Seamlessly balancing “parent-pleasing and kid-skewed humor,” as Variety‘s Leslie Felperin described it, “Rio” soared high when it hit theaters three years ago, grossing $485 million worldwide. With the next installment (from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios, which is behind the “Ice Age” franchise) setting flight this weekend, it could join the top ranks of the animated sequels that follow.
“Toy Story 3”
It’s a rare feat for the final installment of a franchise to surpass or even match the quality of its predecessors, but “Toy Story 3” did just that when it hit theaters in 2010. With $1.1 billion, the threequel, which until recently was the highest-grossing animated film of all time (Disney’s “Frozen” now wears that crown), earned more worldwide than both of its predecessors combined. It’s even widely regarded as the best pic of the three. Having already set the new standard for animation, Pixar raised the bar on storytelling with “Toy Story 3.” Lee Unkrich’s pic followed Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang’s fight for survival following Andy’s departure for college. The unexpected tear-jerker was as much of a hit with children as their sobbing parents.
“Toy Story 2”
“In the realm of sequels, ‘Toy Story 2’ is to ‘Toy Story’ what ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was to its predecessor, a richer, more satisfying film in every respect,” wrote Variety’s Todd McCarthy in 1999. Pixar’s first sequel was meant to go straight to DVD, but the film went bigger than the original in many ways, including more characters (especially feisty cowgirl Jessie), more locations and more advances in CG animation. The audience agreed with critics, as the film earned $485 million worldwide.
Although it can’t hold a candle to the original, the 2004 sequel is still a success thanks to the addition of Puss in Boots (who got his own spinoff in 2011). Plus the recurring gags, movie parodies and satirical storylines made the movie DreamWorks Animation’s answer to Pixar’s animated hits. As the franchise’s highest grossing movie, “Shrek 2” from directors Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon hauled in $920 million worldwide — twice as much as the first pic. Collectively, the four installments of “Shrek” made almost $3 billion.
“Kung Fu Panda 2”
Described by Variety’s Peter Debruge as “a worthy sequel to DreamWorks Animation’s biggest non-‘Shrek’ hit that gets an extra kick from the addition of dynamic 3D fight sequences,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” offered even more action, adventure, comedy and visual appeal than the original. With Guillermo del Toro on board as exec producer, the film benefited from darker themes and a focus on Po’s personal journey. Aside from the rich mythology, Jennifer Yuh’s follow-up also rightfully devoted more screen time to the Furious Five. It made $666 million worldwide — only $35 million more than the first chapter.
“Despicable Me 2”
The sequel to 2010’s runaway hit matched the humor of the first pic, but pulled at the heart strings more with writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul’s romantic subplot. Like “Shrek 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 2,” the movie expanded the role of its secondary characters. In this case, that meant more shenanigans from the adorable-turned-vicious Minions. The film grossed $971 million worldwide (almost $430 million more than “Despicable Me”). We’ll know next July when “The Minions” hits theaters whether the yellow henchmen will be box office draws on their own.
Although it’s actually a prequel to 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.,” “Monsters University” has earned a spot on this list, thanks to its beautiful animation and clever underdog tale. It earned $744 million worldwide — over $180 million more than “Monsters, Inc.”
“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
The third time really was the charm with this animated movie series. With greater emphasis on action and use of 3D that elevated both storytelling and spectacle, 2009’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” was a sequel worthy of the original. The story follows Sid as he adopts three baby dinosaurs. Unlike its competition (see: “Shrek 2’s” pop culture references), “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” aimed to please younger audiences more than older ones. The movie commanded $887 worldwide — more than any other toon in the growing franchise, which includes 2016’s “Ice Age 5.”
“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”
Considered by Variety‘s Todd McCarthy “the rare animated sequel that reps a notable improvement on its predecessor in every department,” the 2008 follow-up to 2005’s “Madagascar” cranked up the comedy several notches. “The tone of the sequel has been smartly refined: The slapstick is inventively bumptious rather than gross, the innuendo suggestive instead of lewd, the verbal sparring more clever than crude,” McCarthy wrote. The film follows the original group and their new friends as they embark on a wild journey in Africa. DreamWorks’ sequel demanded $604 million worldwide, grossing $63 million in its Stateside opening — more than both the first and third movies.
“Fantasia” has long been lauded as one of the best animated films of all time, so the 2000 sequel had a tough act to follow. Although the film opened in theaters six decades after the original, it still managed to recreate that Disney movie magic. The movie visualizes classical music compositions with different forms of animation and live-action introductions by celebs such as Steve Martin, Bette Midler and James Earl Jones. The Imax spectacular earned $91 worldwide.
“An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”
Although initially overlooked, 1986’s “An American Tail” gained cult status over the years, ultimately becoming the most financially successful animated release of its time with a $85 million worldwide cume. The 1991 follow-up from directors Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells and producer Steven Spielberg was upbeat and endearing, calling to mind more traditional cartoons with its old Western feel. The pic follows Fievel as he attempts to become a cowboy in the Wild West. Jimmy Stewart voices a key role in his final film performance. “Fievel Goes West” earned $41 million worldwide.
“The Rescuers Down Under”
One of Disney’s most underrated movies, “The Rescuers Down Under” improved on the original pic’s animation as it was released 13 years after the 1977 original. The toon, which is based on Margery Sharp’s novels, centers on Bernard and Bianca’s trip to Australia to save Cody from danger and featured exhilirating flight sequences. It flew to $27 million Stateside, missing the $71 million mark set by its predecessor.
“J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings”
Before Peter Jackson adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy for the big screen, Ralph Bakshi used the first half of the fantasy epic as the basis for his 1978 animated pic. Considered daring in its use of both traditional animation and rotoscoped live action footage, the follow-up to Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s 1977 “The Hobbit” musical TV special re-sparked interest in Tolkien’s work and set off a slew of adaptions. The film was also adapted into comic book form.