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The Lion King was a monumental film, one of Disney’s only “original” feature stories and a fine addition to anyone’s collection. Sadly, in this market of half-baked sequels, Disney is a constant offender. It turns out, though, The Lion King 1 ½ is worth your money, though only the price you would pay to rent it.

Lion King 1 1/2, The

As far as Disney sequels go, The Lion King 1 ½ is definitely above average. It works as often as it does (which is still only about equal to as much as it doesn’t work) mainly due to its simple premise. In true Mystery Science Theater 3000 fashion, we see Timon (voice by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa rewind the tale of The Lion King to a point before the familiar story. What begins is the tale of Timon, a troubled meerkat.  Timon is somewhat of an outcast, the member of the colony who can never seem to do anything right. The only two allies he has in the troupe are his mother (Julie Kavner, The Simpsons) and his Uncle Max (Jerry Stiller, Seinfeld).  Concerned with safety and a need to hide from the vicious hyenas, the meerkats must constantly dig and hide in order to survive. Timon, however, dreams of a world beyond the fear. After a cataclysmic mistake during lookout duty, Timon decides to leave his past behind and journey to find a new home.

As Timon sets out, he meets up with the existential primate Rafiki. In one of the truly funny scenes, Rafiki tells Timon to “Look beyond what you can see”. Unfortunately, Timon (not too bright) takes things a bit too literally and begins actually looking for things that are farther away than what he can see. This scene also provides the origins of Hakuna Matata; it is what Timon is searching for and must find to finally be satisfied. It is on this quest he meets the gaseous Pumbaa and a friendship is born.

Timon and Pumbaa search for their Hakuna Matata and it is on this journey that the movie works best. Their story is intertwined with the original The Lion King tale and some of the results are hilarious. Familiar sequences from the original classic are used from a different perspective and it is learned that Timon and Pumbaa were actually there all the time, doing more than we had ever given them credit for. In fact, Timon and Pumbaa seem to be the heroes of the story, a fact never touched upon in the original.

Lion King 1 1/2, The

When The Lion King 1 ½ works, it is quite funny. Interjected with the MST3K type commentary and full of familiar scenes with new elements, there are parts of the story that are very clever. However, in a film that runs less than an hour and twenty minutes, you would expect little downtime. Unfortunately, the story is thin and when the quick comedy sketches pass, too much time is spent waiting for the humor to shine again.

The animation, for the most part, is slightly better than most Disney sequels. It is a mixture of traditional animation and computer generated elements. There is not the attention to detail and much fewer awe-inspiring sequences than in some of Disney’s greater efforts of the past. The original cast is all here and they slip back into their characters with ease. The new characters are played well, though without much range (Timon’s mom is a slightly less raspy Marge Simpson). The new musical numbers benefited greatly from the return of Elton John and Tim Rice and were actually quite fun.

I hold little hope that Disney will be able to recreate the magic of some of its most brilliant classics. The Lion King is not only a outstanding animated kid’s film, but one of the best movies ever made. Sequels seem to be inevitable these days with the studio and most of them are abysmal. The Lion King 1 ½ is not a horrible movie.  In fact, it is quite fun to watch once. Kids will enjoy the constant low-brow humor and there is enough “wink wink” jokes for the adults that this is a fine family rental.  

Lion King 1 1/2, The

The 1.66 anamorphic widescreen presentation of The Lion King 1 1/2 is excellent. While there isn’t much detail in the animation, a rich and striking color palette is present throughout. Fortunately, this presentation keeps every color well saturated allowing the viewer a crisp, clean view at the lives of Timon and Pumbaa. There were no noticeable signs of edge enhancement and only a slight hint of some compression artifacts. This is quite an excellent transfer.

There is both a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track and a DTS track to choose from. The film, however, makes little use of the surround technology as there is little action and ambient sound is not used to full potential. In the few scenes of action and music, however, a quick comparison showed only a minimal (probably not discernable to the average viewer) advantage to the DTS track with effects coming in slightly richer and with deeper range. Dialogue remained clear throughout the entire picture.

Lion King 1 1/2, The

The extras are spread across the 2 disc set. On the first disc you will find a collection of seven deleted scenes. These scenes are introduced by the director and producer of the film. Many of the scenes were cut, it seems, to keep the film from confusing the younger audience with slightly more intricate humor setups. It’s too bad, though, as some of the scenes provide some more entertainment for mom and dad and still should appeal to children. An extra created only for kids is the “Mickey Hunt” that has children searching for Mickey ears hidden in the film. Rounding the first disc are sneak peaks at other Disney films available, a THX optimizer and a preview of disc 2 (seriously).

The first part of the second disc is the “Featurettes” section.  The first is “Timon: Behind the Legend”, hosted by Peter Graves (“Biography”) and is a mildly amusing piece about the history of the less than legendary Timon. Next is “Before the Beginning: The Making of Lion King 1 ½”, a sneak peak behind the scenes complete with clips with the actors, director and animators. Like other extras, this one is short on information and tries for laughs. Unfortunately, not much light is shed upon the process of creating the film. Finally is Raven’s music video “Grazing in the Grass”.

The second section on the second disc is “Games and Activities”. First is “Timon and Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari 1.5”. Like the original feature on the release of The Lion King, this is an attempt to bring a Disney ride to the home. Even presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with some good effects, this version is a thin shell of the original (and quite fun) feature on the original film’s disc. You can again choose the route of the ride and every now and then Timon and Pumbaa will have something quite funny to say. We’ve seen this before, though, in better form. Next is “Who Wants to be King of the Jungle?” and I probably don’t have to tell you that it’s a take on “Who Wants to be a Millionare?”. Complete with syndicated host Meredith Vieira, this entertaining game comes complete with all the sounds and lighting effects of the TV show with questions covering all three Lion King films. It’s actually a tough game, though, and it requires the player to have seen all three films. Lastly is the “Find the Face” game that asks kids to identify Disney characters by silhouette clues.

My final thoughts on the extras lead me to think that this should have really just been a bare bones release (although as a DVD lover it pains me to say it). The film itself has low replay value and there is little to no value added by the extras package included here. Set top games can provide entertainment for a short while, but really no information about the films creation is provided in any form worthwhile.

Lion King 1 1/2, The

While not the atrocity that was, say, Aladdin’s first sequel, The Lion King 1 ½ is far from an instant must-buy. The film is a good family evening movie, but one that you can do with renting. While the video and audio presentations are both great and functional respectively, there’s nothing in the supplemental package that really warrants a purchase. Kids, however, may be dazzled by the bright colors and low-brow humor.