Toon Talk: Lion King II: Simba's Pride (Special Edition)
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Special Edition DVD
Won by "Oneâ€?
Completing the so-called Lion King "trilogyâ€? (a word that is bandied about much too often these days, don't you think?), The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride (note the new use of "2â€? instead of the more esthetically pleasing "IIâ€? from the original release) has now been re-released on DVD in a 2-disc special edition that, apparently, rounds up just about everything left over that was not included on the Lion King and Lion King 1 ˝ special editions released within the past year. In other words, all the informative and historical material was found on the former, while all the clever and amusing bits found on the latter, leaving this special edition not quite so ... special, scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel to pad it out to two discs; all, that is, save for one brand new little gem that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
But we'll get to that later; as for the main feature, Simba's Pride (originally released in 1998, when it became one of the best selling Disney videos ever) stands a little taller then the average direct-to-video progeny, due in large part to some swell animation from the always reliable Australian animation unit, even though it still pales in the shadow of its predecessor.
Continuing the Shakespearean allegory from the Hamlet-esque original, the sequel grafts a Romeo and Juliet theme of lovers from two different worlds onto the plot, requiring some creative revisionism on the back-story of the antagonists in order for it all to make some semblance of continuity. Standing in for the "Circle of Lifeâ€?, "He Lives In Youâ€? (first heard on the Rhythm of the Pride Lands album and also borrowed from the Broadway production of The Lion King) finds viewers in a lower-budgeted version of the ending of the first film, with the twist that that royal cub Rafiki is hoisting up into the air is not a prince, but a princess (yes, another princess to add to that particular Disney marketing machine), named Kiara. She grows into a feisty little feline groomed for eventual leadership in the pride, just like her father when he was her age (although in real life, male lions are always the leaders ... oh well, in real life lions don't talk or perform production numbers in the middle of the savannah either). But, unlike Simba, she can wait to be king ... er, queen. Even at her young age, she wants to be thought of as something other then jungle royalty. This causes the needed friction between the overprotective father and rebellious daughter, which sends her off in a huff to the forbidden Outlands (presumably the Elephant Graveyard has since been renovated) where the followers of the tyrant Scar have been banished by King Simba.
And this is where it gets a little tricky. Supposedly, aside from those pesky hyenas, Scar had some lionesses on his side as well, a fact totally absent from the first film. The leader of this pride of outcasts is Zira, mother to Scar's chosen successor, Kovu. The point is made clear early on that Scar is not Kovu's father, he just chose him as his heir because ... well, that's never quite explained; its all just a convenient plot device so that the inevitable (a romance for Kiara and Kovu) can happen without any nasty hints of incest, thus avoided any questions popping out of young viewers mouths to uncomfortable parents. (In retrospect, its too bad that they didn't throw in a scene in The Lion King 1 ˝ of, say, Zira escaping with an infant Kovu from Pride Rock during the climactic Simba/Scar battle, ... if your going to be revisionists, then you might as well go all the way.)
Anyway, Kiara and Kovu meet cute over a pack of hungry crocodiles, but the vengeful Zira and prideful Simba forbid any further play dates. Time passes, allowing Kiara and Kovu to grow to adolescence, and Zira hatches a scheme to have Kovu get close to Kiara, and thus closer to Simba ... close enough to kill, that is, leaving Pride Rock open for take over. But Zira didn't count on Kovu actually falling in love with Kiara, and it all goes downhill from there, ending with a battle between Simba and Zira, with Kiara and Kovu in the middle, the future of the pride at stake.
While not an exact carbon copy of The Lion King, the second film does feel awfully familiar at times. Recognizable facial expressions from the first film reappear on different characters here (Scar's sarcastic snarl on Zira, for example) and most of the songs stand in for the same story points here as in the original. But instead of Elton John and Tim Rice's classic tunes, we get "My Lullabyâ€?, virtually a reprise of "Be Preparedâ€? in style and execution (and co-written by, of all people, Buffy the Vampire Slayer guru Joss Whedon); "Upendiâ€?, the ridiculous, expressionistic would-be show-stopper here given to poor Rafiki; and the requisite love song, "Love Will Find a Wayâ€?, the worse song Diane Warren never wrote. The only standouts are "We Are Oneâ€?, rhythmically and thematically uplifting, and "One of Usâ€?, arguably the strangest song ever for a Disney animated film, if also one of the most dramatic.