When Aladdin opened opened in theaters on November 25, 1992, changes where already in the works at the Walt Disney Company due to the advent of home video and the popularity of video rentals. With the movie earning over $504 million worldwide, Disney began to look for new ways to capitalize on the success on the film. The answer came on May 20, 1994 with the release of Return of Jafar, the first Disney direct to video sequel.
The film itself was a critical flop, primarily attributed to the voice of Genie not being provided by Robin Williams due to a studio dispute regarding the use of his voice and character being used in the promotion of Aladdin. Instead, Dan Castellaneta, better known for providing the voice of Homer on Fox’s The Simpsons, recorded the vocals for Genie.
Despite the critical panning of Return of Jafar, Disney continued pursuing both the Aladdin franchise and the release of direct to video sequels. Castellaneta provided the voice of Genie for the Aladdin animated series on Disney Afternoon, while Robin Williams settled his differences with Disney to do the Genie’s voice in the next direct to video release, Aladdin and the King of Thieves in August 1996.
From the Aladdin series Disney began to work on production on sequels to other animated films, from Winnie the Pooh, which was going through a merchandising boom at the time, to Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and The Lion King. In 2001 Disney reached deeper into its vault to create a sequel to the 1955 film Lady and the Tramp, and from there they began making sequels to other animated classics.
To date, Disney has released thirty seven direct to video sequels and prequels on various media players, with more planned in the future. The number would be higher, but executives at Disney decided to theatrically release Planes, the planned direct to video spin-off of Cars. The upcoming Planes 2 and 3 are also being planned for theatrical release.
Just liked theatrically released animated features, some direct to video releases are great, and some are…not so great. But they are going to be around for a long while. I can only hope as they keep producing sequels, Disney will also remember the classics and keep releasing them from the vault as well.
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