Of course, none of this would matter if the movies abused the beloved classic characters whose stories they take up. Pixar's head honchos seem to believe this is the case, but their concerns are misplaced. The sequels stay true to the characters, using them to teach some of the same gentle lessons as the originals. Lady and the Tramp II follows Scamp, the rambunctious son of Lady and Tramp, as he learns that finding a family that loves you is more important than trying to be "wild." And Bambi II tracks the evolving relationship between Bambi and his father, the Prince of the Forest, as Bambi comes of age and comes to grips with the loss of his mother and his fear of the unknown.
Is it sacrilege to say that some of the characters and themes in these sequels are actually better-handled than in the originals? In Bambi II, Bambi's father learns how to be a devoted, hands-on dad. As a father myself, I'd rather have my daughter watch the kinder stag of Bambi II than the distant, regal cipher of the first film. Plus, while his mother's death certainly weighs on Bambi in the sequel, there's nothing approaching the traumatic sequence in the original when Bambi's mom gets shot.
Or take the example of Cinderella III. In the original film, the wicked stepsisters are oafish caricatures who exist solely to abuse the lovely heroine. In the latest sequel, magical mischief (and a bit of time travel) allows one of the stepsisters the chance to experience the love of Prince Charming; as a result, she reforms her wicked ways and becomes a friend and ally to Cinderella, and a braver, richer character herself. Cinderella III even has a little fun with the absurdity of the original's conceit: "You think there's only one woman in the whole kingdom who wears a size 4 and a half?" the Prince's father asks at one point.
Far from sullying the spirit of the original classic films, Disney's straight-to-DVD sequels respect their inspirations while finding new stories to tell. In Lady and the Tramp II, Scamp and his junkyard-dog belle Angel visit the same Italian restaurant famously visited by Scamp's parents. They share a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, just like Scamp's parents did. Adult viewers watching the sequel likely brace themselves, as I did, for some embarrassing gaffe that will tarnish their memories of a beloved childhood moment. But that gaffe never comes. Scamp noses a meatball over to Angel, but in a witty, doggy divergence from the original, she scarfs up the whole plate with nary a glance at her beau. It's a charming moment, and an emblematic one: No, the sequels aren't the originals, but yes, they're awfully sweet all on their own.