The Rise of the Prequels

Hollywood keeps going back and back and back again

Last Friday, Cruella, an origin-story film for the villain from 101 Dalmatians, arrived in theaters and on Disney+ to inform everyone that, actually, Cruella de Vil is an amazing designer. I’m not sure this was information that anyone wanted or needed since Cruella is still a person who abducts puppies … to make a coat from their fur … for herself … to just, you know, wear around town. But thanks to the new movie, we can be sure that had Cruella’s plan succeeded, that coat would have been fierce. 

Cruella is just the latest in the current glut of prequels and origin stories. Recent examples include a Netflix series about Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ratched); a storyline about Annie Wilkes, the disturbed superfan from Misery, in season 2 of Castle Rock; and a crime drama about Batman’s butler on Epix (Pennyworth). And if you look back a bit further, there’s Maleficent, The Hobbit trilogy, Bates Motel, the FX Fargo series, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: First Class, Joker, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and more. 

Did we really need to know how Cruella came to be? She’s the latest example of prequel mania.

Sure, the idea of a prequel is not new, and sometimes, they even work. But for every The Godfather Part II, there’s a Butch and Sundance: The Early Years. Ever since the mind-numbingly bad Star Wars Episodes 1-3 made $2 billion, the prequel has become the go-to solution for any franchise that has already reached a linear conclusion. And so, two years after Avengers: Endgame, we get Black Widow: How Natasha Spent her Summer Vacation Five Years Ago.

I just can’t any more with the prequels. I’m no longer interested in seeing anyone “rise.” I don’t want to “re-envision” badass villains as troubled young antiheroes. I have never wondered how a character “got their name.” (Spoiler: a writer made it up)

My breaking point came with the recent announcement that Timothée Chalamet will star in a movie musical about the early life of Willy Wonka. The film is titled Wonka because the story takes place before the chocolate factory and “Wonka” is the word that comes before “and the Chocolate Factory” in the title of the previous, well-liked movie. (We shall not speak of the 2005 version that used the original book’s title.) Without a chocolate factory to manage, what is Chalamet’s Wonka going to do? Sing about his small business loan? 

No matter what, since at this point there are well-established prequel tropes, we can expect that 20-something Wonka will cross paths with a relative of Charlie Bucket, the original story’s protagonist. And if we’re just cribbing plots from Reddit fan theories, Wonka will also be revealed as Charlie’s biological father. 

The pandemic lockdown was supposed to spark a new cultural renaissance, but it’s happening in the most literal sense of “renaissance” as we see a re-birth of characters from every movie we once liked from the past 20 to 50 years. And so, we look to the horizon and see a Grease Cinematic Universe. 

Tell me more, tell me more

Yes, that’s right, there are two prequels to the 1978 film Grease coming to Paramount +: Rise of the Pink Ladies (god, how I wish I was making that up), a series about Rizzo, Frenchy and the other two; and Summer Lovin, a film about that fateful summer when Sandy met Danny. If you thought the lyrics to “Summer Nights” weren’t a thorough enough investigation of how they met, now you can finally know for sure if Sandy nearly drowned or if Danny was simply showing off and splashing around. 

Here are some other prequels coming soon to a screen near you:

Minions: The Rise of Gru. The despicable tween learns that even bad guys need a little help from their friends. 

Mean Girls: The Rise of Regina George. Before she was a massive deal, she was just a girl who was mean to every kid in third grade.

Footloose: Beginnings: The Rise of Ren. Let’s hear it for the boy as he graduates middle school and discovers the power of dance. 

Miranda: Devil Rising. Meet Miranda Priestly before she wore Prada, as an ambitious intern at Runway magazine.

Just kidding, those are fake … for now. Except the first one. Of course the Minions movie is real. Because as long as media companies are determined to wring every drop from an established property, a sequel to a prequel to a trilogy is the only thing of which we can be certain.

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Lani Gonzalez

Lani Gonzalez has appeared as a guest programmer on Turner Classic Movies and occasionally writes about what she sees at Cinema Then and Now.

2 thoughts on “The Rise of the Prequels

  • June 4, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    Thank you! I don’t really care about origin stories of comic book characters. Writers just make them up.🤔😝🤷🏽‍♂️

  • June 4, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    Ha ha, except for the fact that the 2005 Tim Burton Wonka movie was much better than the 70s one.


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