Animation is almost exclusively a large scale proposition. As such, animated sequels are par for the course in Hollywood. More often than not, they’re a step down from the original, existing more to further a brand than to organically further a story. However, this year appears promising, as “Frozen 2” and “Toy Story 4” could certainly prove to be a cut above the rest.
With the ranks of animated sequels expanding this week as “The Secret Life of Pets 2” opens, what better time to look at the best of the bunch? It’s a top heavy list, no doubt, though there’s room to cite “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” as an honorable mention. Below are sequels that managed not to sully their forefathers, and in some cases, even enhanced the original products.
10“Monsters University” (2013)
dir: Dan Scanlon
Pixar has lately loved to go back to the well and produce animated sequels. “Monsters University,” however, has represented their only attempt at a prequel. It’s an interesting choice too, since the story essentially is detailing how Mike and Sully would fare in college. Still, director Dan Scanlon and company mine a lot of family friendly humor out of the collegiate experience. If not the gem that the original is, it’s a unique spin on characters with a strong following.
9“Finding Dory” (2016)
dir: Angus MacLane, Andrew Stanton
Another classic Pixar outing given a second installment, “Finding Dory” largely keeps the same structure as “Finding Nemo,” only with a switch in protagonist. The original saw Ellen DeGeneres deliver one of the best voice performances to date, so it’s a pleasure to hear her again with this vehicle. The sequel isn’t on the same level, clearly, though it does trump it in terms of visuals. This can make a case for being one of the most gorgeous animated works from Pixar.
8“An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” (1991)
dir: Phil Nibbelink, Simon Wells
Don Bluth‘s 1986 animated film “An American Tail” wouldn’t seem, on its surface, to be the most likely candidate for a sequel. And yet, seeing young Russian immigrant mouse Fievel Mousekewitz continue to try and make it in America is consistently touching. In addition, how many western themed cartoons are out there in general? An unlikely topic, presented as an unlikely sequel, “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” wound up being a charming affair.
7“Incredibles 2” (2018)
dir: Brad Bird
Pixar strikes again! A sequel fans had been clamoring for, “The Incredibles” finally received a second chapter, one that largely pleased the masses. Brad Bird waited until he had a worthy idea for this film, which resulted in an incredibly satisfying outing. The movie looks at family dynamics, female heroism, and what it means to be super in consistently evocative ways. “Incredibles 2” had a high bar to clear, so it’s a real feather in its cap that this in no way fell short of the mark.
6“Shrek 2” (2004)
dir: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
Before the “Shrek” franchise took a nosedive, quality wise, there was this incredibly fun sequel. “Shrek 2” took everything that made the original smash hit and doubled down on it. The subsequent installments would overdo it, but here, Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers, and Eddie Murphy are still having a grand time, one that rubs off on the audience. Fairy tales are uniquely suited to being given the sequel treatment, so continuing this story made a lot of sense.
5“The Rescuers Down Under” (1990)
dir: Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel
If you look in the annals of Disney’s history, they haven’t had the best of luck with animated sequels. Mostly, they’ve confined them to home video. “The Rescuers Down Under” is a notable exception. Ironically, it was also their first crack at it. Featuring the excitement and suspense of an action thriller, this follow up to “The Rescuers” could easily generated another outing. Among animated sequels, it’s a fairly underrated one, more about substance than style, and not given the love it rightly deserves.
4“Ralph Breaks the Internet” (2018)
dir: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
“Wreck-It Ralph” proved to be a nice property for Disney. So, the company opted to go bigger for the sequel. Moving from video games to the information superhighway, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” cleverly finds ways to keep this idea fresh. Strong music, consistently great voice work from John C. Reilly and Sara Silverman, along with an vital message merge together in a pleasantly surprising manner. Plus, the sequences with all of the classic Disney princesses are absolute gold. It would have been easy for this to be a lazy money grab. Instead, it’s full of ideas and alive with possibility.
3“The LEGO Batman Movie” (2017)
dir: Chris McKay
Admittedly more of a spinoff than a true sequel, this satire would not exist without “The LEGO Movie,” so it counts. Having a ton of fun with the cinematic history of the Caped Crusader, this romp makes full use of the animated medium. Not only satirizing how Batman has been depicted on screen, the film manages to also show how the Dark Knight is brilliantly suited to animation. A bold claim, but true, “The LEGO Batman Movie” and its success is one of the reasons why “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” exists/succeeded as it did. The best of the LEGO franchise, this is their most satisfying blend of manic action and subversive wit.
2“Toy Story 2” (1999)
dir: Ash Brannon, John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich
Once planned to go straight to video, this follow up to “Toy Story” ended up cementing the franchise as Pixar’s crown jewel. Instead, “Toy Story 2” soars, with Pixar’s best original song to date, a widening of scope from the original, and a cementing of these characters as beloved figures. “When She Loved Me” by Sarah MacLachlan is iconic, adding on to the magic that audiences experience as Buzz and Woody once again save the day. Without the success of this movie, the studio might not have opted to pursue any of their other recent sequels.
1“Toy Story 3” (2010)
dir: Lee Unkrich
Lightning rarely strikes twice. Three times? That’s a once in a lifetime situation. Not only is “Toy Story 3” the best animated sequel ever made, it’s one of the best sequels ever, full stop. Adept at mixing adult themes like death and loss with the youthful adventure at the core of its story, this is a perfect tale. The final sequence alone, where Andy says goodbye to the toys, is perfection, worthy of inclusion on this list. The entirety of this modern classic, however, easily raises it to the top of this list. On the Mount Rushmore of animation, a worthy case can be made that “Toy Story 3” deserves a prominent spot.