This week, we watched the hilariously meta take on The Lion King, the 2004 release The Lion King 1 1/2. This film is a rarity among the DisneyToon sequels in that it is actually enjoyable to watch for adults. But, it is much more than that. The conceit of The Lion King 1 1/2 is something that Disney had never done before and has never done to this level since. Rather than being a traditional third entry in The Lion King franchise, this movie is essentially a retread of the original film. In fact, it almost plays like a highlight reel of favorite moments from that film. The big difference, though, is that it is told from the point of view of sidekicks, Timon and Pumbaa.
The fact that this film ever got made is somewhat of a shocker to me. For one thing, Disney puts a great deal of effort into keeping their films, particularly their animated classics, viewed as sacred treasures. In other words, they try to keep these movies viewed as masterpieces by audiences and avoid tainting those legacies at all costs. The Lion King was one of the most successful films created during the Disney renaissance, and the first direct-to-video sequel did an admirable job at honoring that legacy. The Lion King 1 1/2 does not. At all. The Lion King 1 1/2 puts more effort into fart jokes and what some people may consider cheap laughs than it does honor the legacy of the original film. This fact may turn away other Disney fans and critics who want to keep their memory of The Lion King as pure as can be. I understand this, but I had a great time with it.
The Lion King 1 1/2 begins in a darkened theater, with Timon and Pumbaa in the front seats. They are watching The Lion King and right from the get-go, we can see that this will be nothing like other Disney films. What begins as a commentary of the original film morphs as they begin to tell their side of the beloved story, farts and all. The story initially focuses on Timon and starts before the events of the original film. In this scene, we get a great musical number about the life of meerkats and we are given an inside look into where Timon came from. Two new characters are introduced, Timon’s Mom and his Uncle Max, voiced by the late great Jerry Stiller. Not only does Timon not fit in with his clan, but he dreams of a better place and, with his mom’s blessing, he goes in search of it. This leads to his first interaction with Pumbaa, and a friendship starts to develop.
The rest of the film mostly consists of parallel events from the original Lion King, but with a focus on Timon and Pumbaa. Throughout, it is expected that you know the original film quite well and often will reference events that are shown in that movie but are skipped over here. The humor is indeed low-brow and silly, but what do you expect from Timon and Pumbaa? For what it sets out to do, it does excellently well. And the bow on top of it all? The ending features numerous cameos from other Disney properties which made me grin from ear to ear.
I highly suggest streaming this film on Disney+ and giving it a chance if you haven’t already. If anything, it is much better than the 2019 remake!
Next week, we will be watching Mulan II. Happy watching!