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THE LION KING 1 1/2

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Julie Kavner, Jerry Stiller, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, Robert Guilliame, Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly
Director: 
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  77 Minutes
Release Date:  February 10, 2004

“Look beyond what you see…”

Film *1/2 (what else?)

Perhaps Rafiki (Guilliame) really meant his above quoted advice for we, the viewing audience.  If we don’t look beyond what we see in The Lion King 1 ½, all we’re going to see is a rather poor and substandard attempt at cashing in on a big name film.

While Pixar has been looking toward the future, handling Disney’s most creative and adventurous projects of recent years, Disney itself has been delving more and more into the past.  Let’s see, there have been sequels to Peter Pan, Cinderella, Lilo & Stitch, The Jungle Book…and of course, one already for The Lion King.  It makes you wonder if the old think tank at Disney is starting to run about a quart low.

This film tells the story of Timon (Lane) and Pumbaa (Sabella) from before the beginning of the original picture.  At least, that’s the timeline.  There’s no real story here; merely a demonstration of how the accident prone meerkat and the flatulent lonely warthog got together.  The running gag is the way the film demonstrates that the comedy sidekicks were actually there for most of the big scenes of The Lion King, but of course, we never knew that.  Some may find it amusing.  Others may suspect a lack of fresh ideas.

We’re supposed to accept, for example, that the reason the animals start bowing to young Simba is because of Pumbaa’s gas, or that they were lurking around during the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” number and started the collapse of the animal pyramid, or there in the elephant graveyard, or just managing to escape the wildebeest stampede (even though Simba and his father couldn’t), or best of all, believing they had their own side adventure happening when Simba finally battles Scar for the throne.

As far as originality, the only amusing parts are watching Timon and Pumbaa become sort of “parents” to young Simba as he grows up (since the first film did kind of rush through all that).  I didn’t catch the name of the kid who played young Simba, but the similarity in tone to Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ original performance is uncanny.  As an adult, of course, Matthew Broderick reprised his role.

The best aspect of the film is the return of so many of the original stars, which meant that Disney did spend a little money for this production.  In addition to those mentioned, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings return as the hyenas, as well as Moira Kelly as Nala.  Add two new veteran comedy stars in Julie Kavner (as Timon’s mom) and Jerry Stiller (as his uncle), and you’ve got some good voice casting.  They simply weren’t given worthy material.

There are songs here, but no memorable ones.  Bits of “Circle of Life” are repeated so many times that I started growing tired of a song I once loved.  Despite the comedy potential of Timon and Pumbaa, the laughs are in short supply (the best gag involves them and Simba relaxing in a bubbling hot spring).  For a direct to video release, the animation is pretty good, but you can tell the goal was never to completely reproduce the magic of the first film.

The problem is an old and common one:  when you continue to tack on one substandard sequel after another, you begin to diminish the power of the original.  Being that The Lion King is the most successful (traditionally) animated film of all time, I guess the folks at Disney see more opportunity for quick cash than for preserving a proud legacy.  That’s a shame…the great characters in The Lion King deserved better.  So did we, the paying audience.

Video ***1/2

This film looks quite good on DVD…I like the fact that Disney opted for an anamorphic widescreen presentation for a video-only release.  The color palates of their vision of Africa remain bright, vivid and expressive.  Tones are rich and well contained throughout.  I noticed no bleeding or compression interference.  It doesn’t quite have the punch of the original, which was a spectacular looking DVD, but still plenty good.

Audio ***

A DTS mix for a direct-to-video release?  I’m impressed.  The action in this film again doesn’t live up to the original, so the demands on your sound system are a little less, but there’s still plenty of dynamic range, a few good uses of the surround speakers, clear dialogue and good sounding music to make this a pleasant listening experience.

Features ***

This double disc set is mostly filled with features for the kids, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy them.  Disc One has a “Mickey Mouse Hunt” game, which pops Mickeys on the screen while you watch the movie…I didn’t do it for very long, so I may have missed the point of it.  There are also 7 deleted scenes and a preview for the second disc.

That disc features a new version of Timon and Pumbaa’s virtual safari (those are kind of cool), plus a Raven music video, two more interactive games, and a “Behind the Legend” look at Timon.  Grownups might enjoy the making-of featurette.

Summary:

Is somebody getting Julie Taymor on the phone for the next Broadway production?  I doubt it.  The Lion King 1 ½ serves no real purpose other than to turn over some fast cash for the Disney studios.  In that, I’m sure they will succeed, but they’ve done fans of the original movie no favors here.