Watching The Lion King 2 and The Lion King 1 ½ (which is the order in which they were released) is akin to a tale of two sequels. On the one hand, you have a film which attempts to be just as grandiose as the original film. It recalls moments from the original repeatedly in telling its tale. It shows us how the circle of life continues on past that first film. The other sequel opts to give us moments from the original film via a new and different perspective. It breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. And, in its attempting to tell a smaller tale succeeds far more than the other.
It is The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride which fares far less well in the land of sequeldom. The story picks up soon after the end of the original film with Simba’s daughter, Kiara (Neve Campbell, Michelle Horn when Kiara is a cub), following all too closely in her father’s footsteps. She refuses to listen when she is told to not do things. As a young cub she disobeys and meets a young outlander lion, Kovu (James Marsden, Ryan O’Donohue when Kovu is a cub), a member of a pack of lions who remained on Scar’s side during the original film.
Simba (Matthew Broderick) finds Kovu with Kiara, learns who Kovu’s mother is Zira (Suzanne Pleshette) who is still angry with Simba’s ruling the kingdom. And, from there, it’s all rather predictable. The lion cubs get older, the plot to dethrone Simba progresses, the cubs fall in love, and right conquers wrong.
The film parallels the original very closely and often very overtly. The intent here may be to truly show us that the circle of life is just that and that generation after generation have to fight their own battles and learn right from wrong. That isn’t necessarily a bad message, but it isn’t depicted here in interesting ways. Things just sort of plod along from one moment to the next, never achieving the greatness of the first film. Some scenes are incredibly similar in nature to the original (a song in Scar’s cave, a lion scrambling on the edge of a cliff as a stampede rushes below), but the comparison always favor the first movie which really makes this film a shadow of that one.
That is where The Lion King 1 ½ really succeeds – the film is, quite purposefully a shadow of the original. Rather than expanding into the next generation as was done with Simba’s Pride, 1 ½ opts to give us the story of Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and Timon (Nathan Lane) in events leading up to and going through the original film. In fact, the whole thing opens with Pumbaa and Timon watching the first movie (they are seen, in MST3K-style silhouettes) and deciding to tell their own tale so we can really see what happened.
Events from the first movie are depicted here from an entirely new perspective which allows the creative team behind this film (Bradley Raymond directs it, while Darrell Rooney and Rob LaDuca direct Simba’s Pride) to play with a great story. I hesitate to call it “tinkering around the margins” because the story told here does figure directly into the events of the original, but that still may be the best way to describe it. It is consciously smaller and far better for it. The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride is a typically disappointing direct-to-video sequel whereas The Lion King 1 ½ is an amusing and wonderful tale which builds on the original in fine fashion.
Where the films do find equal footing is with their new Blu-ray releases. Neither film is as exceptionally detailed as the original Lion King, but both do look wonderfully rich. The colors are vibrant and beautiful and whatever lack of detail is present is probably due to a lack of detail created in the direct-to-video nature of the films. Both feature a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack which, in similar fashion to the video, are clean and full, but not as all-encompassing as one would expect from a full-fledged theatrical film. In short, what is presented here for both of the films in terms of audio and video feels like an excellent representation of what was produced for both films, but not what one gets from the Blu-ray release of the original because there’s simply more there.
New bonus features are rather minimal for this release, with 1 ½ sporting a video with Pumbaa and Timon watching movies of their “friends” at Animal Kingdom at DisneyWorld and Simba’s Pride having an “Insectapedia” which tells viewers about some animals. In terms of older bonus features, each also contains deleted scenes, a music video and a making of piece. 1 ½ also sports a pretend look at Timon’s background while Simba’s Pride has an animated short entitled “One by One” which features South African children, inspired by a bird feather, flying kites (and is wonderful) and Timon & Pumbaa trying to answer science questions. Outside of “One by One,” which is truly excellent, there is really nothing of note here. Both also come with a standard DVD.
If you never watch either The Lion King 1 ½ or The Lion King 2, you won’t find your life less rich than someone who has. In point of fact, The Lion King 2 is rather disappointing, but people dying for a continuation of the movie will manage to find things to enjoy. As for 1 ½, from beginning to end it is a very amusing way to revisit the original film and see it all in a new light.