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The Media Man Reviews: The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (2nd Anniversary Special)

Updated: Feb 2

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Hello once again media fans, and welcome to a special post. Why is it special? Because it's my blog's 2nd Anniversary today!!!


Wow, it's already been two years since I started running this website? Unbelievable...it still feels like yesterday when I was at college learning how to make my own website and thanks to Wix.com, I'm here running this blog and providing you all with media-based content to enjoy. I thank all of you who have been following, reading and leaving comments on my posts for the past two years. I appreciate the support wholeheartedly. ^^


And so to celebrate this occasion, why not follow-up on my very first blog post by reviewing the sequel to The Lion King? Seems appropriate that for my blog's anniversary, I review the sequel to my favourite movie of all time. That sequel of course is The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.


Released directly-to-video in 1999, The Lion King II was clearly made to cash in on the success of The Lion King, which at the time was Disney's biggest pop culture hit and biggest unexpected success of the decade. Seriously, The Lion King was pretty much the "side project" and Pocahontas was expected to be the big hit of the 90's but no, it ended up being The Lion King instead! So with the film's popularity still being massive by the end of the decade and Disney making themselves a mint in the direct-to-video home media market, it was only inevitable they made a sequel to The Lion King.


This is a movie that is as much a nostalgic treasure for me as the first movie. I would often see the adverts for the film on some VHSes I used to own and then, after a meal at McDonald's for my fifth birthday, I actually got the movie on VHS as a birthday present. What can I say? I have awesome parents. :D I don't have the VHS anymore sadly but I'll always treasure that memory.


But that was my childhood. Now in my adulthood, do I still think this is an awesome sequel? Or should Simba banish this movie to the Outlands as well? Let's stand atop of Pride Rock and find out as we look over this new pride of lions...


Section 1: The Story


Following on a few years after the first movie, The Lion King II sees Simba and Nala raising up their daughter, a playful young girl named Kiara. During her time playing in the Pride Lands, Kiara meets an outgoing boy named Kovu and the two strike up a quick friendship. But that friendship will be tested as both cubs are on opposing sides who hate each other's guts. They can never truly be together unless Simba and Zira's prides can come together as one...


Remember how The Lion King is essentially Hamlet with lions? Well the sequel stays true to that style of story-telling in how this movie is essentially Romeo & Juliet...but with lions! XD I bet even as I was describing the plot, you immediately twigged it that the plot sounds a lot like Romeo & Juliet. While this would make the movie rather predictable and easy to figure out, I'm a lot more lenient in this case because this movie was one of my earliest exposures to the Romeo & Juliet style plot alongside Disney's Pocahontas so it wasn't as noticeable then as it is now. As is, I can't let my nostalgic biases blind me to the fact that the story isn't exactly original and is pretty easy to guess how it'll go from the moment Kiara and Kovu meet. I bet many people watching for the first time could see where this film was going with ease.


But just because it has an unoriginal story, doesn't mean it's bad. It's not like other movies I covered last year such as Blue Beetle and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget where they had more problems than just a generic story. The Lion King 2's plot is generic, but it's at least told well and manages to be pretty engaging to watch in spite of the story being formulaic. I admit that growing up with this movie may be causing me to view it more favourably than most but as I say, it's execution that makes a good story, not the idea, and this movie at least executes its story well. They make the situations exciting and intense in all the right places whether it's Kiara and Kovu being chased by crocodiles or Kiara escaping a field on fire or the Outsiders trying to kill Simba. As a result, even with the story being as predictable as it is, they do make it hard to take your eyes away and you're still engaged with what's going on.


What also helps is how the characters are handled and they're either easy to root for or it's easy to understand what drives their actions in the film. I'll cover more on that in the characters section but the most I'll say for now is that the movie follows on well on what came before for the characters, which further helps making this feel like a sequel to the first movie and like we're seeing what's next for them. I feel Simba's arc especially made sense considering everything he went through in the first film and it's no wonder he's as prejudiced as he is. I've seen some fans take issue with how Simba was handled in this movie but I think it was the most logical step his character could've taken. I mean his uncle ruined his childhood and tried to kill him! Of course he'll take issue with anyone who supports him!


As is, staying true to the tone of the original film, the sequel is able to be emotional, exciting, intense and also really funny and heart-warming at times. The tone feels like it fits perfectly with the original, which further makes it feel like a sequel to the first unlike some Disney sequels where the tone is drastically dumbed down to the point you question how it's meant to be a sequel to what came before. I never get that with this movie. While it's not as dark as the first, that's OK because it doesn't need to be. The conflict between the Pride Lands and the Outsiders is enough as it is and it still makes for an engaging story that our characters go through in this film. Also the film does address relevant, topical and heavy issues like racism, prejudice and how we shouldn't hold people accountable just because they're associated with someone bad. The original movie tackled heavy themes too so it makes sense the sequel would do the same, and it does it well for the most part. Not perfectly of course, but it still does it well.


The comedy is just as effective here as in the first movie and once again, stays true to what came before. It never felt like the comedy was too childish or anything, which is another common problem with Disney sequels. It didn't feel out of place and the jokes feel like jokes we could've got in the original so that helped. The scene with the rhinos chasing Kovu, Kiara, Timon and Pumbaa especially cracks me up every time. XD


And finally, let's talk about the romance plot. Naturally, Kiara and Kovu don't die in the end like Romeo & Juliet do as that would've been too depressing for a family-friendly film. The romance, as straight-forward as it is, is still well-developed and you can easily believe that Kiara and Kovu are in love with each other. It's especially cute seeing Kovu just get to have fun when he's around her, something he never got growing up with his vengeful mother. As a result, it genuinely feels painful when Simba exiles Kovu and Kiara is left heartbroken by her father's decision. I was always rooting for these two to get together by the end and it's always satisfying to see them finally get to be a couple when the film's over.


As is, the story isn't perfect by any means. I already mentioned how the Romeo & Juliet plot makes it unoriginal and predictable but the story also rather clumsily retcons bits of the first movie so we can have this movie. OK, so Scar chose Kovu to follow in his pawprints and succeed him as king. When did that happen? Kovu was nowhere to be seen in the original movie, and neither was Zira or the rest of the Outsiders so that's a bit out of nowhere. Yes I know it could've happened offscreen and the first movie wasn't made with the intentions of having a sequel so of course the backstory will be out of nowhere. I'm just saying it's a pretty obvious retcon as a result.


Then we have Kovu's backstory in how he was chosen by Scar, yet Kovu isn't even his child. Now I CAN understand why they didn't go with this backstory. Even the filmmakers at the time knew that Kovu couldn't be Scar's son otherwise he and Kiara would be cousins and then...yeah, so that was a no-go. But the backstory they went with still feels a bit ill-thought out and does raise up some puzzling questions. I mean think about it, Kovu being Scar's chosen heir kind of stretches credibility don't you think? Kiara was born sometime after Scar's death and the beginning of Simba's reign as king, yet Kovu doesn't seem to be much older than Kiara is. So what, did Scar decide Kovu would be his successor WHILE ZIRA WAS STILL PREGNANT WITH HIM?!?!

It just raises too many questions.

You're telling me Batman!


Also, remember how I said it tackles its themes well but not perfectly? The reason I say that is because Simba is justifiable in his hatred of the Outsiders given they follow a tyrant like Scar who killed his father, made him feel like he'd done it and then turned his kingdom into a wasteland with his incompetence as leader...yet the movie acts like he's wrong for this. I'm not saying the movie should go with a pro-racism message as that's what ultimately killed Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken for me but still, Simba should be cut some slack here. And when you consider Scar was a tyrant who wanted power and not the responsibility that came with it, it does make you wonder why anyone in the Pride Lands would want to follow Scar. Then again, if a monster like a certain dumb blonde orange guy can somehow have followers despite clearly being an insane, evil madman, I guess it's not that unrealistic. =P But still, they could've tried explaining more why the Outsiders are loyal to Scar, especially Zira, and Simba should've been treated more reasonably with his prejudice to the Outsiders instead of being seen as wrong for his perfectly justified beef with them.


As is, the movie is flawed and has a pretty basic story but as a sequel to The Lion King, it follows on from it well, takes the story and characters in a logical direction and manages to be engaging, fun and exciting in all the ways the original was. It's easy to see why me and many others view this as one of the good direct-to-video sequels.


Section 2: The Characters


Most of the time in Disney sequels, the characters will be back but be given a downgrade. This is NOT the case here.


Let's start with the new characters first. We have Kiara (voiced by Michelle Horn as a cub and Neve Campbell as an adult), the daughter of Simba and Nala and next-in-line to the throne after Simba. Kiara is adorable as a cub and is just like any kid out there with how she wants to explore the world around her even if it means disobeying her father. As an adult, she strives for independence and resents her father's overprotective behaviour, especially as it causes conflict between them regarding Kovu and in the end, she helps Simba to see that as he told her as a child, they are one. I like how Kiara isn't just a carbon copy of Simba and has her own personality while also having her own struggles different to her father's. While her constant disobedience can get grating at times, I wouldn't say it got to the point it made her annoying and the fact she left such a good impression on Kovu that he betrayed his pride, defied his mother and turned good in the end shows what a good lioness she is at heart. It's hard to hate someone who turns your enemies into friends in the end, am I right?


Next is the Romeo to Kiara's Juliet, Kovu (voiced by Ryan O'Donohue as a cub and Jason Marsden as an adult). Kovu is an unfortunate child, unfortunate in the sense that he had to have a mother like Zira. Chosen to be Scar's successor, he's groomed to be a killer and that he has to be the one to kill Simba and take over the Pride Lands. But spending time with Kiara gives him a different outlook on life and he eventually rejects his mother's teachings so he can live his own life. He's easily the most sympathetic character in the movie because of this and it's especially easy to feel for him when he's unfairly exiled for an assassination plot he had no part in. I have to say though, for a trained killer he kinda sucks. He doesn't get any real fight scenes and when he tries to help Simba fight off the Outsiders, he gets kicked away and hits his head on a rock. Zira's clearly not a good teacher. XD


Speaking of Zira (voiced by the late Suzanne Pleshette), she's our next subject. You may remember back in October 2022 I put her at Number 7 on my Top 10 Disney Villains (Other Media) list and my opinions have not changed since then. I STILL think she's an awesome villain and one of the best Disney sequel villains out there. Zira is a scarily accurate depiction of fanaticism and how hatred can consume you with her loyalty to Scar driving her to extremes that only end up causing her pain and suffering in the end, yet she'll lash out at everyone except herself and never see herself at fault. People like Zira DO exist in real life and it only makes her scarier as a result. This woman is bloodthirsty and vicious to the core and every time she's onscreen, she just commands the viewer's attention. It also helps that she's a pretty strong threat too. Scar was a tough act to follow but Zira I feel was just the villainess we needed for a Lion King sequel. She was great and Suzanne Pleshette's unmatched performance in this film made her even greater.


There's also Zira's children Nuka (voiced by Andy Dick) and Vitani (voiced by Lacey Chabert as a cub and Meredith Scott Lynn as an adult). Vitani isn't all that important to the story and honestly could've been dropped without missing anything, though it is good they kept her in anyway as it at least gives Zira one competent minion to rely on. Nuka on the other hand is the older brother of Kovu and is naturally resentful because he wasn't the Chosen One. He feels this need to prove himself to Zira and in the end, it only gets him killed. I like how his death brought out one of Zira's few humane moments with how utterly destroyed she looks over losing her eldest child. It's possible that losing Nuka may have caused Zira to lose that little bit of humanity she had left, which only makes his death more impactful as a result.


In terms of returning characters, we of course have Simba (voiced by Matthew Broderick). Simba is in a tough situation for he's the ruling king of the Pride Lands who is also raising his child to succeed him on the throne some day and his child is taking an interest in the child of his sworn enemy. I can't even begin to imagine the thoughts that'd go through my head if I were in that situation! As I said, his character arc makes perfect sense since his experiences with Scar and how his uncle wrecked a large portion of his life has naturally made him wary of anyone who is fanatical to him. Wouldn't you feel the same if you went through what Simba did? I know I would. Of course Simba has to learn in the end not to give into prejudice and that he can't be judgemental of people like Kovu just because they're related to his enemies and it's only fitting that his child is the one who gets to help him learn that lesson. Some fans take issue with his portrayal in the sequel but honestly, I never had a problem with it.


Other returning characters include Nala (voiced by Moira Kelly), Zazu (voiced by Edward Hibbert), Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane), Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella) and Rafiki (voiced by the late Robert Guillaume). Nala's pretty pointless in this film and her role is so minor you could take her out and barely even noticed she'd gone, Timon and Pumbaa are the comic reliefs and Rafiki THANKFULLY gets an expanded role compared to last time where he not only has more scenes and his own musical number, but he plays a part in getting Kiara and Kovu together to fulfil the wishes of his old friend Mufasa. Giving Rafiki more screentime was always going to be welcome I say so thank the writers of this movie for doing so.


The new characters are welcome additions to the world of The Lion King even if Kovu and Zira's presences raise a few questions as mentioned in the story section and the old characters are still their old selves while also getting new developments in Simba's case. This is a cast that is truly a part of the great Circle of Life...


Section 3: The Animation


It's a direct-to-video movie so naturally, the animation isn't quite as good as the original, and yet for a direct-to-video movie it still looks REALLY good. Easily one of the better-looking Disney sequels out there.


The Lion King's animation is of legendary status and is some of the best animation ever put to film so the sequel always had an uphill battle to climb when it came to the visuals. And while it may not have anywhere near the budget of the original film, it manages to make the most of it and give us a visually appealing looking movie. It really goes to show that good visuals aren't down to a big budget, something most movies these days could do with remembering (glares at the MCU). The arty-style of the movie is very true to the first Lion King with the animals all being anatomically correct in their designs except for their faces, which are more cartoonish to allow for more expressions in their eyes and mouths. You have the lions looking like lions, the rhinos look like rhinos and so much more but they're able to emote in ways real life animals can't thanks to the expressive facial animations. And despite being a direct-to-video movie, the expressions are still very well done with everyone's faces being easy to read and they manage to avoid anyone looking off-model or derpy-eyed, something that's more common in other Disney sequels where the animation is of um...considerably less quality to put it politely.


The character animation is also well done too. While at times they can look a little stiffer than how they'd move in the first movie, their movements are mostly smooth and the animals all move convincingly to how their real-life counterparts would while also being more animated in certain scenes to play with their emotions and body language, especially when it comes to the more comical characters like Timon, Pumbaa and Nuka. The colour palette on them seems to have been more muted compared to the first movie with Simba looking more orange than yellow and even the red on his mane isn't as bright as before. Even Timon and Pumbaa don't look as bright as they did before. I dunno if it's to make the movie look more "realistic" or if they just wanted to colour it that way but it is noticeable that the colours aren't quite as bright as in the first movie. And yet it still manages to look visually gorgeous and lush despite that. One particularly gorgeous shot is during the "We Are One" segment where Simba and Kiara run together while a huge sun hangs in the background:

Sunset

I remind you, THIS came from a direct-to-video movie, and they were able to make it look this pretty!


I like how with the animation, the characters are still able to have lighting and shading effects applied to them, so they look more three-dimensional, and they better fit in with the backgrounds like in the first movie. There are moments where the characters are flatly coloured with no shading or lighting effects on them and yeah, it's pretty noticeable, but most of the time they are coloured as such and it makes the film look more professionally made. It still amazes me how pretty they managed to make this movie look with the budget they had. And given I mentioned backgrounds earlier, I'll also add that the backgrounds look great too. The Pride Lands are a familiar location that still look how they did in the first movie and we get the Outlands in where it's pretty much just a wasteland with little, if any, life around at all. There doesn't even seem to be any plant life with all the trees looking dead and barely any grass to be seen. The backgrounds don't offer much aside from the African plains and some rocky cliffs to look at but they're still well-drawn and capture the look of being out in the plains of Africa with all the wildlife around.


The animation's true shining moments for me come during the action scenes. Remember how intense the action was in the first movie, especially with the wildebeest stampede? Well this movie is able to give us intense action too. We get a chase scene where Kiara and Kovu have very close encounters with a swarm of crocodiles, we get a blazing field fire that nearly costs Kiara her life, we get the Outsiders coming for Simba that ends in the death of Nuka and we even get a battle between both lion prides where, even if this is a movie for families, they make it look pretty brutal with how the lions are fighting! All the action scenes are top-notch and always get me on the edge of my seat every time I see them. The animators spared no expense in making those scenes look tense and exciting and I guarantee for anyone watching this film that you'll agree with me. The animation also tends to really go all out during the musical numbers with "My Lullaby" and "Upendi" being the best examples of that. "Upendi" especially gets very lively and colourful with what the visuals offer us during the song number.


Is it perfect animation? Of course not. This is still a direct-to-video movie so they could only work with what they had but they really did use that budget well and gave us a movie so beautiful and visually striking that you'd almost forget this wasn't a theatrical movie. Aside from the odd occasion of characters in the background looking stiff or not even moving at all, the amount of lions in either pride being inconsistent from one scene to the next and the colour palette being a little muted, the animation doesn't have much to criticize. It makes the most of its resources and gives us a very pretty looking movie that stays true to the art-style of what came before and recaptures the look of The Lion King near flawlessly. A very well done to all the animators who worked on this movie indeed...


Section 4: The Songs


It's not a sequel to The Lion King without musical numbers so of course this movie's a musical. While the soundtrack to the original is in a league of its own, I genuinely love this movie's soundtrack too. I'd almost argue it's on par with the first movie. While the score isn't quite as strong as Hans Zimmer's score on The Lion King, it's still well done and has that Lion King feel to it with some African chanting in places and a lot of wind instruments, especially in the "We Are One" segment.


As for the songs themselves, each one is insanely memorable, catchy and quotable, just like the songs with the first movie. We start off with "He Lives In You", which is kinda like the movie's "Circle of Life" opening. The singer's powerful and enthusiastic vocal work really sells what an epic event the birth of the new princess is and how this is something the Pride Lands can't miss. The lyrics also pay homage to one of Rafiki's big lessons to Sima in how Mufasa lives in him, even visually depicted with Mufasa's spirit looking down on the ceremony as Rafiki holds up his granddaughter. It gave the film a suitably epic opening and really got you feely pumped up and ready for the rest of the film. What makes the song's inclusion even better is that this song is actually used in the stage show of The Lion King, both on Broadway and at the West End with Mufasa and Rafiki performing their own renditions in the show. So yeah, fitting a Lion King sequel would feature a song from the stage show, eh?


Next is "We Are One", my personal favourite song in the movie. Simba sings to Kiara what essentially ends up being the moral of the movie, that no matter who you are or what you are and whether you're living or deceased, in the end we are one. It's got some great instrumental work in the background and some catchy chanting that makes the song more memorable and its lesson is always a great one to teach no matter how you teach it. I just love it every time it plays in the film.

Then we get the film's equivalent of "Be Prepared", "My Lullaby". Zira gives us a song that sounds really damn bloodthirsty with lyrics like "The sound of Simba's dying gasp, his daughter squealing in my grasp, his lionesses mournful cry, that's my lullaby!" and it just shows how full of rage and hatred she is when this unpleasant subject matter is like a lullaby to her. While Suzanne Pleshette is far from a great singer, she's just going all out in this song and it's hard not to enjoy her performance here. She makes the song sound great and I consider it one of the best villain songs of all time. This franchise is no slouch when it comes to villain songs, am I right?


Then we have Rafiki's song "Upendi". Yep, Rafiki gets his own musical number too, and I love it. "Upendi" is basically the love song as Rafiki tries to get Kiara and Kovu hooked and his cheerful vocal work really sells in making this look like a fun and romantic ride to be swept away on. It's really catchy too and I guarantee you'll be humming it for weeks when it's over.


And then we have "Not One Of Us". Sung by the animals of the Pride Lands, this is definitely the kind of song you sing when shooing away your enemies or traitors to your community. While yes Kovu is being unfairly treated here so the song can feel excessively cruel as a result, it's hard not to sing along with them, especially when you have those two animals going "Deception! Disgrace!" numerous times. It's extremely memorable and even with how mean the song can be, it's one of those cases where you feel sorry for Kovu yet you can't help but join in. It's quite conflicting like that. XD


And finally, we have "Love Will Find A Way", the love duet between Kiara and Kovu as they yearn for one another and eventually find each other. It's the least memorable song in the movie for me but I have no complaints with it. It's pleasant on the ears, it's romantic and it was just the thing Kiara and Kovu needed after hitting their low points during the "Not One Of Us" scene so it really felt welcome after that emotional gut punch.


I love these songs so much and have a great time listening or singing to them every time I put the movie on. The first and second films both have great soundtracks and they really do make both these films that much more enjoyable...


Overall


The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is one of the best Disney sequels ever made and is one of my favourite animated sequels out there much like how The Lion King is my favourite movie. The story follows on well from last time, the tone is true to the original, the characters old and new are great, the animation is surprisingly good by direct-to-video standards and the songs are as memorable and awesome as the original's. Obviously this film isn't anywhere as great as the original because, you know, it's The Lion King, but it's a solid sequel regardless and one of the only good direct-to-video Disney sequels out there. If you love The Lion King as much as I do, you'll love this movie too. If you've never seen it before, give it a watch and see what you think. I guarantee you're in for a good sequel with this movie.


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you to share your thoughts down below. Do you like The Lion King II? Do you not like it? Do tell.

Next week I'll be counting down my Top 10 Favourite Decepticons. See you then media fans!

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