It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I heard Pixar was making sequels to many of its most popular films. I thought to myself one word: Disney. No way Disney wasn’t behind this. Don’t get me wrong: Pixar is the most consistently fantastic creator of animated films ever, in my opinion, because they do things that shouldn’t necessarily work, but they imbue the concept with so much feeling and gravitas that audiences find themselves crying over the adventures and near-death experiences of sentient toys. What I find the most impressive of Pixar’s achievements is the ability to make what I call the “Seprequel” – a sequel that contains enough backstory or flashbacks that it functions in place of a prequel in many ways. Massively successful series often employ this tactic, including Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean. Here are the best perks of the seprequel:
They make the movie make sense.
In many cases, a movie ended with all or most plot lines wrapped up; at a minimum, the central conflict established early on is resolved. In Star Wars (now known as Episode IV: A New Hope) the princess is rescued, the hero saves the day, the roguish character proves his goodness, and the Death Star is destroyed. In Pirates of the Caribbean, the evil pirate is beaten by the protagonists and the good pirate; the good pirate survives to go be a good pirate some more. In Toy Story, the main characters are reconciled and accept that they can both be played with – and Buzz realizes he is actually a toy. In Finding Nemo, Nemo was found. Simple.
That’s why many movies ‘don’t need a sequel’ according to many moviegoers. The plot was good, the climax occurred, and many great movies don’t needlessly set themselves up for a sequel that might never get made. It’s a sign of a money-grabbing (or at a minimum, incredibly optimistic) production company if a movie ends with a nod toward a sequel stronger than the villain surviving. In a film like Finding Nemo, there was no clear villain – a device I love, because real life rarely has clear villains (looking at you, Disney) – and the plot was tied up. There was no reason to make a sequel.
But wait – what was Dory doing when she ran into Marlin? Where was she from? If her memory loss is short-term, shouldn’t she remember her family?
Those are the questions Finding Dory answers, and it can only do so by letting her remember and go on a journey to find out. That’s its reason for existing right there.
They tie the universe together.
Finding Dory tied the universe together by giving backstory to a character who inherently had pretty much none. All of the successful seprequels added backstory: in that vein, The Empire Strikes Back added a major plot twist of backstory in the whole “Darth Vader’s Luke’s father!” thing. (I’d have said spoiler warning, but the movie’s been out longer than I’ve been alive, so.) Pirates of the Caribbean added to Capt. Jack’s already convoluted backstory; Toy Story gave a central character a backstory as well.
All of these films also added new characters: Hank the Septa-pus, an octopus missing a tentacle who gets dragged along on Dory’s adventures; Lando Calrissian, the only character to rival Han in sheer smoothness; Davy Jones, the tentacle-faced antagonist of Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End; Jessie, Barbie, Stinky Pete (the antagonist), and Mrs. Potato Head, of whom all but Stinky Pete are central characters in the future installments as well. This addition to the universe brings aspects of the fiction that were overlooked in the first film to light.
They often grant a simple plot life.
A perk inextricably tied to the first, this is often necessary from a pure entertainment perspective. How are you going to justify the sequel if the climax of the first film wrapped up all of the original plot points? By adding so much backstory that the current plot’s weaknesses are not at all apparent on first watching. Finding Dory’s plot is – no real spoilers – incredibly simple. She remembers her past and tries to find her home. Marlin and Nemo lose her in the process and have to find her, justifying the title. Simple, and not terribly compelling. The lack of a strong plot is barely noticeable because you’re either too busy being engrossed in the character development or gawking at the sheer cuteness of baby Dory. The character development sticks with you more than the ridiculousness of nearsighted whale sharks or the thought that baby Dory is probably 90% eyeballs. It works almost despite itself.
It’s the seprequel format that brings all of these disparate films together. The format spans genres and allows for depth in a film that might not otherwise have it. A mere sequel, such as the often-made-fun-of Cars 2, often either tries to jump the shark by doing too much too fast or simply can’t conjure a reasonable plot after the conclusion of its predecessor. It’s a good thing the seprequel is a rarity. If the seprequel were common and overused, it would become cliche in itself. And who wants that?