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The Lion King 1½
2004 - G - 77 Mins.
Director: Bradley Raymond
Producer: George A. Mendoza
Written By: Tom Rogers
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Matt Weinberg, Young Simba, Julie Kavner, Jerry Stiller, Robert Guillaume, Moira Kelly, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin
Review by: James O'Ehley
In my review of the original “Lion King” I described it as “The Jungle Book” meets Hamlet. One reader remarked that “Bambi” meets Hamlet is a more apt description, but be that as it may: the Hamlet analogy is apt, especially now with the release of this sequel that plays like Tom Stoppard’s “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” to Shakespeare’s original play.

Weren’t paying any attention in English Lit class and don’t have a clue what I’m talking about?

Hamlet, you’ll recall, was about the titular Danish prince’s father, the King of Denmark, being killed by his uncle and . . . shudder . . . the uncle marrying Hamlet’s mother, the Queen. Much of the play is about Hamlet deciding what exactly to do and how to get revenge. A more cynic acquaintance of mine once described Hamlet as being about a guy in a funny outfit walking round in a castle doing sweet nothing. Anyway, you’ll notice the similarities with the plot of “The Lion King” no doubt: young Simba’s father is killed by his nasty uncle, Scar. Scar becomes King and the young Simba flees into self-imposed exile, deciding what to do.

Now “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is a play Tom Stoppard wrote in 1968 which retells the story of Hamlet, but as seen through the eyes of two minor characters in the play, namely (you guessed it) the courtiers Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. (Stoppard will perhaps be best known to cinema authors as the writer of the 1998 “Shakespeare In Love”.) Incidentally “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” was filmed as a movie starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman) in 1990 if you are more inclined to check out your video shop than your local library. It is hugely funny and highly recommended – more inspired by the black humor of Absurdists such as Samuel Beckett than the immortal Bard himself.

Now here is “Lion King 1/2” (or “Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata” as it’s being marketed outside the States – don’t ask why). It retells the story of “The Lion King” as seen through the perspective of the two comic sidekicks from the original film, namely Timon (the meerkat) and Pumbaa (the warthog) – pretty much the same narrative device employed by Stoppard in his play.

It is of course as pointless to watch this direct-to-video sequel without having seen the original film as it is watching “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” without knowing what Hamlet is about.

This whole narrative perspective may not be particularly original, but it is quite inventive for a Disney straight-to-video release. Most of these movies usually feature a plot synopsis that goes something like “why don’t we have a story with the kids of the original characters – and have the same things that happened in the first movie happen to them this time?” This was more or less the plot behind the vastly inferior “Lion King 2 – Simba’s Pride” – a movie that Disney couldn’t have been proud (saw that one coming, didn’t you?) of at all. Sometimes whatever embers of creativity there may have been have lefty the running Capitalist dogs of the Mouse House completely and they just rehash the events of the original film verbatim – such as is the case with the dismal “Jungle Book 2.”

Anyway, here’s the quick rundown: (a) “Lion King ½” is better than most Disney sequels, (b) kudos to Disney for getting together most of the original voice talent back together again for this one instead of hiring cheap no-name actors, (c) the animation is much better than expected and not bad at all – it doesn’t look like a Saturday morning kiddies cartoon thankfully, (d) the humor is broad and should appeal to kids, (e) I found myself smiling a few times too, (f) there are lots of fart jokes of the harmless variety that appeals to youngsters, (g) the songs are bland and forgettable, (h) yes, you can watch it with your kids – at least for the first time round.
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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