Some of the most important questions in popular culture can never truly be resolved. Is The Empire Strikes Back the best Star Wars film? What's the best film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen? What's the deal with Andy's mom in the Toy Story series? But there are still some debates that can be easily settled, even in this divisive period in history.
To wit: are the direct-to-video sequels to Disney animated films part of the animation canon?
I am here to render the final verdict: No. They're not, they never have been, nor will they ever be in a million years (despite what 49 percent of the people who voted in this poll said).
I can already hear some of you asking, "And who the hell are you to be judge and jury?" It's a fair question! So let me properly introduce myself: I'm one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a weekly film discussion podcast that looks at all of the films of the Walt Disney Company, from classics like Pinocchio to movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and everything in between. I started Mousterpiece Cinema in the summer of 2011, before Disney bought Lucasfilm, as well as before they really started rifling through their animated classics to make live-action remakes.
So, in the spirit of the podcasting trend of telling long-form stories, Mousterpiece Cinema is a seven-years-and-running story of how Disney became the biggest monolith in pop culture. I'm a freelance writer whose work has been published at Slashfilm (where I have a recurring column on all things Disney), The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, and this outlet! I've even written a book on Pixar animation and nostalgia, and have a second book on Disney animation and race on the way.
So I'm not just some random dude telling you what's what about the Disney animation canon. But here's the thing: my credentials/painfully obsessive nerdery about Disney don't matter in this case. The question is simple: are the direct-to-video/DVD sequels to classics like Bambi, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast canon? The answer is equally simple: it's an unequivocal no.
You may wonder how to officially define the Disney animation canon; the answer is simple. If it's from Walt Disney Animation Studios, it's canon. Few sequels to Disney classics are; thus, the others aren't (and arguably shouldn't ever be) considered canon. Disney has released, to date, 56 theatrical animated features, all of which make up the canon. Films like The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, and The Fox and the Hound 2 aren't canon. Period. They were made by different animators, by a different animation studio (called DisneyToon Studios), and were all lower-budgeted. The DTV sequels are a lot of things, but not canon.
It does get a bit convoluted, I'll admit. The feature canon does include sequels, like the 1990 film The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000. And Disney's next two official canon features are sequels to Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, respectively. Also, there are a handful of DisneyToon Studios releases that made it to theaters, but are still outside of the canon.
Consider A Goofy Movie, which I know has quite the cult fanbase. It was released in theaters! It features one of the most iconic animated characters ever! Still not canon. The same goes for the execrable Planes and Planes: Fire and Rescue. Both are from DisneyToon, both made it to theaters, and neither of them is canon. (To be clear: the Disney animated-feature canon doesn't include any films from Pixar. But the Planes movies aren't part of the Pixar canon, either.)
Being outside of the canon doesn't make these films bad. Some of the canon features aren't so hot—remember Home on the Range and Chicken Little? (These films still haunt me.) Not that the DisneyToon films have a good reputation; few are remotely as good as their predecessors, and most are demonstrably bad. But their quality, or lack thereof, is removed from how they should be categorized.
Some DTV sequels are part of a specific title's canon, too. The events of The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride are still referenced on the Disney Junior show The Lion Guard, for example. (While I'm clearly a Disney junkie, I want to clarify: I have a three-year-old, which is why I know about this Lion King connection. Being a parent is also why I know that David Oyelowo — you know, the exceptionally talented actor who played Martin Luther King, Jr. a couple years ago in the wonderful film Selma — voices Scar on The Lion Guard.
(Yes, the dead villain Scar. Yes, David Oyelowo. It's a substantially recurring role!)
These films are the red-headed stepchildren of Disney animation. They're cheap, they used to sell a decent amount of copies, and they're only championed by kids or adults who watched them as kids.
If I've broken your heart, I apologize. But as the wise old mandrill Rafiki once said, the truth can hurt. (Hi, I'm a 33-year old adult man and I didn't even need to look up that quote. I think I need help.) You may love the DTV Disney sequels of your youth. You may tell other people that, actually, they're not that bad! (Aladdin and the King of Thieves, which brought Robin Williams back to voice the Genie: it's not that bad!)
But they are not, and never will be canon. Disney's animators and official historians have a specific breakdown of the eras of the studio's features. The DTV films are nowhere near that list, nor should they be. We live in a fractured world, and there are countless serious problems to solve. At least today, I can help bring clarity to a very important debate.
To the DTV Disney films: I say this: I know the Disney animated canon, I grew up with the Disney animated canon, and you, sir, are no Disney animated canon.