Lion King 2: Simba's Prideby Kevin Krock, staff writer
Even though this direct-to-video movie was originally released several years ago, it is one of the Disney sequels that I had not seen until now.
Lion King II: Simba's Pride picks up shortly after Simba and Nala return to the Pride Lands and restore them to their former glory. The movie opens with the announcement that the Circle of Life continues with the arrival of Simba and Nala's daughter, Kiara. As Kiara grows up, her curiositymuch like her father'sdraws her towards the Outlands, where she befriends Kovu, a cub from an exiled pride. Kovu has been chosen to walk in Scar's paw prints and help the exiled pride return to the Pride Lands, which they view as theirs.
Over time, Kovu and Kiara learn about the discord between their prides, and after a number of encounters between Simba and Kovu's mother (Scar's sister), Zira, they realize that the only hope to save their prides is to find a way to bring the two prides together.
Overall, I was a bit surprised at how well this sequel held together, especially relative to many of the other Disney direct-to-video sequels. It is quite a bit darker than I expected, and my 3-year-old requests that I skip a couple of video chapters every time I put the disc in for the review. On the positive side, the consistent injections of humor by Timon and Pumbaa help break up the tension. As for the animation, it is very nicely done, and the resemblance to the original makes it look and feel more like a DVD for a theatrical release than a direct-to-video.
Adding to the polished feel are the vocal performances and soundtrack. Many of the original voice cast returned for this movie, including Matthew Broderick (Simba), Nathan Lane (Timon), Robert Guillaume (Rafiki), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa) and James Earl Jones (Mufasa). Contributing their recognizable voices are stars such as Neve Campbell (Simba's daughter, Kiara), Suzanne Pleshette (Scar's sister, Zira), Andy Dick (Zira's son, Nuka), and Jason Marsden (Zira's son, Kovu).
Much like the original, the music plays an important role in establishing the tone and environment throughout the movie, and a number of new songs throughout the movie feature the talents of Lebo M, Cam Clark, Charity Sanoy, LadySmith Black Mambazo, Robert Guillaume, and Suzanne Pleshette.
When I see the words, 2-Disc Special Edition, I start to develop certain expectations. Unfortunately, the use of those words is typically left up to the interpretation of a marketing department, and they do not always mean the same thing from DVD to DVD. For example, the Lion King two-disc Platinum Edition is packed full of stuff, whereas the Lion King 1 ½ two-disc set really only has about one and a half discs worth of stuff. Disappointingly, this Lion King 2 set is closer to the latter, and while the material on the set is pretty good, it just is not very deep.
The first disc only contains the movie and the Lion King's Matter-Of-Facts bonus item. This feature puts text windows on the screen with little tidbits about the real animals and environments in the movie. Some are pretty plain, but others are humorous. Additionally, there are audio cues to let you know that a new window has popped up on the screen. Compared to the movie disc for other two-disc sets, this one falls considerably short of my expectations.
As for the second disc, it looks pretty good on paper, but when you start to go through it, it feels pretty shallow. Besides the ever-present music video and simple set-top games, there is a rather short, seven-minute making of featurette that covers the basics of the production, but it hardly scratches the surface for those of us interested in the details. Timon and Pumbaa chip in about eight minutes worth of their fun and interesting Find Out Why series of scientific explanations of everyday things. The child-targeted topics include things like sneezing, lightning and thunder, wind, and airplane flight. Also on the disc is a three-minute featurette on the life of lions, which is well-suited for children, but does not add much value to the overall package.
Rounding out the rest of Disc 2 are two additions that my boys particularly enjoyed. The first is the all-new five-minute animated short, One by One, which was created by the producers of the Lion King. This cute story, set to an African chant, features a children's kite flying adventure. The animation is fairly simple, but the blend of music, color and character design, including the kites themselves, makes for a great little short.
The second goodie that kept my boys interested was Timon and Pumbaa's Virtual Safari 2.0. This third safari in the series takes you and your two hosts on an elephant ride through the African plains. There is plenty of humor and adventure mixed in, and even though there are only a few decision points, the variety kept my boys replaying it for a lot longer than I had anticipated. Overall, though, the bonus material falls short of the special edition moniker.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
Like most of Disney's direct-to-video titles, the audio and video transfers for this movie are quite nice. The video has been digitally retouched and remastered, and the anamorphic widescreen really shows off the solid, vibrant colors throughout the movie. The character shading and picture detail are right on target, and I did not notice anything visually distracting. The audio is equally pleasing, with plenty of surround and directional effects, and a full suite of audio tracks, including an English DTS 5.1 soundtrack and English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtracks. Altogether, it is a clean and pleasing presentation package.
The interface, though, is something I would expect for a regular Disney DVD, but for a special edition, it is no great shakes. It incorporates Disney's new standardized, icon-based menu system, and my impression is that it somewhat stifles the creativity with which producers can put together visually striking interfaces. While the individual menus are rather simply laid out over nice graphics depicting the African desert, they do feature audio from the movie and fully animated transitions. They just fall a bit short of special.
The Final Evaluation
This respectable sequel is a bit darker than I had expected, but there is enough Timon and Pumbaa to lighten things up and keep the movie from getting too dreary. With a fresh and vibrant direct-to-digital video transfer and a variety of lively soundtracks, the DVD presentation of this movie is top notch. The bonus material on the set is acceptable, but it disappointingly feels like a lot less than what typically appears on a two-disc set. If you are a big fan of the Lion King franchise, then this will nicely round out your home video collection, but for those of you on the fence may want to strongly consider how much you like the story and how many times you will watch it before making it a permanent addition.