The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, the 1998 sequel to Disney’s The Lion King (something you may have heard about), was received poorly from critics. It happens to be another dreaded “Direct-to-DVD sequel” to a Disney film (a distinction that comes with the assumption that the product will be terrible), which probably gave a negative impression from the start, although the plot proved to be problematic as well. If the original Lion King was supposed to be a Disney retelling of Hamlet, this film would be its retelling of Shakespeare’s other supremely famous play, Romeo and Juliet. While its predecessor brought a fresh take on a timeless tale of fratricide, The Lion King 2 suffers from being highly derivative of other romantic stories. You have the outsider infiltrating our lead’s society for nefarious purposes only to end up falling in love with the person he was supposed to hurt and being forced between choosing between love and duty. There is nothing involving the romance between Simba’s daughter Kiara (Neve Campbell) and her boyfriend Kovu (Jason Marsden) that you won’t see coming, but the movie’s true strength lies in the story that is being told around them. Above all else, The Lion King II is a story about parenthood, and as a discussion on that subject this movie is very good.
Before getting into the details of the story, let’s go over the music, something I place a high value in when evaluating a Disney animated musical. The film opens with its “Circle of Life” equivalent, “He Lives in You”, and its spectacular. One thing that completely separates this film from its mediocre direct-to-DVD-sequel siblings is the quality of its songs. “He Lives in You” contrasts with “Circle of Life” by being much more somber in tone, which gives the entire opening a very fitting message that life goes on. The other songs, “We Are One” (which acts as a thesis to the whole movie), “My Lullaby” (a worthy successor to my favourite song ever, “Be Prepared”), “Upendi” (a fun little love song sung by Rafiki), and “One of Us” (a very catchy and dramatic beat) are all great too. The only weak link in the whole soundtrack would be in the song “Love Will Find a Way”, which is about as generic as it sounds. Despite that, five out of six songs being good isn’t half-bad, and I’d honestly put the soundtrack to this movie above some of the main Disney Musical releases (I’d certainly put it above Tarzan and Tangled).
As the title suggests, Simba’s Pride is mostly a story about Simba and what it means for him to have a family now. Similar to The Little Mermaid, this film’s central relationship is a father-daughter one featuring an over-protective father and a daughter that just wants her independence. This dynamic is paralleled with the mother-son relationship shared by the film’s antagonist, Zira, and her son Kovu. Both parents share the flaw of projecting their own desires and wants on a child that may want something different for their lives, but interestingly enough, the film argues that this can be a good thing to an extent. Yes, children need to have their independence, but they should also understand the gravity of their own existence. They are the legacy of everyone that came before, and in that sense they are connected to their parents in a profound way. The film’s message is to be yourself, but to also never lose sight of who you are or where you come from.
This is without a doubt the most ambitious Disney sequel to ever be made. The plot builds and expands the world that was created in the original, and the film treats itself just as seriously as it did before. The repercussions are clearly seen with the existence of the Outsiders, banished lionesses who stayed loyal to Scar even after his death. As someone who was originally supposed to be Scar’s son (but was changed due to the fact that he’d be related to his love interest), Kovu has to reconcile his identity with Scar’s legacy. He shares his features, he was specifically chosen by him to be his heir, and he even gets his own facial scar halfway through the film; for all intents and purposes he is Scar’s son, and the movie doesn’t shy away from the fact at all. This dialogue exchange during the star gazing scene is a favourite of mine.
Kovu: I’ve never done this before.
Kiara: Really? My father and I used to do this all the time. He says all the great kings of the past are up there.
Kovu: You think Scar’s up there?
Kovu: He wasn’t my father, but he was still part of me.
Kiara: My father said there was a darkness in Scar that he couldn’t escape.
Kovu: Maybe there’s a darkness in me too.
It also helps that vocal performances here are fantastic. Campbell has an infectious charm to her voice that can sell even the most ham-fisted of lines (when she excitedly says “Upendi– it means ‘love’, doesn’t it?” towards the end of that song, she does the impossible and manages to make it sound charming instead of corny), Marsden shows a ton of potential as the “brooding hero” type (although I’ll always remember him as Tino Tonitini from The Weekenders), and Suzanne Pleshette is just having a ton of fun as the film’s villain, Zira. Supported by a surprisingly effective performance by Andy Dick as Nuka and anchored by a measured performance by Matthew Broderick who sells his role as a “matured” Simba, and you have a stellar voice cast.
It can’t be overlooked however, that Kiara and Kovu are bland as protagonist despite the best efforts from their voice actors, and Timone and Pumba will have overstayed their welcome by the end, but the strengths of the film completely outshine these flaws. The film has a lot to say about parenting and what can go wrong, but it has a simplistic message that reaches everyone. The most basic need you can provide for your child is love, which is a theme that permeates throughout the story. Nuka is deprived of love from his mother (which is visually represented in his starved appearance) and this leads to dire consequences, Simba’s main conflict with his daughter comes from how his love manifests itself, and towards the film’s conclusion love literally overcomes hatred. The movie wants to show its viewers that no one wants to hate, but everyone needs to be loved. When Kovu is able to overcome the darkness of Scar’s legacy and fulfill his will to become king (something that is all but confirmed at the end), he indirectly redeems him through the power of love. It is in that journey for his character, and not his relationship with Kiara, that his story finds its strength. Parental love, not romantic love, is what this was about from the beginning (again, just like with The Little Mermaid). The Lion King 2 was clearly a movie that was designed to be viewed between parents and their children, and I believe it has something of substance to offer them. The Lion King 2 isn’t without its flaws, but its great soundtrack, fantastic voice work, ambitious story, and powerful (and relevant) message elevates it far beyond its DVD sequel peers and makes it a worthy successor to one of Disney’s greatest films.
Quote of the Day:
If there’s so much I must be
Can I still just be me
The way I am?
Can I trust in my own heart
Or am I just one part
Of some big plan?
Even those who are gone
Are with us as we go on
Your journey has only begun
Tears of pain, tears of joy
One thing nothing can destroy
Is our pride, deep inside
We are one
– “We Are One”, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride