Okay, just to clarify, I didn't watch all 4 of these movies in a row like some kind of late-90s torture. These were selected mainly because I had a) already seen it or b) it looked interesting so I actually kind of wanted to watch it. Lucky for me, my job description gives me an excuse to go home and veg out on the couch in front of some late 90s early 2000s straight to video movies.
These are some of the movies that I subjected myself to over the course of my lifetime, along with a brief assessment, and a clip so that you can get a feel for the movie!
MULAN II (2005)
Where we left them: Fa Mulan saved China and things are definitely looking good between her and Li Shang. Who says she needed the approval of a matchmaker?
The premise: Mulan and Shang, who are newly engaged, are asked by the emperor to embark on a mission to escort his three daughters across the country to meet their fiancés. Of course, Mulan brings Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po along to help. In true Disney style, the three princesses happen to fall in love with the three single men accompanying them. Chaos ensues. Meanwhile, Mushu decides to break up Mulan and Shang, because once they get married she will technically join his family therefore honoring his ancestors instead of her own. This means he would lose his position as her guardian.
The takeaway: This movie certainly takes on a lot of different topics. Arranged marriage, honor, trust, etc. But my main concern was that Mushu was suddenly extremely selfish! So he doesn't want to lose Mulan as a friend, or his position as a guardian, but breaking up a wedding for personal gain is just awful. On a similar note, Shang isn't the greatest guy either. He has problems trusting Mulan and being able to openly discuss things with her. It's all very strange. Also at one point in the movie, Shang falls off a cliff and is assumed dead because he fell off a cliff. Miraculously he returns towards the end of the film to save the day completely unscathed. From falling off a freakin' cliff!
This movie was overall...okay to watch. But it also takes away some of the magic of the first film. The story was fine where it was, and building this extension didn't help anything.
POCAHONTAS II: JOURNEY TO A NEW WORLD (1998)
Where we left them: Pocahontas and John Smith parted on bittersweet terms. He had to leave to go back to Europe to get medical treatment, and although he invited Pocahontas to come with him, she turned him down to stay with her tribe.
The premise: After hearing word that John Smith is dead, Pocahontas goes to England in place of her father to negotiate peace between her tribe and the European colonies. The man sent to bring her to England is a fellow named John Rolfe (and yes, he and John Smith share a name). King John refuses to negotiate with Pocahontas, but instead finds that a reasonable substitute would be for her prove she can be "civilized" by Western standards. There's a decent portion of the movie that goes into a Miss Congeniality-esque makeover. Naturally, John Rolfe and Pocahontas end up slowing falling for one another once they realize that they actually aren't all the different. Sound familiar?
The takeaway: So in order to maintain peace, Pocahontas is forced impress this king at a ball? As a kid, I thought that this was very fun. Wow! Look at how well she dances! Amazing. As an adult, I realize that the movie focuses on trying to assimilate Pocahontas and totally desecrates her Native American culture in the name of peace. Awful. Yes, she learns to pretty much be true to herself in the end, but the assimilation bit seems really weird for Disney to bring up in the first place. Pocahontas later finds out that John Smith is really still alive. Sadly, after he saves her, multiple times, and asks her to run away with him SHE SAYS NO! She chooses John Rolfe, whom she has zero chemistry with, over John Smith. It made me feel like there wasn't even a point to the first movie if she and Smith weren't going to end up together! Totally devastating and such a disappointment.
Side note: As some commenters have pointed out, it is true John Rolfe and Pocahontas were married in real life. But the first Pocahontas film completely twisted the relationship of John Smith and Pocahontas, so historical accuracy clearly wasn't their goal. From all records, Pocahontas was far younger than him and their relationship was entirely platonic. So if Disney wanted to go for accuracy, they shouldn't have written the original movie's storyline in the first place and then use the second one to correct it. From the story's standpoint, not from a historical one, it makes little sense for Pocahontas to choose John Rolfe over John Smith.
THE LITTLE MERMAID II: RETURN TO THE SEA (2000)
Where we left them: Ariel has legs, for real this time. She and Eric are well on their way to living happily ever after.
The premise: Well, Ariel and Eric have a child and name her Melody. Cute. The real story picks up around a decade later when Melody is a budding young pre-teen. Obviously the best time of a girl's life (heavy use of sarcasm). There's a new sea witch, Ursula's sister Morgana, who threatens Melody and wants to use her as leverage to steal King Triton's Trident. To keep her from harm, Ariel keeps Atlantica a secret from Melody by building a massive wall between the castle and the ocean. Melody ends up feeling a pull to the ocean anyway, and ends up getting turned into a mermaid by Morgana. Mmhmm it's the opposite of what happened to Ariel. Interesting how that works! King Triton turns Ariel back into a mermaid so that she can find Melody.
The takeaway: Ariel was extremely boring this entire movie. What happened to her fiery personality that I loved so much to begin with? Did becoming a mom suddenly make her a bore? It also seemed very un-Ariel for her to completely hide the mer-world from her daughter. The Ariel I knew wasn't afraid of anything, especially another sea witch. And on the other end of the spectrum, Melody was all over the place, even for a girl her age! I understand teenage defiance, but Melody takes it to a whole new level. Where is Eric during all of this? Well, he's just kind of hiding out and not really doing anything while his wife is chasing his runaway daughter through the ocean. Of course, everything ends on a happy note by Melody literally breaking down barriers and uniting the two worlds. And in a shocking twist, the people of Eric's kingdom are super okay with mermaids existing all of the sudden.
What in the name of King Triton is going on with Ariel's neck here?! Animation fail.
THE LION KING 2: SIMBA'S PRIDE (1998)
Where we left them: Simba takes his rightful place as ruler of the Pride Lands. He and Nala get married. Scar is dead. All is right in the animal world!
The premise: This movie begins where the first one started. Simba and Nala's daughter, Kiara, is being presented to the Pride Lands by Rafiki as Mufasa looks on from Lion heaven. As Kiara gets older, Simba becomes increasingly protective of her and has Timon and Pumbaa look after her. One day, Kiara sneaks into the Outlands and meets and befriends another young cub named Kovu, who is actually Scar's planned successor. As the two grow up separately, Kovu is raised by his mother Zira to hate Simba, and avenge Scar's death. But despite all odds, from forth the fatal loins of these two foe, a pair of star-crossed lions still fell in love.
The takeaway: The same way that the first follows the themes of Shakespeare's Hamlet, this one follows Romeo and Juliet. I think that my biggest problem with this movie was that, like in The Little Mermaid 2, becoming a parent changed Simba. It's true that after having a daughter he would become more careful to protect her, but he was such an adventurous guy! There are points where he's actually marking lines where Kiara is allowed to walk. That's much farther than Mufasa's stance of "Okay, just don't go where those shadows are please." But Simba's changed personality was really the only big flaw for me. And by the end of the film, he realizes that he's been ridiculous and gives Kiara more trust and freedom. The only other complaint I have is that the music wasn't quite up to par in my opinion, but the first is pretty hard to top to begin with. There's also a big battle between the two lion prides which is pretty cool and intense.
On a stylistic note, I think that this sequel had the best animation by far. It actually looked a lot like the first one, instead of a cheaper version. I can say with confidence that this was the most successful sequel of the ones listed here.
In short, there's definitely a reason why these movies when straight to video. I really do appreciated Disney trying to expand on the worlds they created for us. But I think I'd appreciate it more if they would just leave it all alone.