Sequels are a lot like microwaved leftovers: most of the time they’re never as good as the original. When writing a sequel, there are many obstacles to overcome, the most prevalent of which being the often unrealistically high expectations of the audience.
From a writing perspective, one very challenging issue to deal with is the development of characters. Since the protagonist has more than likely experienced an epiphany in the original, it is difficult to create another situation or dilemma that would cause the character to once again undergo a significant change for the better.
Because of these challenges, sequels rarely carry any level writing brilliance, and are many times constructed solely for the purpose of riding the curtails of the original. Pixar’s Toy Story 2 is a notable exception to this trait however. Noted for scoring a perfect 100% on “Rotten Tomatoes”, Toy Story 2 is considered by many to be even better than the original, a feat almost unheard of in the world of film. Pixar’s brilliant animation, story craft, and character arcs in Toy Story 2 not only firmly cemented America’s favorite toys in movie culture, but also foreshadowed the longevity and dominance of Pixar’s computer animation in the world of film. Here are 5 writing tips you can learn from Pixar about constructing sequels:
Make it Fresh
Right away, Toy Story 2 grabs viewers’ attention, depicting an interplanetary space adventure featuring none other than Buzz Lightyear. Though the adventure later proves to be taking place entirely within a video game, Pixar teases the audience with the idea of a story taking place in a much bigger world than Andy’s room. The sequence also introduces the character of Zurg, who will later become important to Buzz’ subplot.
Pivot Attention to a New Character
A standard policy for most sequels, pivoting attention to a different character than the original is a great way to solve the “changing protagonist” dilemma. This can sometimes produce mediocre results by centering around a minor or “sidekick” character. In Toy Story 2, Pixar chose to do something rather interesting: while it is clear that Woody is the central protagonist of the Toy Story franchise, it is Buzz, not Woody that experiences what would be considered a major change in the original, coming to grips with his identity as a toy. The irony comes in the fact that it is not until the sequel that Woody himself truly comes to grips with his own identity as a toy. This parallel realization between the first and second film strengthens the bond the characters Woody and Buzz have with each other, causing their character development to work in tandem.
Introduce New Characters…
Adding “fresh blood” to the cast is a great way to spice up a sequel. In the case of Toy Story 2, the introduction of Jessie and Bullseye as supporting characters and Stinky Pete as a villain broaden the spectrum of personality types and traits to play off. The character of Jessie is particularly instrumental in bringing Woody to his epiphany. This adds a level of realism to the story, as it can be conceived that Woody would have been unable to come to his ultimate realization without the introduction of a viewpoint outside the world of “Andy’s Room”.
…But Don’t Forget the Old Ones
Although the introduction of fresh characters is key, it is important to show how the original characters still provide relevance to the plot. Hamm, Rex, Mr. Potato Head, and Slinky not only provide more laughs in the sequel, they are crucial to pivotal moments in the plot. The inclusion of even minor characters in sequels provide a comforting familiarity to audiences.
Up the Ante
This is the “make or break” aspect of sequels, the Mt. Everest of audience expectation: the climax. Having already created a daunting dilemma in the original, the pinnacle of the tension in a sequel must be increased dramatically to keep viewers intrigued. Pixar does this in a very unique way in Toy Story 2. In the original, the climax comes when Woody and Buzz attempt to avoid being separated from Andy by catching up to the moving truck. In the sequel, the dilemma itself, being separated from Andy, is exactly the same, but the stakes are much higher: instead of missing a truck, Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys run the risk of being shipped to Asia. The potential disaster of being stranded on the other end of the world creates a high level of tension that grips young and old alike.
The most important lesson to remember from Pixar is that story is king. The animation company has vowed that they will never make a sequel unless they honestly believe they can create an engaging and memorable story. This is an important point to always keep in mind: resist the temptation to cash in on previous successes, rather look at a sequel as an opportunity to tell a brand-new story with a group of old friends. Learn from Pixar: don’t create a sequel; create a legacy.
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.