What We’re Watching – 1/25/2012

The Lion King Trilogy

Did you know that the great Disney film The Lion King (1994) had not one, but two sequels?? I recently purchased the entire set in a very nice-looking collector’s edition (packaged inside of a drum, no less) and was eager to delve into all three films.

The first is the one we all know and love, with the young Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick) growing up and taking his rightful place as king of the Pridelands over his nasty uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons). Watching the movie on Blu-ray is like seeing it for the first time. The crisp image and bright colors are a wonder to behold, really showing the beauty of the artwork. The opening musical scene and the intense antelope chase took my breath away all over again. It’s almost no debate that this is one of the best that Disney has ever made, a highlight during the renaissance of the late eighties and early nineties. The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (1998) and The Lion King 1 ½ (2004) are two totally different beings, however. It’s no wonder that they are direct-to-video sequels, and the transfer to Blu-ray makes the change in quality even more apparent. I’m not going to say that the sequels are terrible films—in fact some kids may like them quite a bit—but the first one is vastly superior in almost every way.

Simba’s Pride takes place a few years after the events of the first film, with Simba’s daughter Kiara (Neve Campbell) trying to find a place of her own in the circle of life. Things get complicated when she develops a relationship with Kovu (Jason Marsden) a young lion whose pack has been banished from the Pridelands and who was handpicked by Scar to be his successor. While it is repeatedly said that Kovu is not related to Scar in any way, it’s tough for me to watch Kiara develop a romance with a lion that looks so damn much like her dead relative (scar included!) that it’s a step or two away from being inappropriate. The rest of the film is fairly predictable, with Kiara and Kovu trying to unite the two packs together as one. Cue the heavy music, add a touch over the top sentimentality, and you end up with a product that has a conclusion you already know without even seeing it.

The Lion King 1 ½ is a bit better than the first sequel, but not by very much. This time, the focus is on Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), the lovable meerkat and warthog that played the comic relief in the first entry. If The Lion King was a take on Hamlet, then this film is a take on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, as we relive the events of the first movie through the eyes of Timon and Pumbaa. I have to say, it felt a bit weird seeing the two of them playing a part in sequences they were not previously featured in. From the Circle of Life scene to the antelope chase, befriending Simba and ultimately helping win back the Pridelands, it felt as though the writers tried way too hard to force these two characters into places they didn’t really belong. It was fun seeing moments I’m so familiar with from a different angle, but that didn’t amount to very much as a movie all its own. Sure, Timon and Pumbaa are funny, but not enough to carry a feature-length story by themselves. While I love the Hakuna Matata song, I didn’t need to hear it again here. In the end, while being well-animated for a straight-to-video release, the film is mostly light fluffiness and not much else.

I would only recommend people getting The Lion King Trilogy if they are hardcore fans of the first film and want to see more of the characters they care about and some great behind the scenes bonus features. The following two sequels don’t compare much in quality to the first; but honestly, what else does?

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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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