Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Lion King 1½

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2004 in Jay's Living Room (video premiere)

Don't tell anybody, but I'm not a particularly big fan of The Lion King. It's a good movie, but compared to the Disney animated features which came before it - Aladdin, Beauty And The Beast, The Little Mermaid - it's a little too conservative. Where previous Disney features were about people making and finding places for themselves, even if it wasn't conventional, The Lion King was about a king reclaiming his birthright. Meanwhile, the movie seemed more self-consciously formulaic, with the love song here and the funny sidekick with the anachronistic comments here and the big fight scene here...

So I was kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed The Lion King 1½. Certainly, the production values are somewhat lesser, but by making Timon (and, to a lesser extent, Pumbaa) the protagonist, the story is squarely back in "rooting for the underdog" territory. It's also an unabashed comedy; as the DVD's liner notes put it, the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to The Lion King's Hamlet.

The notion that supporting characters have a life outside where you see them in a story is a fun one, and when it's characters like Timon and Pumbaa who don't show up until halfway through the original, already fully-formed, looking at how they got there is a treat. Their occasional encounters with the main film are generally pretty funny, and the notion that there are these multiple stories going on at once, with Timon and Simba both being the main character of their respective tales, is a rather sophisticated one for a kids' movie.

Which, make no mistake, is what The Lion King 1½ is. It's a good kids' movie, never willfully stupid, with a few jokes pitched at an older audience, but for the most part enjoyable for all ages. It is, however, designed for those with a short attention span - aside from the ~75 minute runtime, it frequently cuts to Timon and Pumbaa watching the movie to recap or just give a change of pace. Good for the five-year-olds this movie is probably aimed at; somewhat annoying for us grown-ups. All things considered, though, it's an entertaining animated comedy.

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