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|Kevin Krock, editor|
My first introduction to this movie was a few months ago when the first teaser trailers began to appear on Disney's DVDs. At the time, I thought the concept sounded cute and had potential, but I was still not sure that I could enjoy an entire movie supported by the two loud-mouthed but funny buddies from the The Lion King, Timon and Pumbaa. My concern about the potentially crude direction the movie would take was only made worse by the string of promotional items that arrived in my mailbox over the past several weeks: a box of Gas-X, a whoopee cushion, and a can of gummy worms.
The gummy worms were very tasty, but my impression of the overall theme of the movie and source of humor was solidifying. However, I figured that I would still give it a fair shake when it arrived, as I normally do for all the DVDs I get. It turns out that my expectations were gratefully unwarranted. Sure, there are the occasional sophomoric jokes revolving around Pumbaa's gastrointestinal fragility, but they do not drive the humor of the movie. The movie develops most of its true humor from the interplay between the familiar plot of The Lion King and the odd parallel story of what Timon and Pumbaa were doing in their search for Hakuna Matata.
The story opens with Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) watching The Lion King a la Mystery Science Theater 3000 (in silhouette), a visual device periodically used throughout the movie, and they decide to tell their side of the story.
We are initially introduced to Timon's mother (The Simpsons' Julie Kavner) and his crotchety Uncle Max (voiced by Jerry Stiller of TV's King of Queens and Seinfeld), and we learn why Timon left his colony and struck out on his own. It turns out that Timon was a lot like Flik the ant in A Bug's Lifehe was causing havoc among the other meerkats, like collapsing tunnels and allowing hyenas to invade the colony, and heading off by himself on a journey where no other meerkat had dared to go before. Sound familiar? I thought so, too. You will also notice a number of other reminiscent sights and sounds, like menu music and camera moves seemingly lifted right out of The Emperor's New Groove.
After Timon joins up with Pumbaa in an effort to keep himself from being eaten, the duo strike out towards the big pointy rock (Pride Rock) in search of a better life. From this point on, the movie becomes less of a cohesive story than a series of vignettes that simply relay the humorous things that the pair were doing at the same time particular scenes from The Lion King were happening. For example, Timon and Pumba try to get some sleep in a burrow near Pride Rock when the muffled singing of I Just Can't Wait To Be King wakes them up. In an effort to quiet the noise down, Timon accidentally causes the animals to fall into the pile at the end of the song. It is a pretty funny scene, and there are others like it that continue through Simba's growth into a young lion.
While the movie maintains a pretty good and humorous pace throughout its first two-thirds, it suddenly grinds to a near-jalt right around the time Simba meets Nala. The problem seems to be that most of the movie is a relatively fast-paced and humorous series of scenes with little plot, but then the movie abruptly jumps into a key emotional plot point in The Lion King story and gets oddly serious.
Eventually, after Simba leaves to challenge Scar, the movie picks up the pace again and finishes off in the same fun fashion it starts with.
Besides the shortcoming of a weak plot, the movie provides a good number of chuckles and laughs for both parents and children, and it looks and sounds pretty darn good for a direct-to-video title. On top of the relatively solid animation, all the original voice talent returned, which definitely helps to maintain the continuity of the parallel story concept.
Overall, the movie turned out better than I had expected, but like most Disney direct-to-video titles, do not expect the same level of artistry or quality as the original, theatrical release.
I was rather surprised that this direct-to-video release was a two-disc set, and the initial press information made it sound like the discs were packed full of material. After surprisingly quickly working my way through the set, it should probably be considered a one-and-a-half disc set.
Disc One contains the movie and a set of seven deleted scenes. The deleted scenes amount to about seven extra minutes of bonus material, and none of them are overly impressive. There is also a Hidden Mickey Hunt feature that can be played while watching the movie. A small icon shows up on the screen indicating that one of the 20 Hidden Mickeys is going to appear, and then another icon shows up after it has passed. When you spot it, you push the Enter key and see if you are right. It is an interesting idea, but it gets a little old after a while. In fact, my two young boys got bored after the first couple that I looked at, and they were not happy when I replied, Just hang on. We only have 18 more to find!
Disc Two contains several more bonus items, but they do not quite add up to the same quantity that I typically expect for a two-disc set. There are two short featurettes, a music video, and a few games and activities. The 15-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie is rather superficial but worth watching, and the other featurette is a four-minute Beyond the Legend mock-umentary on the life of Timon, narrated by Peter Graves. The latter has its funny moments, but neither my boys nor I found it worth repeated viewing.
The other bonus features on the second disc are either games or activities. There is a jungle version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? hosted by Meredith Vieira. Timon is on the hot seat and you pick the answers for him. All the popular features of the game are included, like polling the herd for help, and the game purports to have over 80,000 question combinations. My boys and I played it a few times, and while I grew tired of it rather quickly, they wanted to keep playing until we reached the top of the food chain. While I can only take so much of this game genre, I can see that it has replay potential for children.
Our favorite bonus item on the disc was the second installment of Timon and Pumbaa's Virtual Safari series. This theme-park style ride was created in conjunction with Walt Disney Imagineering, and as you, Pumbaa, Timon, and his family climb aboard the ride vehicle, the tongue-in-cheek fun starts.
To start, the Serengeti-themed dark ride is located right smack in the middle of the Serengeti, and I started cracking up the moment I heard Uncle Max say, I've got a bad feeling about this Why are you making a ride when the real thing is right there?" Hmmm. Does that sound like something you have heard mentioned about a particular park in Anaheim? Also, keep your eyes peeled for Timon and Pumbaa's unique twists on Disney attraction favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Matterhorn, it's a small world, Haunted Mansion, and a couple others. This is a must-see for all Disney theme-park fans.
Beyond those features, which only take an hour or so to go through, there really is not much more to prop up these discs, and it ultimately feels like there should be more, like a still gallery, another featurette or two, or something. I think it would have been particularly fitting to put the Disc Two content on one of those half-size (8 cm) DVD discs (assuming the data would fit) and then sold the set as a one-and-a-half disc set.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
I know I have said this before, but just about all of Disney's recent direct-to-video titles have impeccable video and audio transfers, regardless of the quality of the content. The anamorphic widescreen video transfer is detailed, free of obvious digital artifacts, and hosts beautifully saturated and solid colors. This is especially impressive during a couple of scenes where the screen is flooded with bright reds, greens, and blues and a lot of movement. It is a nicely presented movie, and it will look good on any home theater system.
As for the audio, it, too, does not get much better than this. On my Dolby Digital 5.1 surround system, the soundtrack features plenty of directional and surround effects, and it sounds crisp and clean. Additionally, it sounds equally nice on my laptop, so it should sound good on just about any audio system. An added bonus is that the disc includes a DTS 5.1 surround soundtrack for those of you that prefer that format.
The interface is also top notch. The menus have plenty of music, animation, and animated transitions, and they are perfectly themed to the movie. The menus are laid out in a simple and easy to navigate fashion, and everyone in the family should be able to find what they want without a problem.
The Final Evaluation
Even though it will not go down in Disney history as a cinematic achievement, The Lion King 1 1/2 is an amusing movie that the entire family can enjoy together. The audio and video transfers are very nicely done, and it will sound and look good on any home theater system. There is also enough bonus material to keep you and your children busy for a while after watching the movie, but the quantity falls a bit short of expectations for a two-disc set.
So, should you buy it? Well, if you are a huge Lion King fan, then you will probably find it worth keeping your eyes peeled for a good deal on it at a discount store. For the rest of us, though, give it a rent next time you are looking for a decent family flick, and be sure to check out the virtual safari.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Kevin here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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