review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 77 minutes
Starring The Voices Of: Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Julie Kavner, Jerry Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Robert Guillaume
Screenplay by: Tom Rogers
Directed by: Bradley Raymond
Retail Price: $29.99
Specs: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (16 Scenes), THX-Certified, Two-Disc Set
Released: February 10th, 2004
Staring in 1994, Disney developed a whole new ball game - the direct-to-video sequel. Outfitting their television animation studio to create a sequel to the 1992 smash hit "Aladdin," Disney found a cheaper way to deliver sequels (short ones, be that) and bring in boffo revenue. Even though "The Return Of Jafar" was pretty awful (or at least I think so), Disney tapped into a brilliant new strategy where theaters would be bypassed and so many would grow rich from unsuspecting families trusting the Disney brand and who wanted to see further adventures involving their favorite characters.
From 1994 on, Disney went nuts with these usually mediocre sequels. This means that all their films from the 1990s did get new chapters (and some earlier films as well). In addition to some TV series, did we really need more of Quasimodo, Tarzan, dalmatians, Pocahontas, Ariel and even poor old Cinderella? Of course not - hell, most of these direct-to-video sequels are dumb and ruin some credibility to the originals (I don't think Walt Disney himself really wanted sequels to his films). And some of these sequels are supposedly "good enough" to make it to the big screen - "Jungle Book 2" and "Return To Neverland" come to mind, as each made a fine chunk of change before debuting on video and DVD months later.
But in the fall of 1998, Disney unleashed one of their most successful titles: "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride." Of course it would sell billions, given that at the time "The Lion King" was the most popular animated feature. Reuniting the original cast and having new stars be a part of it, in some ways it was their most ambitious direct-to-video title yet. While I was pretty underwhelmed by the "Romeo and Juliet" redux, nobody cared and everybody had to own it and see it since it had "The Lion King" on the cover. And once again, Disney got to line its pockets. But where do you go from there? "The Lion King" is still very popular, and who knows what could happen next in the lives of Simba and company. Obviously there was still money to be made off the franchise, and in a wise move, Disney went in a different direction: backward.
"The Lion King 1 1/2" has an interesting premise. It actually begins before the original film and traces the origins of sidekick/meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane). who is an outsider and screw-up in his own colony. Wishing for something more, he leaves behind his mother (Julie Kavner) and stern Uncle Max (Jerry Stiller) to find a better life. Along the way, Timon meets a warthog named Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and a beautiful partnership is born. And then those two meet an exiled lion cub named Simba and... do I really need to tell you what happens from there?
Being labeled an "interquel," fans of the original film will find a lot of things to enjoy in this latest cash-in (which in some ways is being compared to the play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"). It's nice to see the origins of Timon and Pumbaa's friendship, as well as where that famous "no worries" catchphrase came from. But much of the movie, in a unique twist, has the duo recounting the original film through their perspective. While some die-hard fans out there probably won't like how it messes with "The Lion King" story arc just a little, it really is all in good fun.
This entry in the series meets its potential somewhat. Once the story taps into "Lion King" territory, it does lose a bit of steam which is surprising. I liked how the movie does intertwine with the original film and pokes fun at some of it, but I thought it could have been even funnier. Some of the scenes do seem like filler and the film makes an assumption everyone out there has seen the original (it's actually a pretty correct assumption). This movie itself also could have been longer and branched out - it does feel rather breezy, as a lot is bit glossed over (there could have been even more intertwining moments in the movie, and perhaps more original footage changed around for Timon and Pumbaa to tell from their memories). I liked how Timon and Pumbaa do stop the movie to make some comments (it's not as annoying as you'd believe), but the film really works best before the story of "The Lion King" starts. I wouldn't have had any reservations if the movie focused soley on that - it would have been nice to get some background on Pumbaa too. As far as the humor, most of you reading this are probably too mature for jokes involving flatuence. But there are quite a few zingers and entertaining situations that really happen to be the bulk of the humor (thankfully). Still, I think there could have been a lot more to the movie given it's entire premise. It's good, but could have really been something great.
The film is not really a musical either (a lot of Disney films in the past few years seem to have been toying around or straying away from the conventional showstopping formula). There are a few songs in the movie, but they remain rather brisk and aren't very memorable. All of the original songs from the first movie are heard to some extent (including a sing-along to Timon and Pumbaa's big hit - don't be shy, you probably already know all the words) but in all, the music isn't so integral to the film. The animation though in the film is outstanding and is certainly the best yet for a direct-to-video production. While it's not theatrical quality, I think it does come pretty close - especially when some scenes from "The Lion King" are put into this movie and then seamlessly, there's a scene from this movie. The animation has real depth, the colors are beautiful and it flows remarkbly well - I hope future direct-to-video titles do reach the animation benchmark that this one has set.
The voice acting is also top notch - which should be expected. Once again, Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane reprise their signature animated roles and still have great chemistry (which would make sense, given they've done so much other work together). Sabella is still jolly and Lane always hits good comic notes. New smaller roles are filled by Julie Kavner, probably best known as Marge Simpson. She's good, but at times she sounds a bit like her other cartoon alter-ego. Jerry Stiller, who's actually shared some animated time with Lane on the wonderful TV series "Teacher's Pet," is quite enjoyable and a good choice for Uncle Max. The rest of the cast are more or less voice cameos from the original movie reprising their roles: Whoopi Goldberg, Matthew Broderick, Cheech Marin, Robert Guillaume and a few others. It's nice that they have returned and they're all good to hear.
"The Lion King 1 1/2" is not traditional and allows itself to have fun, and that's what makes it good. It's not groundbreaking, but it's clever and entertaining enough for the young ones and the older ones watching it with them. While I am not still big on a lot of Disney's direct-to-video films, "The Lion King 1 1/2" lives up to its legacy in a very good fashion and does rank as one of the absolute best direct-to-video titles.
"The Lion King 1 1/2" has a THX-certified 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that simpy looks fantastic. Other than some some noise and a tiny bit of edge enhancment, everything is perfect. The lush animation - from the dry yellows of Timon's homeland to the lush green paradise he shares with Pumbaa - it all looks stunning with well saturated colors that please the eye and really pop out at you. Black levels are dead on, detail is perfect and the print is perfectly clean. This is a fabulous transfer that will really light up any home viewing screen (though I'm not sure how much the kiddies will care). It really ranks up there with Disney's usual high quality transfers for animated films.
Also getting prime treatment is the audio, as the DVD features English 5.1 tracks in Dolby Digital and DTS. Both are very strong, but like usual, I have to favor the DTS a little over the Dolby Digital since it sounds a bit more discrete and sounds a bit more powerful. Nonetheless, each track features terrific surrounds - the climax to the film comes in mind, but the tunnel digging, background noises in the jungle, Hyena snaps, animal thuds and more all sound terrific The music also sounds quite robust through the channels and bursts with a lot of life, while the dialogue is always clean and is always easily heard. Despite a fury of sound, each element is never overtaken by the other. While you've probably heard a lot more powerful tracks, and none of these compare to Disney's home theater mix for the original "Lion King," each of these work quite well with the movie and give it the life it deserves. Also included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in French, English closed captions and subtitles in English and Spanish.
Spread over two-discs, there are some fun extras here but perhaps not as much as you'd think. On the first disc there is a Hidden Mickey Hunt. It's known that Disney animators sneak in Mickey symbols throughout their films, and this interquel is no exception. There are twenty to find, and with this option turned on, it helps you find them when they appear or are close to appearing and makes it a game. Can you find them all? Good luck...
There are also seven Deleted Scenes that are introduced by producer George Mendoza and director Bradley Raymond. Two are different opening concepts and the rest are deleted material, all told in story reels with scratch tracks (Mendoza and Raymond give a good speech on this process). There are some interesting ideas here, but for obvious reasons, things didn't make the final cut (such as the idea of Timon having a Dad). They're interesting to show how the story formed and developed and what was left out, and are worth a watch. They total about twelve minutes. Also on the first disc are a ton of Sneak Peeks and an option to register your DVD via DVD-ROM.
Everything else is on the second disc. The four minute Timon: Behind The Legend is an amusing little piece hosted by "Biography" host Peter Graves. Using recycled animation and stills (but at least original dialogue from the voice cast), this is a pretty funny mockumentary that traces even more of Timon's roots. There's also the three minute and ten second Grazin' In The Grass Music Video Performed by Raven. It's a bit odd... and it's probably great to be a star on The Disney Channel since they hire you to sing songs for their products. Cross-promotion kids - gotta love it!
Before The Beginning: The Making Of The Lion King 1 1/2 is a fifteen minute featurette (the title is self-explanatory). With interviews with the filmmakers, animators and voice cast, this is actually a pretty light making-of piece and it's a good approach given the nature of the film (the start of the featurette even does a parody of the film itself). With behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the movie, all those interviewed are quite enthusiastic. The voice work, animation and story are covered throughout. It's the best feature on the disc, and too bad it wasn't longer (or that there wasn't any commentary from those featured here).
Continuing where the first "Lion King" DVD left off, there's Timon and Pumbaa's Virtual Safari 1.5. A virtual ride of sorts, the original voice cast also comes back here to lend their voices as you join Timon, his mother, Uncle Max and Pumbaa through their wacky theme park creation of sorts. With branching paths you can go through it a few times, and it can actually be pretty amusing. Find The Face is a game based on the end of the movie, where a bunch of Disney characters show up. You can only see their sillhouttes, and in the game you have to figure out who they are.
Finally, there's another game - Who Wants To Be King Of The Jungle. Hosted by The View co-host and host of the syndicated version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," the game plays like the famous game show she hosts. There are ten questions to answer based on the "Lion King" movies that get harder and harder. This is a standard interactive quiz, but what makes it a cut above the usual ones on DVD is that you have lifelines and that Ms. Viera reads the questions and reacts to your answers. Fun stuff - and even if you haven't seen any of the movies, you can probably answer all of them.
"The Lion King 1 1/2" is an amusing direct-to-video sequel (err, "interquel") and ranks as one of the Mouse House's better productions that skipped the theaters on purpose. The DVD presentation is great; the sound Dolby Digital and DTS sound mixes are energetic and the transfer is nearly flawless. The supplements are a bit slim, especially for a two-disc set, but are good enough for this release. If you have kids or have intentions of owning a stock of Disney films on DVD, then you'll find it pretty impossible to avoid this one.