While I've still got the Disney animated features on my mind, let's take a look at what's coming up next for the studio. The last time I checked in was 2013, when their schedule of future films looked like this:
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Moana (TBA, likely 2018)
Untitled Dean Wellin Animated Feature (TBA, likely 2018)
And they mostly stuck to that, aside from swapping the dates for "Moana" and "Giants." Now, after their April update, their schedule of future films looks like this:
Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018)
Frozen 2 (2019)
The "Untitled" entry is probably still the Dean Wellin space-themed film, but we have no way of knowing for sure. Also, there's another project Lin Manuel Miranda is working on with "Zootopia" director Byron Howard in the pipeline. The only big news here is that "Gigantic," formerly "Giants," based on "Jack and the Beanstalk," has been pushed back again to 2020. Note that this isn't rare for Disney, as retooling on these films happens all the time, often with very good results. However, this does create a somewhat worrying situation, especially when you also take a look at PIXAR's schedule:
Cars 3 (2017)
The Incredibles 2 (2018)
Toy Story 4 (2019
Untitled film (2020)
Untitled film (2020)
Untitled film (2021)
The two 2020 films are planned to be originals, and nothing is known about the 2021 film. However, it's clear that aside from this fall's "Coco," we're not going to be seeing any animated originals from either Disney Animation or PIXAR until 2020. That's something to be concerned about, especially since there wasn't a single sequel on the Disney Animation slate back in 2013.
Theatrical sequels have been pretty rare birds for the Disney, usually left to smaller satellite studios like DisneyToon Studios, which handled "Return to Never Land," "The Jungle Book 2," and numerous direct-to-video sequels. They've always been eyed with some suspicion by both fans and artists for generally being lower quality, and treated by the studio as a way to make a quick buck during the '90s and 2000s. To date, the only ones counted as official Disney features are the ones with production actually handled by Walt Disney Feature Animation: "The Rescuers Down Under," "Fantasia 2000," and the 2011 "Winnie the Pooh."
However, if the new "Wreck-it-Ralph" and "Frozen" movies are successful, and there's every reason to expect that that they will be, sequels will become the new status quo like they are over at PIXAR. And while I've liked some of the PIXAR sequels and prequels like the later "Toy Story" movies and "Monsters U," I'd rather have a mediocre original like "The Good Dinosaur" in most cases. Also, keep in mind that Disney, unlike their competitors, relies heavily on their animated output as source material for a whole multimedia empire including theatrical shows, television series, and now live-action features too.
Sequels, no matter how strong, threaten to dilute that. There was a "Shrek" musical, remember, but it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to make a "Shrek 3" musical. "The Lion King" is being remade as a live action feature in the same vein as "The Jungle Book," but we're not going to see remakes of its sequels, "Simba's Pride," or "The Lion King 1½" or "The Lion Guard." Heck, it's even odd to run across the branded merchandise for "Despicable Me 2" or "Ice Age 4" because there's such a clear cultural expiration date that comes with those movies.
The only exception would be if the sequels turn out to be massively different from the originals, and the previous Disney feature sequels were actually pretty good at that. "The Rescuers Down Under" shifted settings entirely to from the Southern bayou to the Australian outback. "Fantasia 2000" really only used the same conceptual framework as the original. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if the new Disney sequels were spaced further from the originals like the PIXAR movies, and there were a greater sense of separation.
Still, if the sequels help ensure that the original films keep getting made at the level of quality I want them to be, I can't complain too much. And two or three years between original films is actually about the same rate that they came out back in the studio's glory days. As long as the studio is still in the business of taking chances on movies like "Moana" and "Zootopia," I guess I can live with the inevitability of a "Big Hero 7."