The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride is often considered the best of the direct-to-video Disney sequels and it is easy to see why. Despite lacking the production values found in theatrical Disney features, this film has a lot going for it with new music, an engaging story, and a talented voice cast. Like the first film, this too is inspired by a Shakespeare play, specifically Romeo and Juliet.
The Lion King II opens with “He Lives in You”, a beautiful song written by Lebo M for the Broadway adaptation of the original film. It is highly reminiscent of “Circle of Life”, and feels like a natural opening to a Lion King sequel. The story picks up where the first film left off. Simba is now the king of Pride Rock and has a daughter of his own that will be the Queen one day. As Mufasa did for him, he too is training his child for this future, while also protecting her from the dangers that are lurking nearby. Although Scar is dead, there are still those that worship his memory such as new character, Zira, who has been banished by Simba and lives on the outskirts. Though Zira and her family are banished, her son Kovu has a soft spot for Simba’s daughter Kiara, which only makes Zira angrier and keener on revenge. Once you look for it, it is easy to see the parallels between this story and that of Romeo and Juliet, with the two feuding families and their children who are in love.
As with most of the other sequels, most of the voice cast returned for this film with the exception of Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, who is now voiced by Edward Hibbert. The film’s villain is voiced by Hollywood star Suzanne Pleshette. Her raspy voice is deliciously evil and fits perfectly with the character of Zira. It is fun to see the rest of the characters back as well. Though the opening number is by far the strongest new song, most of the others are pleasant as well, with the most notable being “We Are One”, which is sung by Simba near the beginning and goes on to become a recurring musical theme of the film.
The film came to video in the fall of 1998 and was a great financial success, selling 3.5 million copies in three days. Another follow-up was released 6 years later, titled The Lion King 1 1/2, and takes place during the events of the first film. The characters of Kovu and Zira are also featured in the television spin-off The Lion Guard.
Though there was no way anyone could replicate the success of the first film, this sequel does an admirable job and ultimately, succeeds where most Disney sequels seem to fail.
Check back next week for The Little Mermaid II.