The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning marked the end of direct-to-video Disney sequels. When John Lasseter became chairman, DisneyToon Studios put an end to traditional animation. It only made sense to end with a Disney Princess. Cinderella III: A Twist in Time and Ariel’s Beginning were both allowed to finish before the closure. Since The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea was a straightforward sequel, they decided to make a prequel instead. Something that already happened in the 1992 Little Mermaid animated series. My brother watched more of the series than I did, but we both watched Ariel’s Beginning without realizing it was the last direct-to-video continuation. The digital ink & paint animation lives up to the Disney Renaissance and most of the original cast returns.

Jodi Benson will always be Ariel, but Kenneth Mars was sadly replaced as King Triton due to a diagnosis. It was also Samuel E. Wright’s final time voicing Sebastian. The rest of the cast is mostly made up of familiar voice actresses. Since Ariel’s Beginning takes place entirely under the sea, we get to know her 6 mermaid sisters. They’re pretty interchangeable, but Attina is the responsible one, Adella is boy crazy, Andrina is sarcastic, Alana is beauty conscious, Aquata can’t dance, and Arista is quirky. Ariel is still the most rebellious daughter. Ariel’s Beginning is basically Footloose with fish. When the Queen Athena is killed listening to music, Triton bans music in Atlantica. Ariel meets Flounder for the first time, but he’s not much of a guppy. He’s brave enough to attend an underground music club.

Sebastian is supposed to be the strict one, but he also sings in secret. Ariel joins the club and convinces her sisters to join her. It’s not as dramatic as her obsession with the surface, but Ariel’s love of music does get her in trouble. The weakest link is the villain who can’t hold a tentacle to Ursula. Not even Sally Field can make the power hungry governess Marina Del Rey interesting. She’s a lame villain accompanied by her soft-spoken manatee sidekick Benjamin. Music is the real star of the movie, but songs like “Athena’s Song (Endless Sky),” “Just One Mistake,” “I Remember,” and “I Will Sing” don’t stand out as much as the existing calypso song “Jump in the Line.” The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning is the end of an era that deserved better.

26. The Little Mermaid Ariel's Beginning

Ariel and her sisters

Followed by: The Little Mermaid

Keys to the Peacock Princess

Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is the first and only attempt to expand the Disney Princess brand as a series of direct-to-video films. The Enchanted Tales series would’ve featured short stories from all 8 of the current Disney Princesses. Like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, each movie would’ve featured 2 stories with a similar theme. As much as my brother and I love Disney and the various Princesses, Follow Your Dreams was clearly made for little kids.

Keys to the Kingdom – The first story is all about Princess Aurora. Since Sleeping Beauty is one of my all time favorite Disney movies from the Silver Age, I was happy to finally get a continuation. The animation recaptures the painted look of the original, but some of the soundalike voices are a little off. Since Aurora spent most of her movie asleep, we never got a proper understanding of who she was. There’s also a noticeable lack of Maleficent.

When Prince Phillip, King Stefan, Queen Leah, and King Hubert leave for a Royal Conference, Aurora is left in charge. The three good fairies have their own inconsequential subplot where they deliver a lost speech to Hubert. Like Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Princess duties are surprisingly boring. The only thing that makes it funny is Merryweather lending her wand to Aurora. Hijinks ensue when Aurora tries to help the kingdom with magic. In the end, Aurora realizes hard work is the best way to solve her problems…

24. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales Follow Your Dreams

Princess Aurora speaks with her Prince Phillip

More Than a Peacock Princess – The second story is all about Princess Jasmine. Unlike the former story, the Aladdin franchise had a long run in the 90’s. Although I was satisfied with everything I got, I’ll always be happy to return to Agrabah. Since Jasmine was never the main character, Aladdin and Genie had to go just to give her the spotlight. The short maintains continuity with Aladdin and the King of Thieves, but the animation is noticeably better in the late 2000’s.

Linda Larkin is back to voice Jasmine and Gilbert Gottfried provides comic relief as Iago. Magic Carpet, Abu, Raja, and the Sultan are also around to support the Princess. Jasmine’s Lady-in-Waiting Aneesa is given time to shine as well. When Jasmine longs for a challenge, she tries and fails to teach rowdy kids. The story only picks up when Jasmine trusts in her abilities enough to tame a horse named Sahara who once belonged to her mother.

In conclusion, Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is all about perseverance. The movie is presented like a storybook with Aurora and Jasmine directly addressing the audience. They each have their own set of songs that aren’t likely to be remembered. Aurora has “Keys to the Kingdom” and its reprise. Jasmine has “Peacock Princess” and “I’ve Got My Eyes on You.” Before John Lasseter shut down Disneytoon Studios, a Belle short was in development. All we have left is a song called “You’ll Never Lose This Love.” Another Enchanted Tales movie would’ve been about Cinderella and Mulan. All we have left of that is a preview for a series that was never meant to be. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is a cute idea that needed a better hook.

25. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales Follow Your Dreams

Princess Jasmine tames Sahara

Perfectly Perfect

Cinderella III: A Twist in Time puts an unexpected twist on the classic fairy tale. Although direct-to-video Disney sequels have a reputation for being inferior to the original, A Twist in Time is way better than it has any right to be. My brother and I knew right away that it was something special. Unlike the predictable Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Cinderella III pushed boundaries and developed its classic characters for the modern age. The soundalike voice cast remained consistent and the Silver Age animation was just as good. Sadly, this was the last movie that DisneyToon Studios Australia animated before closing forever. At least the story was worth finishing. A Twist in Time takes place one year after Cinderella and Prince Charming fell in love and got married.

It’s a storybook ending, but all that changes when the wicked stepmother steals the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand. If you hated Lady Tremaine before, just imagine her with magical powers. Like a more human Maleficent, she somehow manages to make “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” sound sinister. Lady Tremaine makes it so that the glass slipper fits Anastasia instead of Cinderella. Dreams Come True may be weak, but one of its better additions was redeeming one of the ugly stepsisters. Drizella is still a villain, but Anastasia genuinely wants to be loved. Cinderella is left heartbroken, but Jaq and Gus help her find answers at the castle. Another carryover from the sequel is the housekeeper Prudence. The Duke is about the same, but the King and Prince are given much more characterization.

Though he still doesn’t have a name, the Prince is a more three dimensional Hugh Grant type who thinks true love is as simple as holding hands. The King is a lot softer and accepting of Anastasia. Lady Tremaine erases the Prince’s memory, but love is more powerful than magic. At first it seems like the Prince rescuing Cinderella on a boat like a true action hero will be the end, but the climax is even crazier. Cinderella is trapped inside a pumpkin and Lucifer is turned into a creepy coachman. Despite her reputation as an old fashioned Disney Princess, Cinderella fights for her happily ever after. In the end, Cinderella and Prince Charming accept their new reality. The music features the intentionally sappy “Perfectly Perfect,” the hopeful “More than a Dream,” the silly mouse duet “At the Ball,” and Hayden Panettiere’s pop song “I Still Believe.” Cinderella III: A Twist in Time is a perfect companion piece for the original.

23. Cinderella III A Twist in Time

Cinderella meets Prince Charming again

Preceded by: Cinderella II: Dreams Come True

Good Doggie, No Bone

The Fox and the Hound 2 is my least favorite direct-to-video Disney sequel. I know there are plenty that are objectively worse, but at least they were part of my childhood. My brother kind of made me watch The Fox and the Hound 2 even though it looked bad to me. It’s the only direct-to-video sequel based on a movie from Disney’s Dark Age. The Fox and the Hound had a rustic charm, but it’s not remembered enough to warrant a continuation. The Fox and the Hound 2 follows in the paw prints of Tarzan II and Bambi II by focusing on Tod and Copper’s childhood.

Unlike those interquels, there’s nothing we learn that makes their unlikely friendship feel complete. The original had a harsh tone that’s replaced by goofy slapstick. The ruthless Amos Slade and his older hunting dog Chief are turned into a joke. Tod’s owner Widow Tweed fights back, but they’re a little too sweet on each other. Slade doesn’t even care much that his hound is playing with a fox. The soundalike voices are fine and I guess I can’t fault the animation even though it is too bright. The real problem with The Fox and the Hound 2 is how much emphasis they put on country/bluegrass music.

I don’t mind country music, but it is a very lame direction to take. Tod and Copper go to a county fair where they find a band of Singin’ Strays who practically hijack the movie. Reba McEntire voices the diva Dixie and the late Patrick Swayze voices the temperamental lead dog Cash. There’s also Vicki Lawrence, Jeff Foxworthy, and Stephen Root as an unlucky talent scout. The soundtrack is just a little too hillbilly for my taste. The conflict comes when Copper decides to join the band and Tod feels left out. It’s nothing compared to the real reason they drifted apart. The Fox and the Hound 2 is a bad dog and fox adventure.

22. The Fox and the Hound 2

Tod and Copper playing together

Preceded by: The Fox and the Hound

Be True to Your Groove

Kronk’s New Groove is a direct-to-video Disney spin-off no one asked for. The Emperor’s New Groove is one of the most underrated movies of the Post-Renaissance, but a sequel without Kuzco as the lead was an odd choice. My brother and I enjoyed the Disney Channel animated series The Emperor’s New School right away, but I think we were thrown off by the movie’s title. I agree that Yzma’s loveable henchman Kronk was a great comic relief and scene stealer, but an entire movie is too much. Though a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes is a bit harsh considering the animation is about as good. David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, and Wendie Malick all return, but Patrick Warburton is promoted to main character. Kuzco only shows up to pause the movie and voice his opinion.

Pacha, Chicha, Tipo, Chaca, and their newborn are mostly around for moral support. Kronk is a reformed cook loved by all the villagers who visit Mudka’s Meat Hut. Focusing on Kronk means plenty of squirrel speak and shoulder angel & devil moments. The plot revolves around Kronk seeking approval from his disapproving Papi voiced by John Mahoney. His goal is getting a house on a hill, a wife, and children, but he already lost those things. The sequel is mostly flashbacks that Kronk tells to the deadpan waitress from the first movie. In his last film role, John Fiedler was given more attention as the elderly Rudy who got thrown out of the palace. The first flashback shows Kronk finding Yzma who still has a cat tail. She makes him sell phony youth potion that unintentionally swindles old people out of their retirement home on a hill.

Kronk gives up the house once he figures out what happened. I liked the second flashback a bit more since it’s where Kronk finds love. Even though Miss Birdwell isn’t the love interest I was expecting. She’s a competitive camp counselor strangely voiced by Tracey Ullman. Although they bond over cooking, Kronk gives her up to protect Tipo. The bonkers climax sees everyone including Kuzco try to help please Papi, but the moral is being happy with what you have. Songs like “Be True to Your Groove” are reminiscent of Kuzco’s theme song, but Yzma’s “Like a Million” feels like an out of place musical song. “Let’s Groove” is a poppy song for a pop culture heavy sequence between Kronk and Miss Birdwell. Since I have a soft spot for the franchise, Kronk’s New Groove earns a mild thumbs up from me.

19. Kronk's New Groove

Kronk cooks

Preceded by: The Emperor’s New Groove

Remember My Name!

Fame (2009) is a name I’ll forget almost immediately. The 1980 original was just the beginning. It’s success led to a 1982 TV series with some of the original cast, a singing group called The Kids from “Fame,” a 1988 stage musical, another 1997 TV series set in Los Angeles called Fame L.A., a TV movie sequel that was never produced, and a reality competition series inspired by American Idol. I agree that the performing arts concept has many possibilities, but who was asking for a modern remake? Apart from annoying filters and camera techniques, Fame (2009) was ruined the moment it received a PG rating. There’s still a surprising amount of profanity and adult situations, but it’s sanitized in a way that completely misses the point of the R rated original.

Fame (2009) dropped what made the original special just to be a High School Musical clone. Some teen problems carryover, but there’s clearly a line that they don’t cross. I didn’t recognize any of the young cast with the exception of Danielle Panabaker’s lesser known little sister Kay. I did however recognize every actor who played a Drama, Music, or Dancing teacher. Including Debbie Allen who has the distinction of being in every iteration of Fame. There’s also Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Megan Mullally. Students are so bland that I struggled to remember any of them. Characters are either race swapped, gender swapped, or an amalgamation of multiple characters from the original.

Angry rapper Malik is a combination of Montgomery, Ralph, and Leroy. Jenny is like Doris, but she experiences an uncomfortable audition like Coco. Except that a porno shoot is replaced by some jerk failing to seduce her on camera. Marco is like Ralph since he dates Jenny. Kevin is just a male version of Lisa who also fails to commit suicide. Victor is like Bruno for his electronic music and Leroy since he dates dancer Alice who is like Hilary. Joy is mostly her own character who drops out for an acting gig. Niel is also his own character who stupidly gives money away to an obvious filmmaking scam. Though she has the parental stress of Doris, Denise is also like Coco since Naturi Naughton sings “Out Here on My Own” and an overproduced cover of the Oscar winning title song. The rest of the new songs are forgettable. Fame (2009) has no chance of living forever.

Fame 2009

Students dance in the school

Remake of: Fame (1980)

I’m Gonna Live Forever!

Fame is a name I’m not sure to forget. It marked a notable shift for both musicals and teen movies at the time. Although it was the very beginning of 1980, Fame already felt like an extended music video. The Academy Award winning Best Original Song “Fame” is a perfect reflection of the decade to come. Director Alan Parker also encouraged heavier topics that teen movies rarely dealt with at the time. Fame takes place at the New York High School of Performing Arts from the audition process all through Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior year. We follow the three major branches of entertainment including Drama, Music, and Dance. Although I can personally relate to being a Drama student, being a performer is not as universal as the many teen problems that the cast deals with. Coco Hernandez is a triple threat with big dreams played by the late Irene Cara.

Cara is a natural talent who sings the Oscar winning title song and the Oscar nominated piano ballad “Out Here On My Own.” Coco’s pursuit of fame has disturbing consequences when she ends up at a seedy porno shoot. Bruno Martelli is a music student with a cab driving father who supports his use of electronic music. It’s because of his father that Bruno’s music can be heard in the streets. Leroy Johnson is a tough black dancer discovered by accident who deals with illiteracy and a disapproving teacher played by Anne Meara. Gene Anthony Ray couldn’t overcome his own personal problems before his untimely death. Leroy’s story takes him in many directions that include sleeping with white dancing partner Hilary Van Doren. Lisa Monroe is another dancing student who contemplates suicide when her dreams are denied. Other problems like teen pregnancy are simply alluded to.

The main characters are arguably Drama students Montgomery MacNeil, Doris Finsecker, and Ralph Garci. A young Paul McCrane is awkward closeted gay student Montgomery. He eventually comes out and makes friends with Doris. The Irish Maureen Teefy plays the Jewish Doris who gains confidence through acting. Most of the drama is given to Barry Miller even though Ralph is an aspiring comedian. Ralph is an angry Puerto Rican youth who finds comfort in Doris and Montgomery eventually. Fame earns its R rating with mature language and random nude girls in a changing room. Other random moments include a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a full “Time Warp” routine. The direction can feel a bit open ended, but I don’t think it’s supposed to have all the answers. At least by the end everyone is given the chance to perform at graduation. Leaving the door open for several TV spin-offs to come. Fame encouraged talented teens around the world to dream big.


Students dance in the street

A Girl Worth Fighting For

Mulan II brought a lot less honor to the Disney heroine. Since I love Mulan as much as the best Disney Renaissance films, I guess I ignored the problems of the direct-to-video sequel. I distinctly remember my brother and I watching Mulan II for the first time on the Disney Channel. Critics were rarely kind to Disney sequels, but 0% on Rotten Tomatoes is a bad sign. The animation captures the Chinese water colors of the original, but it is brighter with some over exaggerated movement. Almost the entire cast returns with Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong, George Takei, and the late Pat Morita doing the best with the material they’re given. Although I was happy to see Mulan and Shang become an official couple with a marriage proposal. It’s also nice to see Mulan treated as an equal without having to dress like a man. Local girls look up to Mulan and faun over Captain Shang. Like Return of Jafar, the scene stealing Disney sidekick is replaced by a soundalike.

The caucasian Mark Moseley is a decent Eddie Murphy voice double, but Mushu doesn’t even feel like the same character. Let’s just say Murphy made the right choice to reprise his role in a different animated sequel that same year. Since Mulan and Shang are as different as yin & yang, Mushu practically becomes the villain who tries to break them up just to save his guardian job. Sure Mushu could be selfish, but at least his heart used to be in the right place. Cri-Kee calls him out and so does Mulan when she learns the truth. Mulan and Shang are appointed by the Emperor to escort his three princess daughters to an arranged marriage with the Qui Gong kingdom. Mulan II is flawed, but one redeeming quality is the forbidden romance between the princesses and Mulan’s three closest comrades. Ling, Yao, and Chien-Po are just as enjoyable as they were before. They’re respectively paired with Princess Ting-Ting, Mei, and Su. Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, and Lauren Tom are all proven Asian voice actresses who bring plenty of personality to their duty bound princesses.

Yao may be rough on the outside, but Mei quickly falls in love and marvels at his strength. The adorable Su brings plenty of food to win Chien-Po’s heart. Although she matches his description from the first movie, Ling now wants a girl like the refined Ting-Ting who laughs at his jokes. Despite breaking up thanks to Mushu, Mulan is forced to lose her true love during a Mongol attack. The scene is surprisingly emotional, but Shang survives similar to how Aragon survived his fall in The Two Towers. Mulan nearly unites the kingdoms herself, but Mushu mostly redeems himself by calling off the arranged marriages. Although Mulan is the only Disney Princess who didn’t kiss her Prince in the first movie, they finally share a kiss and get married in the end. Songs are limited like the original, but “Lesson Number One” at least benefits from Lea Salonga. “A Girl Worth Fighting For” is the only returning song, but it is a more comedic redux. “(I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls” is a genuinely catchy anthem for the liberated princesses. For all its faults, Mulan II isn’t the worst they could come up with.

16. Mulan II

Mulan and Shang entertain the children

Preceded by: Mulan

All for One and One for All

Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is the first (and so far only) adaptation I’ve seen of the classic 1844 Alexandre Dumas novel. There have been many movies based on The Three Musketeers, but it helps that Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy are the stars. Although they’ve been featured in many movies, The Three Musketeers is technically their first feature length film. It was also sadly the final Mickey Mouse related film with traditional animation. It’s not a Disney sequel, but it is underrated compared to other direct-to-video productions. My brother and I actually watched The Three Musketeers a lot growing. Even though I’m still not familiar with the original story. The idea for a Three Musketeers movie starring the iconic Disney trio is as old as the 80’s. At one point it would’ve been theatrical and included José Carioca in the cast.

Instead The Three Musketeers is a comedic retelling narrated by the French singing turtle Troubadour. He reads a comic where the original Three Musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis inspire Mickey and friends to one day become Musketeers. Instead they’re janitors who get into all sorts of wacky antics with Pluto by their side. Despite Mickey being too small, Donald being too cowardly, and Goofy being a dufus, they’re appointed as Musketeers by the Captain of the guard. Of course the dastardly villain is Captain Pete who wants to be King of France. The Beagle Boys are his henchmen who plan on kidnapping the Princess. Minnie Mouse is the lovesick Princess who falls madly in love with Mickey. Daisy Duck is her lady in waiting who reluctantly falls for Donald. Although Goofy has never had an official love interest, he falls for Clarabelle Cow who works for Pete before being redeemed.

The swashbuckling action is fun and surprisingly violent for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Together they learn the true meaning of “All for one and one for all.” The music is a fun combination of original lyrics and classical songs. There’s the signature “All for One and One for All” in the style of “Can-Can,” the romantic “Love So Lovely” in the style of The Nutcracker, the catchy villain song “Petey’s King of France” in the style of “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” “Sweet Wings of Love” in the style of “The Blue Danube,” “Chains of Love” in the style of Carmen, and the powerful “This is the End” in the style of Beethoven. There’s a hilarious opera themed running gag and the climax uses songs from The Pirates of Penzance. Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers is the best way Disney could bring another classic story to life.

Mickey, Donald, Goofy The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers

Hakuna Matata

The Lion King 1½ is The Lion King from a funnier perspective. Although Disney considered making The Lion King III, Timon & Pumbaa really do get all the attention. They already have their own self titled animated series. If The Lion King is Hamlet and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride is Romeo & Juliet, then it only makes sense for The Lion King 1½ to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Although the Tom Stoppard play wasn’t written by William Shakespeare, it is essentially Hamlet from the perspective of his childhood friends. The title The Lion King 1½ refers to the movie being set between events of the first movie. Not only was it the first feature under the DisneyToon Studios banner, The Lion King 1½ is genuinely one of the best direct-to-video Disney movies. I distinctly remember when my brother and I rented it on DVD since we unfortunately watched it at the same time as the Oscars. Like Simba’s Pride, the animation is given the royal treatment and almost the entire cast returns once again. This time Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella are promoted to main characters.

The Lion King 1½ uses a hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 framing device with Timon & Pumba rewinding and fast forwarding through the first movie. Timon is given slightly more attention with his origin as the black sheep of the meerkats. Marge Simpson herself Julie Kavner voices another protective mother who loves her special little guy. Jerry Stiller voices his less patient Uncle Max. Since they were absent from Simba’s Pride, the hyenas are promoted to main villains. Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings all return as Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed. Despite not knowing who the monkey was in the first movie, Rafiki inspires Timon to live by Hakuna Matata. When Timon meets Pumbaa, they slowly become the best of friends. Since I obviously know The Lion King by heart, it was fun to see the Disney sidekicks unknowingly affect famous scenes. Turns out the bowing animals during “Circle of Life” were actually fainting from Pumbaa’s gas. The animals falling over each other during “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” were knocked down by Timon. They try to find a new home at Pride Rock, the elephant graveyard, Scar’s lair, and the ravine before finding their own place.

Zazu has a few lines, but Mufasa and Scar don’t speak. Young Simba understandably had to be recast by the time they find him. We see more of their parenting and even a disgusting snail slurping scene with teenage Simba. By this point Matthew Broderick returns to voice the older Simba. When Nala arrives, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is made even more comedic with Timon & Pumbaa failing to stop their romance. Everything else plays out the same, but Timon learns a lesson about friendship. During the climax, Timon digs a tunnel that leads the hyenas directly to Scar. When the movie ends, we get several unexpected silhouette cameos from Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and other Disney characters. The soundtrack is a bit more commercial with songs like “Grazing in the Grass,” The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “Jungle Boogie.” “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof is particularly out of nowhere. Excerpts are heard from the original soundtrack, but obviously “Hakuna Matata” is heard in its entirety (as a sing-along). Elton John and Tim Rice return to write “That’s All I Need,” but it’s nowhere near as catchy as the opening meerkat anthem “Diggah Tunnah.” The Lion King 1½ ain’t no passing craze.

15. The Lion King 1½

Timon and Pumba charge

Intertwined with: The Lion King & Followed by: The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride