THE LION KING 2: SIMBA’S PRIDE – Blu-ray review

“The Lion King” (1994) had some pretty intense, Bambi’s-mother-got-shot moments that made an otherwise wonderful animated film a bit iffy for smaller children. Not only was one of the character’s parents killed off, but the little point-of-view fellow was made to believe that he was responsible for the death. What a burden for Simba to bear, and what a load for young viewers to shoulder by association.

With the 1998 direct-to-video sequel, “The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride,” Disney ramped up the cuteness and toned down the traumatic moments just a little, making it “The Lion King” for younger audiences.

If the first film bore a resemblance to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” this one features similarities to “Romeo and Juliet.” The animation style falls somewhere between the original film and Disney television, with mouths that don’t have quite the same level of movement and colors that are less rich-looking.

As if to take their cue from the “Circle of Life” song and theme that dominated the successful original film—which subsequently was turned into a Broadway play—the team of screenwriters opted to go with a script that reuses quite a few plot points and elements from  “The Lion King,” except that it involves a new generation of young cubs and conflicted rulers.

Instead of “The Circle of Life” opening we get a very similar “He Lives in You” song. Then, just as lion cubs Simba and Nala went into forbidden territory and had a narrow escape with hyenas, Simba’s daughter, Kiara (Neve Campbell) ventures into the Outlands, where she meets up with an Outlander cub named Kovu (James Marsden). It’s rhinos and crocodiles that these two escape, but it results in the same father-child talk about responsibility, relieved by the same playfulness afterwards.

This time around the sibling rivalry isn’t between (now-deceased) Scar and Mufasa—it’s a toned-down rivalry between Kovu and a flea-bitten genetic drift version of Scar (Andy Dick as Nuka). Disney’s screenwriters tell us they’re not the sons of Scar, but because their mom, the evil Zira (Suzanne Pleshette), talks of Kovu taking his rightful place as Scar’s heir—and let’s face it, a pride usually consists of one dominant male and a number of female lions—it stands to reason they’re Scar’s offspring. But hey, this one is for the kids, and there’ll be no cousins falling in love with each other! Disney also tries to tap into the power of their Princess franchises with this one, referring to Kiara as “Princess” in the early going, which features an awful lot of giggling. Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) also return for more comedy bits and a familiar argument over which grubs are the tastiest.

Just as Scar had a musical number that allowed him to voice his evil intentions, so does Zira in this sequel. Animals die in this film too, but not any of the “good guys.”

So what happens when you combine familiar scenes from “The Lion King” and lay them onto a “Romeo and Juliet” template, in which a young lion from Pride Rock falls in love with a young lion from the banished Outlanders? You get a film that would actually be quite good, if it wasn’t so derivative of the first film . . . right down to the moment where one lion clings to a cliff above danger below, while another has the choice of saving the lion or letting it die.

Simply put, we’ve seen it all before. As Movie Met’s John J. Puccio said in his DVD review, it’s “a rather tame pant next to the roar of its illustrious progenitor.”

The DVD looked pretty good, but the Blu-ray kicks it up a notch with a sparkling AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc. Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, “Lion King 2” is nearly flawless in high definition. Some of the scenes look a little soft to my eyes, but that’s the only complaint that I have.

The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that also does the job, with additional audio options in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The sound is nicely mixed, with the loud portions not too loud and the soft dialogue not so soft that you have to toggle back and forth. Effects are scattered nicely and naturally across the rear speakers.

This two-disc combo pack comes with a DVD of the film and five bonus features on the Blu-ray and one (duplicate) on the DVD. On the Blu-ray there’s a new half-animated, half-nature anthology “Timon & Pumbaa’s Insectapedia,” which shows things like dung beetles (without explaining that “dung” is “poop”). But little nature-lovers ought to like it. The feature also appears on the DVD. Also on the Blu-ray is “Timon & Pumbaa: Find Out Why,” which is a more general answers to questions. Then there’s “One by One,” a G-rated animated short with music from Lebo M and two choirs, a “Love Will Find a Way” music video, and a more conventional “Proud of Simba’s Pride” promo-style feature that runs six minutes.

Bottom line:
“The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride,” which includes many of the voices from the original film, has a kinder, gentler message. But because of multiple similarities to “The Lion King,” it will appeal mostly to children.