The Lion King 1½ (2004) — A completely necessary midquel

“Meerkat! It’s what’s for dinner!”

Lissa’s rating: Would be better called Timon and Pumbaa Are Dead, but I don’t think the kiddies would get the reference.

Lissa’s review: It’s no secret I love Disney, and I love The Lion King. Shut up already about it being a rip off of The White Lion and Simba being Kimba, I still like it, okay? It’s my second favorite Disney movie (the first being Mulan), and I think it’s the best movie Disney’s ever made (if you don’t count anything Pixar’s had a hand in). Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride wasn’t even bad, especially for something that went straight-to-video. So of course I’ve been meaning to watch Lion King 1½ for quite some time now. And being a Lion King fan himself, Duckie was right there with me.

Now that we’ve watched it, I am required to review it to give the past hour-and-a-half some meaning.

First off, let me say we did not watch it under the best of conditions. It was Saturday morning, and Duckie and I were both hung over. I was still in PJs, and I watched half the movie half-way upside down. And instead of renting it, we watched it on the Disney channel. Side question: are there ANY cartoons out there anymore that aren’t anime? And what’s with the cyborg monkeys anyway? (Can you tell Duckie and I don’t watch much kids’ TV?) Anyway, Lion King 1½ was on, and watching it was an easier option than actually moving or getting dressed, so we did. Great motivation, huh?

The Lion King 1½ is The Lion King as told by Timon and Pumbaa. It’s very similar to Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead, at least in basic plot idea. And it starts out with the silhouettes of Timon and Pumbaa watching the movie and making wise cracks. How can this NOT be good?

It’s not good because it’s coated in a layer of sap so thick you could cover pancakes with it.

Ugh.

Now, I love Disney, and I accept some sappiness as an intrinsic part of kids’ movies. But usually the true sap is consolidated into a five minute segment and quarantined from the rest of the movie. Not this time. The quarantine exploded, and throughout the movie there’s sticky sweet goo everywhere.

Can you tell I made brownies recently? The kind with the marshmallow? I’ve definitely got a fetish at the moment.

Anyway. Sweet goo. Weird songs. Now, I love musicals and I love Disney songs. But this was definitely their third-string songwriting set, and there’s a reason they aren’t on the starting lineup. (Brownies and football. This is getting too weird.) The songs are just painful, and I’m grateful there weren’t more of them. They are rather bizarre, and they lack the fun and punch-drunk happiness of the original “Hakuna Matata” or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” Plus, for some strange reason, they’re only in the first half of the movie, and all centered around Timon. Nathan Lane isn’t a horrendous singer, but he does better with one or two fun pieces, not an entire musical. (However, please note that the sequence of “Sunrise, Sunset” was quite hysterical.)

That last line actually sums up the entire movie, in a way. Timon and Pumbaa are much like The Lion King’s Jay and Silent Bob: they’re really really funny in context, but take away the main characters and center an entire movie around them and they get a bit old. It’s annoying, because the spark of the characters is still there. I’ve always loved Timon and Pumbaa — they add some levity to what’s really a pretty dark tale. But they work much better as side characters than they do as the main attraction.

The two notable new characters — Timon’s mother and his Uncle Max — are a mixed bag. Timon’s mother is the source of the sap and sticky sweetness, and overall revolting and designed to be a plush toy. Uncle Max is a bit on the insane side, as all the best uncles are, and is actually a rather entertaining character. You win some, you lose some, I guess. I’m just never a fan of new characters, because so often they’re just stupid, and when they’re created for video they often lack the vitality and edge of the characters written for the movies. No exceptions here.

It was a great idea, and when Timon and Pumbaa are simply being funny The Lion King 1½ really works. But they just don’t work as a serious story, and when the comedy stops, so does the movie. And it’s a shame, because some elements of this movie are just downright hilarious, and if the whole move had been like that I would have bought it in seconds. Oh well. Disney has enough of my money anyway!

Didja notice?

  • The Peter Gunn homage?
  • Watching the meekrats really makes you feel like the people making this movie were completely stoned?
  • How many voice actors actually came back for this? (The only major speaking character that they didn’t get the actor back was Zazu. Okay, and the baby lions, because the kids who originally voiced them simply don’t have the same voices anymore.)
  • Snail eating contest! Who’s up for it?
  • Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Stitch, Pocahontas, Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, Aladdin, Jasmine, the Genie, Quasimodo, the gargoyles Hugo, Victor, and Lavern, Terk, Baloo, Mowgli, Snow White, all seven Dwarfs, Lady, the Tramp, a hippo from “Fantasia”, Belle, the Beast, Mrs. Potts and Chip, Dumbo, Flora, Fauna,and Merriweather from “Sleeping Beauty”, Brer Bear, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare?

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