Great movies often inspire sequels, but far too often, those sequels prove disappointing. The reason for this is simple. In the original story, there’s both a physical conflict and an emotional dream. In the sequel, they trip out the emotional dream and pile on the physical conflict. That simple creates an empty story with more activity but with less emotional meaning.
To see an example of this, just compare “Mary Poppins” with “Mary Poppins Returns.” In the original “Mary Poppins,” the story isn’t just about a nanny taking children on magical adventures. It’s really about teaching their father to focus more on the well-being of his children and not be so rigid and oblivious to their needs.
The children act out because they want to spend more time with their father but he ignores them in favor of maintaining a schedule and working. If you listen to most every song in “Mary Poppins,” it’s all about the children and the father gradually learning to enjoy life by seeing the adventure and magic around them in their ordinary world.
Now watch “Mary Poppins Returns” and there’s a semblance of an emotional dream where Michael Banks is now older and has lost his enthusiasm for life. By the end, he becomes happy again.
Yet his children go through no similar emotional change and unlike “Mary Poppins” songs that teach the characters how to enjoy life, the songs in “Mary Poppins Returns” are simply about nothing in particular with lots of dancing and activity, but empty of emotional meaning. In other words, the songs in “Mary Poppins Returns” fail to address the emotional needs of the characters.
Songs in musicals are meant to emphasize the emotional state of different characters. In “Grease,” there are songs that make fun of Sandy, who is a goody-two shoes type of girl. Then there’s another song near the end where Sandy sings about saying goodbye to her past right before the final, happy song where she changes and everyone comes together.
Now compare “Grease 2” where the songs rarely emphasize the emotional state of the hero. Instead, they’re just meant to be silly and ultimately forgettable as you can see in the video clip below.
Watch great movies and bad sequels and you can see how bad sequels over-emphasize physical action and eliminate emotional dreams of the hero. That should be a big blue that the best way to create a good story is to make sure you have an emotional dream for your hero and every bit of the story focuses on that emotional dream from start to finish.