Judge David Packard wounds Simba's pride with this irreverent foray into Disney's direct-to-DVD sequel.
Kiara: "My father said there was a darkness in Scar that he couldn't
Disney's direct-to-video sequel to one of its biggest pre-Pixar smashes finally comes to our favorite format on a full-blown 2-disc Special Edition. Although the story feels like little more than a rehash of the original hit and the songs aren't as memorable or enjoyable, the return of most of the original voice cast, a beautiful presentation, and a ton of extras make The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride a worthy addition to your DVD library.
Facts of the Case
With Scar decomposing somewhere in the Circle of Life and the rest of his minions banished to the Outlands, the Pride Lands are once again a place of peace and scrumptious antelope. King Simba and wife Nala have knocked paws (Disney animators have once again spared us the details) and now have a daughter named Kiara. Just like her old man when he was a cub, Kiara is anxious and eager to prove herself. Simba, apparently reeling from the trauma of the first flick, is now a paranoid, overbearing dad who insists she not venture into the distant Outlands and assigns Timon and Pumbaa as the bumbling babysitters. Rafiki, the mystical, maniacal monkey (technically a mandrill, but to my kid, he's just a monkey), returns to hoist cubs over Pride Rock like Michael Jackson on a hotel balcony, engage in one-way conversations with the dead, and extrapolate love from a broken coconut. Zazu mostly flies around and panics.
After ditching Timon and Pumbaa on her quest for adventure, Kiara meets Kovu, a young lion whose physical appearance strongly suggests that Scar had his own Mini Me. The budding friendship and inevitable romance is quashed by Simba as we learn that Kovu is a member of the pride of Scar followers banished to the Outlands. The leader of said banished pride is Zira, Kovu's mother and Scar groupie harboring intense hatred for Simba. As the years pass, Zira blows all chances at winning Mother of the Year by brainwashing the growing Kovu into a lion with a Terminator-like primary mission to kill Simba and become the new king, Kiara misses her mane man, and somewhere during all of this, Disney probably releases a few more straight-to-video sequels to their other classic films.
Kovu finally gets into Daddy's good graces by "saving" Kiara from a burning ring of fire, but he buckles at a chance to off Simba thanks to his growing love for Kiara and the rest of the Pride Lands posse. Eventually, Kovu is booted back to the Outland, but his love for Kiara will not be denied. Tensions build and boil over into a Braveheart-like clash between the two prides until Kovu and Kiara step between the feuding felines with the inevitable Message. You'll have to watch the rest of the movie to find out if Zira's heart grows three sizes that day or she decides to rip Simba a new one all by her lonesome.
One of my favorite aspects of the original film was the voice talent; I felt the actors involved did a spectacular job at bringing their own unique vocal qualities and quirks to the characters, making for a lively mix of characters. Lucky for us, then, that Disney brought the vast majority of the original cast on board for this sequel. Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, and Robert Guillaume all return to lend their pipes to Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, and Rafiki, respectively. Even James Earl Jones returns to utter a few lines for the deceased Mufasa. The lone holdout appears to be Rowan Atkinson, which may explain why the flighty Zazu gets little screen time here. Neve Campbell, as the adult Kiara, more than holds her own in yet another role playing a wild thing, and Suzanne Pleshette (Zira) seems to relish her role as the outcast cat obsessed with revenge. I found myself missing the crazy edginess and humor of the hyenas (wonderfully voiced by Whoopie Goldberg and Cheech Marin) in the previous film, but I guess the dead stay dead in the Pride Lands; you'll find no zombie hyenas terrorizing the Pride Lands here.
The video is crisp and bursting with color with nary a scratch or other debris in sight. Aside from a few scenes (namely the other animals who dance around as Rafiki sings of budding love between Kovu and Kiara), the quality and effort put into the artwork and animation is worthy of a traditional theatrical release. Although a straight-to-video title, The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride has been given the THX treatment, and the result is outstanding. DTS aficionados get some love with a 5.1 mix that, while a bit light on bass, fills the room with the sounds of the Pride Lands. Flocks of birds taking flight, logs falling dangerously down the side of a cliff face, and Rafiki's disembodied voice all take advantage of the rear speakers and do a great job at enveloping the viewer in the environments. Of course, a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is here for your listening pleasure as well. I only wish a special home theater mix like the one created for the original film's DVD release was included here; sorry, Disney, but you really spoiled me with that one. Hearing impaired viewers will appreciate closed captioning (English only).
If you're into extras, the two discs should keep you busy for a while. Aside from the feature film, Disc One contains the following extras:
• "THX Optimizer"
• "Sneak Peeks"
• "Music and More: Disney's Song Selection"
• "Backstage Disney: Lion King's Matter-of-Facts"
Disc Two contains the following extras:
• "Music and More: 'Love Will Find a Way' Music
• "Timon & Pumbaa's Virtual Safari 2.0"
• "Pride Land Games"
• "Rafiki's Challenge"
• "Backstage Disney: Find Out Why"
• "Backstage Disney: Lots About Lions"
• "Backstage Disney: Proud of Simba's Pride"
• "Original Short: One By One"
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let's start with the story: it's a bit weak. In fact, much of it feels like a rehash of the original film. The opening of the film almost mirrors the original, with the obvious exception that the baby cub is a girl this time around. Once again, we have a young cub ready for adventure that inadvertently wanders beyond the Pride Lands and into forbidden territory. Papa lion admonishes his child. Time passes suddenly in that special Disney way so that the cubs can age to the point where the inevitable love they share is not so creepy.
I realize that Disney probably didn't want to stray too far from what made the first film such a hit, and let's face it—kids probably won't notice or care anyway. It's a minor gripe, but I think a fresher story could have made this film feel like a tale needing to be told versus feeling more like an attempt to simply cash in on the Lion King name.
The musical numbers we get in the sequel don't come close to the rollicking fun of those in the original. Tim Rice and Elton John penned many of the first film's hits, and their absence is painfully obvious. What's here isn't necessarily bad: The African-inspired songs fit well within the Lion King universe, but they don't match the emotion of "Circle of Life" or "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" or the toe-tapping, hum-along fun of "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" or "Hakuna Matata."
This flick might have skipped the theatrical circuit, but any fan of Disney animation or parents with little ones who enjoyed the first film would do well to pick up this release. The story may be thin and the musical numbers forgettable, but overall, The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride will win you over with its great cast, beautiful presentation and polish, and plenty of extras.
The court finds The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride not guilty. However, the court does urge the Disney empire to exercise caution with future direct-to-video sequel efforts: There's a fine line between creating another film simply because you can rather than because you should. Future films in the series that feature zombie hyenas, however, are exempt from this admonition. Court dismissed.
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