How to avoid making bad movie sequels

There’s a special place in “you-know-where” for bad mov­ie sequels. Unfortunately, it’s a very crowded place.

That doesn’t stop fans from getting excited though. Ellen DeGeneres just announced her involvement in Disney and Pix­ar’s upcoming sequel to “Finding Nemo.” the Internet is buzzing with general delight over “Find­ing Dory,” set to release in 2015.

But a good premise doesn’t mean it will be a good film. There are some general pitfalls that “Finding Dory” and other sequels need to avoid to live up to the quality of original movies.

First, all returning charac­ters should be portrayed by the original actors. This can be dif­ficult to accomplish with sched­uling and contract negotiations, but main characters need to have the same actor. To the audience, that actor is the character. No one else will ever live up to the first performance in most cases. If one of the original actors can­not be signed, a plausible rea­son should be given in the film for it. This method worked great for Megan Fox’s character in the latest “Transformers” movie — although, it may have helped that her character was replaced by a Victoria’s Secret model.

Second, certain themes from the first movie should be kept intact but shouldn’t go over­board. “The Lion King” did not have equally successful sequels, but at least writers maintained a literary subtext. The origi­nal movie was based loosely on “Macbeth,” while “Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride” was a happier retelling of “Romeo and Juliet.” “Lion King 1 1/2” may not have had this element, but it was a re-telling of the first movie from a different perspective, so the lack of subtext was made up for in other ways.

Third, a sequel should only be released in 3-D if the visual technology is integrated into the cinematographic composition. And I mean to James Cameron levels of epic, such as in “Ava­tar.” Anything less is a waste of moviegoers’ time and money. The Cameron model shouldn’t be followed exactly, though. An original plot should never be for­saken for incredible 3-D effects. That is also a no-no.

Fourth, no questions should remain unanswered. The “Saw” movies do a remarkable job of this. Overall, any question from the surprisingly intricate sev­en-movie series was eventually answered. It was very gratify­ing for those who cared about more than the guts and gore being spilled every five minutes. The only problem was that it sometimes took three movies to answer a question; in one case, it took six movies to answer the question of whether or not a char­acter had survived the first mov­ie. If funding for production had been cut off after any given mov­ie, at least two to three main plot points would be left unanswered. Waiting too long to answer the questions is dangerous, even if you fully intend to do it eventu­ally.

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Fifth, if a movie is a box office hit, the production pro­cess for the sequel should start right away to feed the audience’s desire for more. Marvel has already released a five-minute teaser about its second phase of hero movies leading up to “The Avengers 2.” The company has even given fans a timeline. “Iron Man 3” will be released later this year. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” are both slated for 2014 releases. “Ant-Man” is planned for 2015, thought it is slated to be released after “The Avengers. “The Avengers 2,” by the way, has a tentative release date for May 1, 2015.

This is how to successfully sell sequels and the movies lead­ing up to them. It is necessary to plan ahead and take the effort to make the first installments wor­thy of a follow-up.

DeGeneres is signed on and excited for “Finding Dory.” If Disney and Pixar take care of the story and its characters, it’ll be a great movie for everyone who enjoyed “Finding Nemo.” The success of the beloved “Toy Story” trilogy proves Pixar is capable of a multi-generational series. And while many mov­ies are forced to endure terrible sequels, there are definitely steps that production companies can take to make the most of them.