You don't know the 1/2 of it!
There is no hiding my stance on Disney direct-to-DVD sequels. I have gone on record time and again to bemoan and berate the studio for selling out its properties to make a quick buck. It cheapens the work of the original artists and dilutes respect for the studio's splendid body of work. I was all ready to pull out my soapbox again for use in reviewing The Lion King 1 1/2 when it quickly became apparent that my assumptions and expectations were way off target. This is, hands down, the most brilliant sequel the studio has ever produced!
Facts of the Case
We've all spent time with family members who have regaled us with tales of their glorious and adventurous pasts. Welcome in Timon Crosby (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa Hope (Ernie Sabella) on "The Road to Pride Rock," as they share their own unique perspective on the events detailed in The Lion King and the role they played. It's the story behind the story. The one we were never meant to see—and for good reason. Until now, you never would have believed it!
For whatever reason, over the last several years, the Australians and New Zealanders have dominated Hollywood. Hey, as they say in Vegas, you stay with the hot hand, which is just what Disney has done. The Lion King 1 1/2 was produced by the Disney Toon Studios, headquartered in the land down under. Until now, most Disney animated sequels have been handled by the Television Animation Teams, giving them a cheap, Saturday morning, two-dimensional feel. Working off a similar canvas as the original film, 1.5 works diligently to duplicate the look, feel, depth, and breadth of its critically acclaimed predecessor—and does so quite well. More importantly, it tells a great story.
From their very own personal screening room, Timon and Pumbaa play Siskel & Ebert—well, it's actually more like Joel, Crow, and Tom—in telling the story of the role they played in Simba's adolescence. Yes, we all know how things turned out, but our dynamic duo weren't always in frame, and a heck of a lot was going on when we weren't looking!
In the tradition of Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby, and more recently Stiller and Wilson, Disney gives us the biggest screwball comedy this side of the Farrelly Brothers. The danger in reviewing a film such as this is giving away too much. Each setup and punchline is so well crafted and executed the last thing I want to do is spoil it for anyone. So let's just say, if Akira Kurosawa got his hands on The Lion King and pulled a Rashomon after a night of binge drinking with Larry David and Bruce Vilanch, you would wind up with The Lion King 1 1/2.
Even though we didn't see, these two goofballs were always around leaving their unique imprint on the lives of Simba, Mufasa, Scar, and the other inhabitants of the Pridelands in their quest to build a life together. We learn how they met, became friends, and ultimately took up residence in Hakuna Matata acres. Once they finally do come into frame, we see how our mismatched life partners played surrogate parents to an energetic lion cub. Let's put it this way…it wasn't always fun and games. Yet, in the end, they persevered and played a huge role in returning Simba to his rightful place as King of the Pridelands.
In addition to its self aware and irreverent humor, the story also exhibits a tremendous amount of heart. Beautifully touching, we see Timon, Pumbaa, and Simba as a model alternative family unit. Perhaps through this people may gain a new perspective on unconventional parenting, showing that families don't have to look like the Cleavers to be effective. But I digress. Without his extended family, including Timon's mom (Julie Kavner, The Simpsons) and Uncle Max (Jerry Stiller, The King of Queens), Simba could not have defeated Scar and returned balance to the pride.
Director Brad Raymond and writer Tom Rogers—who could very well be the love children of Blake Edwards and Mel Brooks—have crafted a mini-masterpiece in The Lion King 1 1/2. Nathan Lane is at the top of his game, fleshing out Timon as a neurotic, self-obsessed, psychotherapy candidate who, much like Dr. Seuss's Grinch, discovers the people in his life are more important than possessions and misguided ideals. Ernie Sabella capitalizes on taking Pumbaa to new heights as an idiot savant, channeling the Dalai Lama while struggling with horrific gastrointestinal distress. Now, while this is a true buddy picture, our duo could not be as dazzling as they are without their extraordinary supporting cast—Matthew Broderick (Simba), Robert Guillaume (Rafiki), Moira Kelly (Nala), Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Marin (Banzai), Jim Cummings (Ed), Julie Kavner (Ma), and Jerry Stiller (Uncle Max). This world-class team has done the Hollywood near-impossible and created a sequel so fresh and inventive that it serves as a perfect complement to the original.
Presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, this digital direct print is glorious. As clear as a spring fed lake, with colors as vibrant as a rainbow after a passing storm, and blacks as dark as a meerkat tunnel after sunset. No tampering or flaws can be found, although there was a minor layer translation delay spotted about halfway through the second act. Other than that, it doesn't get much better, which holds true for the sound as well. The 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 tracks are fantastic, with Disney beefing up the directional effects, as exhibited on many of their more recent releases. Heck, even the menus are done in 5.1! Gone are the days when the audio was as flat as imagery. Credit composer Don Harper with a rip roaring musical score, drawing inspiration from "All I Need," a new tune by Elton John and Tim Rice, and "Digga Tunna" by Marty Erskine and Seth Friedman, as well as a healthy dose of musical theatre and classic rock tracks. An impressive presentation all the way around.
As for the bonus features, not a bad package for a release of this caliber. Of course, it's nowhere near the volume of material found on a Platinum Edition release.
• Deleted Scenes (12 minutes)
• Ma's Hidden Mickey Hunt
• Find the Face
• Who Wants to be King of the Jungle?
• Before the Beginning (15 minutes)
• Timon: Behind the Legend (4 minutes)
• Music Video: Grazin' in the Grass (3 minutes)
• Virtual Safari 1.5
This is no marketing ploy or cheap knockoff. Loaded with irreverent humor, pop culture references, and asides to the audience, The Lion King 1 1/2 is an inspired take on an animated classic. At $29.99, this one gets a definite buy recommendation.
This court hereby orders newly appointed Disney Chairman George Mitchell and current CEO Michael Eisner to promote The Lion King 1 1/2 co-creators Brad Raymond and Tom Rogers as heads of a revitalized Disney Feature Animation Unit. If Mitchell or Eisner ever attempt to dismantle the Animation Division again, they will be fed to hungry Comcast executives. This court is adjourned!
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