This post contains SPOILERS. They're clearly marked.
One week ago, I wrote a piece called "The Poochie Legacy: Absence Makes the Franchise Grow Longer" about a trend I'd observed in recent Hollywood sequels and its connection to a fifteen year old episode of "The Simpsons." In that episode, a stale TV cartoon introduces a new character named Poochie to try to liven up the series' formula; when that doesn't work, Homer Simpson suggests the character be retooled. Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine, he says, and whenever he's not around all the other characters should ask "Where's Poochie?" Thinking about that line in light of "The Bourne Legacy," I realized that absurd joke had seemingly and improbably become a working Hollywood business model. A surprising number of contemporary franchises, including "Bourne," "Underworld," and "Men in Black," were churning out what I called "Poochie sequels."
A lot of people read the post (thank you for that), and I got a lot of feedback (thank you for that, too). Some readers claimed I was being short-sighted, and argued that Poochie sequels existed well before the last year or two. I never said they hadn't; merely that they were becoming surprisingly prevalent now. Others wanted the term more clearly defined. Do spinoffs count as Poochie sequels? What about a sequel that recasts its lead character, like James Bond?
In my mind, the answer to both questions is no, at least not necessarily. Some Poochie sequels are spinoffs -- "The Bourne Legacy," for example, since it sends a new hero, along with several old supporting characters, on a new adventure -- but not all. In order for a spinoff to also qualify as a Poochie sequel, it needs to feature the lingering presence -- or more accurately, the lingering absence -- of the former star. Jason Bourne doesn't appear in the flesh in "The Bourne Legacy," but the characters that do talk about him constantly; in government briefing rooms, in military command centers, on television news reports. In contrast, the spinoff to "The Fugitive," "U.S. Marshals," follows Tommy Lee Jones' Sam Gerard as he hunts another runaway criminal (Wesley Snipes, replacing Harrison Ford). He's focused completely on the new case. At no point does he stop chasing Snipes, look around and say, "Hm, I wonder what Dr. Richard Kimble is up to right now." Hence, not a Poochie sequel.
Bond movies aren't Poochie sequels either, which must involve the removal of the old protagonist and his replacement by a new character in a narrative that is still nominally about said old protagonist. To make a Bond Poochie sequel, a new secret agent (008, perhaps) would have to be ordered by M to rescue 007 after he goes missing on assignment in an Eastern European brothel or something. If Bond's the focus -- even if he's played by Yahoo Serious -- it's not a Poochie sequel. It's a terrible movie, obviously, but not a Poochie sequel.
I'll tell you one recent movie that is a Poochie sequel, and I'm kicking myself for not including it in the first piece: 2010's "TRON: Legacy." I mean, it's even got the word "legacy" right there in the title. Though Jeff Bridges does eventually appear, most of the movie is about a new protagonist, his character's son (Garrett Hedlund), on a quest to find his missing computer programmer father. It's grittier, darker, more violent, and contains a smattering of metaphorical time travel, with Hedlund entering a new version of the iconic 1980s "TRON" landscape.
There are plenty more examples; here are five of the most illustrative. I'll catch you on the flipside, dudemeisters.
Five Classic Poochie Sequels
"Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970)
Directed by Ted Post
Original "Apes"' star Charlton Heston did not want to return for a sequel, but he was finally persuaded to after 20th Century Fox conceived a storyline that would only feature his character in the introduction and climax and gave him the opportunity to destroy the planet of the apes once and for all (thus ensuring, or so Heston thought, no possibility of a "Way Down Beneath the Planet of the Apes"). In Heston's place, the rest of "Beneath" follows another astronaut named Brent (James Franciscus) who's been sent on a rescue mission to find Heston's Taylor (the film does not explain what Brent plans to do once he finds him standed thousands of years in the future, but at least that provides our requisite time travel element). "Beneath"'s plot is deeply Poochiefied: Brent spends the entire movie retracing Taylor's steps from the first "Planet": meeting the same people, talking to the same apes, riding horseback with the same girl (Linda Harrison). In the finale, Heston gets his wish, triggering a doomsday bomb that -- SPOILER ALERT -- blows up the entire Earth. It don't get much louder or angrier than that. Still, that didn't stop the "Apes" franchise, which carried on, sans Heston, for three more sequels. The first, "
Way Down Beneath the Escape From the Planet of the Apes," followed the only three survivors of the planet as they crash land on our world, circa 1973. How'd they get there? Time travel, of course.
"Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983)
Directed by Blake Edwards
Peter Sellers' death in 1980 probably should have signalled the end of the long-running franchise about bumbling French policeman Inspector Clouseau. But for whatever reason (or reason$), "The Pink Panther" carried on as if Sellers was still around, just out-of-frame, for several more movies. 1982's "Trail of the Pink Panther" was basically a glorified collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, but things got really Poochie-ish the next year in "Curse of the Pink Panther." In that installment, Clouseau vanishes while searching for the stolen Pink Panther diamond, and a new goofball, NYPD cop Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass) is brought in to find the jewel and the missing detective. His search is doomed to become an exercise in futility since Sellers is, of course, long dead. Still, Clouseau turns up, in a way; Roger Moore, of all people, plays the character following some truly impressive plastic surgery. The plug could have been pulled here as well, but the "Do Not Resuscitate" order was ignored and in "Son of the Pink Panther," Roberto Benigni stars as Clouseau's illegitimate son. At least he didn't spend the whole movie looking for the Inspector.
"Star Trek III: The Search For Spock" (1984)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Even though "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" ended -- SPOILER ALERT -- with the death of Nimoy's Mister Spock, the seeds for his return were clearly sewn into the fabric of "Wrath of Khan"'s ending, where his body is shot via torpedo onto the surface of the magical planet Genesis. And it wasn't like Nimoy refused to return for "The Search For Spock." He was its director, for crying out loud. Nonetheless, the film contains nearly all the hallmarks of a Poochie sequel. The most important character, the one whose name is in the title, barely appears; when he does, he's mostly played by a series of young look-alikes. Nimoy himself doesn't show up until the very last scene. Otherwise, it's all about the search, with the crew of the Starship Enterprise warping around the galaxy screaming "Where's Spock?" The Poochie figure here is Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis), another Vulcan Starfleet officer like Spock, who'd been introduced, clearly as a potential replacement for Nimoy, in "Wrath of Khan." True to Homer Simpson's ethos, "Star Trek III" is louder (the Enterprise is destroyed) and angrier ("Klingon bastard, you've killed my son!"), though time machine related matters would have to wait until the next film, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," when the crew travels back to 1986 on the hunt for some humpback whales.
"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (2000)
Directed by Joe Berlinger
"The Blair Witch Project" was a very effective horror movie, but its found footage conceit about a bunch of dead kids didn't leave a lot of room for a sequel. Instead of trying to recreate the first film's pseudodocumentary gimmick in a new setting-- a trick that's worked surprisingly well, at least financially, for the "Paranormal Activity" franchise -- "Book of Shadows" went with a more traditional fictional structure along with numerous -- and I mean numerous -- mentions of the original movie. This time out, a bunch of fans of the first "Blair Witch" -- including a recovering mental patient (Jeffrey Donovan, yes the guy from "Burn Notice"), a witch, and a goth girl with psychic powers -- run afoul of the supernatural during a tour of "The Blair Witch"'s shooting locations. The Poochie figure here is "The Blair Witch Project," which is constantly referenced in ponderous conversations that make the characters look like idiots (since they seem to be the only people who haven't gotten the memo that "The Blair Witch Project" isn't real). There's time travel too, of a supernatural sort: Donovan and company all experience blackouts, waking up with no recollection of where they are or how they got there.
Any "Saw" Sequel After "Saw III" (2007-2010)
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, David Hackl, and Kevin Greutert
By the end of "Saw III," the popular torture porn franchise had written itself into a corner: its lead antagonist, the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) -- SPOILER ALERT -- was dead. The brilliantly demented Jigsaw left enough posthumous puzzles to haunt his targets for several more films, but being, y'know, dead and all, he wasn't around to carry out his plans, which necessitated a whole series of Poochie-like apprentices. He first groomed a former victim named Amanda (Shawnee Smith), but she proved too sadistic and was replaced by a police detective named Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who obeyed his mentor's demented instructions through the series' back half until he too was killed by yet another apprentice, Cary Elwes' Dr. Gordon. As became customary in many torture porn franchises, each "Saw" sequel became grislier than the last -- taking care of the louder and angrier portions of our Poochie sequel requirements -- and they even seemed to perform a deft bit of time travel, folding several of the later sequels into pockets of time within one another.