With Despicable Me 2’s release on July 3, we have cause to look back on animated film franchises to see which properties were able to step up their game in subsequent sequels, and keep the momentum going. Sequels can often serve as creative ruts or voids for promising originals, so while we’re not going so far as to handicap these sophomore efforts, we will say that they managed to walk a fine line in mixing the familiar with the new.

7. Ice Age: The Meltdown

The good thing about having a terrific cast of voice actors is that it can ease the burden on the story portion of a sequel. While Ice Age 2 certainly does phone it in, the second one manages to revisit some favorite characters without becoming complacent in its familiarity. The sequel has a strong story behind it (global warming is threatening their habitat), and manages to get its point across without being heavy-handed or preachy.

No easy task when you’re carrying a political(ish) message in your animated film.

6. Shrek Ever After

By the time Shrek Ever After came around, Shrek had lost favor with the audiences, demonstrating a precipitous decline in quality after the original installment. So it was with this additional pressure that producers were forced to right the ship, and return to the fundamentals of what made Shrek great.

Rather than further develop a convoluted scenario for the fourth installment, the writers made it a story of three friends forced to prove their friendship to each other. Simple. Heartwarming.

Fans came around to the idea, and Shrek was able to end its theatrical run on a high note because of this back-to-basics approach.

5. Cars 2

While Pixar films are near-universally lauded, Cars 2 is perhaps the only film from the animation studio that suggested that the shop was capable of coasting. However…it also demonstrated that even when Pixar coasts, they’re capable of putting out some pretty memorable work.

4. An America Tail: Fievel Goes West

Though it sat outside of the Disney juggernaut during the 80’s, this Don Bluth franchise still managed to work its way into the pop culture landscape. The sequel found Fievel carrying on after being separated from his family in the first installment. Fievel Mousekewitz managed to win the hearts and minds of America, so there was little question that we would follow him west, all pioneer-style and whatnot.

3. Kung-Fu Panda 2

Any time your animated sequel can get Gary Oldman to play the villain, you’re probably going to find your way on this list. So let it be no surprise that we include Kung-Fu Panda 2 in here, as we revisit Po to find him at odds with Lord Shen, played by Oldman.

We also get to circle back up with the Furious Five, which is perhaps the strongest supporting cast to be drawn. Okay. Nemo’s in that discussion as well.

2. Toy Story 3

We’ll get into Toy Story 3’s predecessor shortly, but while the third one may not have had quite the same quality of story behind it, the emotions the incinerator scene elicits are well worth the price of admission. The team behind the film managed to put a beautiful bow on the three-story arch they developed.

1. Toy Story 2

If we were drawing feature film analogies here, then Toy Story would be The Godfather, only if The Godfather 3 had been awesome. Toy Story 2 was able to perform that rare feat in which it surpassed the acclaimed first installment in terms of quality. Toy Story 2 was able to use the groundwork laid out in the first film to further develop already-rich characters, while resisting the urge to complicate the story with plot contrivances and the like.

It was clear here that Pixar wasn't getting after a sequel because it was easy. They were getting after a sequel because they had a story to tell.