I’ve been thinking a lot about sequels recently. A sequel can make or break a franchise. Star Wars was a fun, one-off movie until The Empire Strikes Back turned it into the epic saga that we know today. Puss In Boots was a mediocre spin-off of the Shrek series until its sequel, The Last Wish, turned the titular kitty into as big of a star as the ogre whose own sequel story he first appeared in. I admit I have sunk more time into The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom than I have been able to keep track of, and (once the PC version is patched) I expect I will be similarly consumed by Jedi: Survivor. Six of Crows is as good as, if not better than, the Shadow and Bone series, and aside from the second season, The Legend of Korra was a worthy successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender.
All of these are phenomenal sequels, but anyone who grew up from the late 90s to early 2010s knows the pitfalls of bad sequels, usually in the form of direct-to-video movies. There is no denying that most of these sequels failed to live up to the greatness of their original movie, be it Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy is highly divisive, with cinematically great individual scenes overshadowed by terrible writing choices. These serve as examples of what can go wrong when making a sequel.
They all fail because they broke one or more of what I believe to be The Laws of Good Sequels, which I will coin now:
The Laws of Good Sequels
- A Good Sequel should expand and extrapolate on the rules of the world as established in the parent work, but never break them.
- A Good Sequel should show consequences of the events of the parent work, but not repeat those events.
- A Good Sequel should tell new stories and introduce new characters, but not diminish the main characters or the growth they experienced in the parent work.*
*The exception to this is in a spin-off sequel, which should adhere to the first and second laws, but does not need to include the main characters of the parent work as anything more than a cameo or reference.
I expect that to many writers, these laws are instinctive, but it helps to codify them for simplicity’s sake. Clearly these are not universally understood, or we would not have bad sequels. I hope that they can be good guidelines for anyone currently writing a sequel to any sort of story, be it their own original work, a fanfic, or any other sort of adaptation.
With Zootopia 2 currently in development, I wanted to take a chance to go over some of what we can expect given these three laws, starting with the rules of the world. Zootopia makes this fairly easy for us, as most of them are laid out clearly by Jason Bateman during the very first teaser trailer for the movie.
With some additional comments from the writers and directors, plus context clues within the movie itself, we can arrive at these rules for the world.
The Rules of Zootopia
- Humans never happened.*
- Animals in Zootopia are Anthropomorphic. They walk on two feet and wear clothes, but maintain animal proportions and fur colors / patterns.
- Zootopia uses technology that is equivalent to modern human technology, with the twist that it is designed by animals, for animals.**
- While evolution has given Zootopia’s many species different strengths and weaknesses, which has led to various stereotypes and prejudices, they are all fundamentally on the human scale of intelligence.***
- Zootopia consists of animals from all over the world, but it is not a perfect utopia.
- Whenever there is an opportunity to make an animal pun, it should be taken.****
* This prohibition extends to primates as a whole, and to animals that only exist due to domestication by humans, such as dogs. Some animals that we might recognize as “domesticated”, such as sheep with thick wool, would have reasons to evolve the same way, which they could reasonably select for themselves.
** They use this technology to allow for various natural needs or desires, and to compensate for differences between species. This means that in some areas, such as climate control, computer miniaturization, and pharmaceuticals, they are more advanced than we are, but that’s more due to humans not having a need for the specific technologies they developed.
*** Mammals are. It is uncertain if birds or reptiles are as well, as none are seen or referenced in the movie. Fish and insects are not intelligent, and are frequently used as a source of meat for carnivorous and omnivorous species. Outside forces can tamper with this, as evidenced by the Nighthowler Serum that removes their humanoid intelligence and reverts them to base animal instinct.
**** This is less of a rule and more of a recommendation, but it is absolutely a part of the world of Zootopia.
Next up, we have the second law, which deals with the consequences of events from the parent work. In Zootopia’s case, the events we might expect to see consequences for include:
- The invention of concentrated Night Howler serum
- The unmasking of Dawn Bellwether as the ringleader of a conspiracy that hospitalized many mammals for the sake of inciting fear in the populace
- Several mammals being attacked and injured by friends, relatives, or even strangers that had been hit with the Night Howler serum
- Two mayors of the city being arrested and sent to jail, back-to-back
- Exacerbated tension between the predator and prey classes of mammals in Zootopia
- The first Fox has been inducted into the Zootopia Police Department
There are a few other things we might expect to return in some form or other, but they are fairly minor. I look forward to seeing what the consequences for all these end up being, and how they affect things moving forward.
Finally, we come to the third law, which is the one that is open to the most interpretation and could go in any number of directions. We have no way of knowing what sort of new stories or characters we might expect, but what we can do is document the growth and changes to the main characters that will need to remain in place going into a sequel. These include:
- Judy Hopps – When she came to Zootopia, she was a naive bunny with big, optimistic dreams of making the world a better place simply by being a police officer, trusting of authority, often spoke without considering how her words might hurt others, and had some deep, hypocritical biases she arrogantly thought she was better than. By the end of the movie, she has a tempered optimism, a healthy skepticism of authority figures (particularly politicians), and has confronted her bias about predators (and foxes in particular) in a healthy and genuine manner.
- Nick Wilde – When we meet him, he is a quick-witted con artist, and while his cons are ultimately harmless, he is far from honest. He is cynical and snarky by design, believing that it’s pointless to fight against the way things are and that it’s best to just accept it and play the part you’re assigned by society. By the end of the movie, he has learned to open up to someone and trust them, even if they can (and did) hurt him. He has decided to choose for himself what his path will be in life, and is doing so at the side of the person who brought about this change as the newest member of the ZPD.
- Nick and Judy go through many changes to their relationship, from con and mark, to partners by grudging necessity, to genuine partners on the case, to friends, and then to former friends. Finally, after a heartfelt apology, they end the movie as best friends and trusted partners.
Other relationships are fairly straightforward, like how Bogo now trusts Judy to do a good job as an investigator and police officer, or how Bellwether goes from seeing Judy as a tool to seeing her as the enemy that ruined her plans and got her locked up. Many relationships don’t change, like Judy and Clawhauser’s friendship or Nick and Weaselton’s distaste for each other. But the characters we care most about are Nick and Judy, and theirs is the relationship we are most looking forward to seeing develop in a sequel.
Anyway, that’s my thoughts on what we should hope to expect in a sequel. This may seem like a lot of rules that the writers may or may not be restricted by, but I see rules and restrictions as a way to be even more creative. After all, if there are no restrictions or laws, you would always choose the easiest and simplest solution, and that’s boring. Writing within constraints is where the chances to look at things in different ways and experiment with them come into play. And, should the writers of Zootopia 2 see this, I hope they will take it to heart. There are so many ways a sequel can go, but a Good Sequel is something worth doing right. And Zootopia deserves nothing but the best.
Until next time, as always,