LION KING 2: SIMBA’S PRIDE – DVD review

“The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride” is the 1998, direct-to-video sequel to Disney’s enormously successful “Lion King” of 1994. It was followed more recently by the stage musical of “The Lion King” and yet another direct-to-video, “The Lion King 1 1/2,” so Disney is capitalizing on this lion-sized moneymaker for everything it’s worth.

Besides which, the release under review is the second instance of “LK 2” to appear on DVD, this time in a two-disc, special-edition set, presumably meant to complement the two-disc editions of the “LK” and “LK 1 1/2.” They’re supposed to make a nice trilogy. To assuage the minds of those folks who haven’t seen “The Lion King 2,” I can assure you it’s neither as good as the original “Lion King” nor as bad as “The Lion King 1 1/2.”

At least “The Lion King 2” makes a genuine attempt to follow up on the story begun with its predecessor and not make a completely juvenile, song-and-dance circus of the “Lion King” name as “LK 1 1/2” did. Unfortunately, that’s not saying a lot, because “The Lion King 2” is a rather tame pant next to the roar of its illustrious progenitor.

If you recall, when we left the story Simba’s father had died, as had Simba’s rival, Scar, and Simba was the new head of the pride, or group of lions. As we take up our tale, we learn that Simba (again voiced by Matthew Broderick) and Nala (Moira Kelly) now have a daughter, Kiara (voiced as a child by Michelle Horn and as an adult by Neve Campbell), who is exploring her new world and questioning her parents’ authority. Meanwhile, Scar’s old mate, Zira (Suzanne Pleshette), and her brood, an evil lot, have been exiled to the outer lands. But Zira is plotting a triumphal return to take over the Pride Lands from Simba. She is grooming Scar’s adopted son, Kovu (voiced as a youngster by Ryan O’Donahue and as an adult by Jason Marsden), to kill Simba and become the new leader of the lion community.

So, we’ve got rival families who have been taught to hate each other, with a young son and a young daughter in each family. How long do you think it is before Kiara and Kovu meet? And what do you think happens when they do meet? Or haven’t you read “Romeo and Juliet”?

The usual cast of characters from the first movie turn up to lend their distinctive personalities to the proceedings, and as expected they steal the show. Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane) is back, as is his best friend, Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella), to handle the comic relief. At least they’re not the whole show as they would become in “LK 1 1/2.” Zazu, the snooty bird (Edward Hibbert and Paul van Gorcum replacing Rowan Atkinson), returns; Rafiki, the wise and prophetic monkey (Robert Guillaume), continues to try and counsel the clan; and in flashback Mufasa, Simba’s father (James Earl Jones), is heard. New to the story is Nuka, Zira’s obsequious son (Andy Dick), and several others.

The trouble with all this is that lions aren’t inherently very interesting creatures. I mean, they all look and act pretty much alike, so it’s a challenge for Disney to give a few of them clear-cut identities. In the case of Simba and Kovu, they are made physically different by their having different color manes. But I had a hard time telling the lion cubs apart and even distinguishing among the adult female lions. The Disney artists and writers attempt to personify each character, making the cubs act like typical human children, for instance, but in most cases I found the cubs cloyingly cutesy and oversweet.

The story line and characters are predictable, and the ending is so hopelessly exaggerated and sentimentally mawkish that only very young children may appreciate it. Which leaves the music and the animation for adult enjoyment. Unfortunately, the music is almost entirely forgettable. The opening song, “He Lives in You,” is downright boring. The next number, “We Are One,” is bland. The third song, “My Lullaby,” at least has the distinction of being ironic and mean-spirited, which is a nice change of pace. The fourth tune, the upbeat, Jamaican-inflected “Upendi,” sung by Rafiki as he takes the youngsters on a lively song trip, is the only segment of the movie with any real spirit. It’s as if the whole film were fashioned around it. The fifth song, “One of Us,” is a downer; and the final song, “Love Will Find a Way,” comes as no surprise.

The animation is good, of course; this is, after all, a Disney cartoon. Background landscapes have that gentle, pastel watercolor effect that renders them so beautifully lifelike; but background animals seem perfectly static, unchanging, as though painted on a board, and close-ups of the main characters are exceptionally simple, showing very little nuance or detail and few facial features.

“The Lion King 2” will undoubtedly be attractive to kids. Disney has always been big on cute and cuddly animals, and here the studio has a whole jungle (or plain) full of them to play with. The story itself, though, is not so cute or cuddly, and, in fact, is quite slow moving, high minded, and pretentiously moralistic. The Wife-O-Meter left halfway through. I figure a 5/10 is fair. The movie is not the shameful rip-off of “The Lion King” that “LK 1/2” was, but its execution is dull. Maybe there’s a reason Disney released it directly to video and not to theaters. You think?

Video:
As with practically every Disney cartoon released to DVD, the picture quality is excellent, especially as mastered to THX standards. The screen measures a 1.74:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio across my television, and the image is as free of grain as anything I’ve seen. The image is a bit on the soft side, however, not as crisp as some of Disney’s other animation, and the colors, especially backdrops, are slightly subdued and delicate. The result is a picture quality not quite as vivid as one might expect from a cartoon but realistic for animation and most pleasant to look at.

Audio:
The sound comes to us via Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1, but it does not deliver as impressive sonics as its predecessor, “The Lion King.” In DD 5.1 “The Lion King 2” is not as wide or as open sounding as “LK1” throughout the five channels and not as spectacular in the surrounds. The front-channel stereo spread is fine, though, and when a few noises do make their way to the rear–voices, forest murmurs, thunder, musical ambiance–they effectively enhance the realism. I also noted a degree of roll-off at the high end of the frequency spectrum; whether it is intentional or not, I don’t know.

Extras:
Disc one contains the widescreen presentation of the film; the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks; and English, French, and Spanish spoken languages, with English captions for the hearing impaired. In addition, it has two special extras: A “Lion King Matter-of-Facts” feature puts little snippets of information on the screen as the movie progresses; and “Disney’s Song Selection” allows you to jump to any of the movie’s tunes and sing along with posted lyrics. The disc concludes with some Sneak Peeks at other Disney releases, a THX Optimizer set of audiovisual calibration tests, and twenty scene selections.

Disc two contains the bulk of the extras. Here you will find eight items of interest: (1) An all-new, five-minute, animated short, “One By One,” is at least as interesting as the main feature. It’s a music-video cartoon with music composed, arranged, produced, and sung by Lebo M and several children’s and adult choirs. (2) “Find Out Why” shorts are questions answered by Timon and Pumbaa, who, in fact, do most of the narration on all of these extras. (3) “Lots About Lions” is a two-minute informational short subject on lions. (4) “Proud of Simba’s Pride” is the closest thing to a making-of documentary we get; it’s a six-minute behind-the-scenes promo with many of the filmmakers. (5) “Timon & Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari 2.0” is an adventure journey where the player chooses the directions to take. (6) “Rafiki’s Challenge” is the old shell game, which you get to play with Rafiki the monkey. (7) “Pride Land” games ask you to play with arithmetic and such. And (8), there’s a music video, “Love Will Find a Way,” performed by Heather Headley and Kenny Lattimore.

The two DVDs are packaged in a plastic, slim-line box housed in a colorful slipcase. A paper insert lists chapters as well as extras on both discs.

Parting Shots:
Parents of very young children might want to consider “The Lion King 2” as a worthy follow-up to the more-popular “Lion King” DVD set. However, adults who liked “The Lion King” but have no children may be disappointed with this tepid sequel. The story line and characters are overly familiar, the songs are forgettable, the animation is so-so, and the pacing is lethargic. I can’t blame the Wife-O-Meter for leaving early.

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