringle instead of Scott, turning the holiday into his own twisted vision. We’d love to list all the reviews that couldn’t resist the obvious pun and rightfully called this dumpster fire of a movie a “turkey”, but there are only so many hours in the day and we have important deadlines to meet.
2. Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002)
Cinderella is one of Disney’s seminal films. Almost everything about it is iconic, from the songs, the Fairy Godmother, and of course, the forgotten glass slipper. Cinderella II, on the other hand, is one of Disney’s most reviled titles, with a terrible 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. So what makes Dreams Come True so bad? Well, say it with us now — it’s a collection of three connected stories that ugghhhhhhh…
Each story in Dreams Come True boils down to the same affirming message of remaining true to yourself. An arguable, but well-intentioned message, but considering about 90% of all kids movies have this moral, there are much more entertaining and enjoyable ways for children to learn that lesson. Frustratingly, Cinderella II did ridiculously well for a direct-to-video release, raking in $120 million. However, the critical panning the sequel received forced Disney to try a new approach for the threequel, A Twist in Time, which took the Back to the Future II route and involved time travel and an alternate present. The sequel was better received by the press, but many ultimately concluded that it was still another needless addition to the franchise.
1. Mulan II (2003)
Mulan managed to be a decent fantasy take on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, a fierce woman warrior who hid her gender to enlist in the army to defeat the Hun. By the end of the film, Mulan’s true identity is revealed and she earns the respect of her soldier peers. In the sequel, Mulan gets engaged to General Li Shang, a month after he discovers her secret. At the same time, the Emperor asks for Mulan and Shang to travel across China and take his three betrothed daughters to meet their suitors.
What follows is a witless tale that turns a compelling character like Mulan into the polar opposite of what she was presented as in the 1998 original. The first movie made a point about Mulan not being a conventional heroine and not conforming to gender stereotypes. The second movie seems to be making the opposing point — that Mulan is finally happy complying with tradition. The same goes for the three daughters too, who, despite some misgivings, eventually accept their roles as barter chips. Unlike the visually striking original, Mulan II has some truly ugly art and weird out of place expressions plastered on its characters. All in all, it earned a nice, round 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it one of the worst rated things Disney has ever produced. Ouch.
Did we forget any of your most loathed Disney sequels/cash grabs? Let us know in the comments.