Well The Lion King was the highest grossing animated film in its day, and still is in the category of traditionally hand-drawn films. Therefore the powers that be decided that it certainly needed to get a straight to video sequel to rake in the cash and who cares if it measures up to the original or not.
Well it’s pretty clear that I don’t care too much for this film, but I’m willing to be fair and get the good things discussed first. First off the voice acting is quite good. Everyone is distinct and they got a lot of the original voices back and that’s great, because you don’t have a jarring difference between how the characters sounded in the original film and this one. The animation isn’t horrible, but certainly not as good as the original. Most of the music is also very good. ‘He Lives in You’ and ‘We Are One’ are great and fit well with the songs from The Lion King. ‘My Lullaby’ is interesting as far as villain songs go, and Zira herself isn’t that bad of a villain, and ‘Not One of Us’ works, but is perhaps a bit ill timed, but that comes more down to pacing which I will get to later.
The only song I don’t like is ‘Upendi’ and it’s not really the song so much as the sequence that goes with it. The sequence is frankly cartoony and despite being animated most Disney feature films are not cartoony, especially The Lion King. That film really worked to make the animals move like animals do from everything from our main characters to leaf cutter ants. The only time that changes is in the ‘I Can’t Wait to be King’ number and even then it didn’t shift to this degree it was more a colour palette change. Here we have Rafiki throwing giant stars the air and pulling the top of a mountain and having butterflies fly out. Kovu and Kiara are sitting in a giant leaf boat and dancing in a conga line and then the leaf boat somehow becomes a parachute and it’s like a Disney Acid Sequence where there shouldn’t be one. When Simba is singing about wanting to be king it’s a children’s fantasy and a way to distract Zazu, a colour change and a little bit of stylized character movement is fine. But Upendi is a love ballad scene that’s supposed to be the turning point for Kovu’s character and there’s a toilet flushing sound effect in it! Who the hell thought that was a good idea? Also not helping the romance is that Mufusa is the one who proposed it in the first place. This makes the romance feel forced because Rafiki is acting as Mufusa’s aide basically to get these two together, not because they actually like one another but to make everyone else's problems go away. Now The Lion King didn’t spend a whole lot of time on Simba and Nala getting together, but that wasn’t the main purpose of the story. This story is supposed to be based on Romeo and Juliet and the romance is kind of the entire point of the story. And I think the romance sucks.
Part of the problem is that no one is developed all that much in this film, especially the two main characters. Kovu for instance is shown as being a nice guy as a cub being manipulated by his mother. Then we get grown up Kovu who goes along with Zira’s plan after all that manipulation and then wants to stops after one day with Kiara and having fun. Really? Why? What makes all this so special? This is why I think his exile song doesn’t quite work in context, it feels too abrupt. I don’t think we really get to see Kovu struggle to overcome his years of Zira telling him what a great guy Scar was and what horrible guys Simba and his pride are to fully connect with him. It’s just here he is as a cub, here his as an adult ready to kill Simba, and now he’s a good guy because of the power of love. Yes, this is Disney who is famous for their one day romances, but normally the guy in the equation is at least on the side of good before the romance starts.
The other side of the romance coin though is Kiara and while she is on the side of good I can’t really describe her beyond that. Her only real distinction as a character is that she is the opposite of Simba. Not just that she’s a girl, but in that Simba wanted to be king and to make this film different Kiara doesn’t want to be queen. There is some justification to this idea in that everyone treats her just as a princess, a part in some big plan as she says, and not as person in her own right but I find it hard to sympathize with her because we don’t get to really she want kind of person she is at all in this film. Even in the song ‘Love Will Find a Way’ she sings “I may not be brave or strong or smart” well then what the hell are you? Is she a leader? Is she compassionate, arrogant, or impulsive? Again we get to see her as a cub and as an adult, but we don’t really delve into what kind of person she is and what she might do if people saw her as something other than Simba’s daughter.
Speaking of Simba he has become my least favourite character in this film by far. I honestly don’t get why he is so protective of Kiara. Yes it’s a trope for the father to be too careful with his daughter, but this goes beyond that. He never wants her to do anything even when she’s an adult, he always thinks she’s going to be hurt, and he always goes behind her back to have Timon and Pumbaa watch her. If he really thinks she needs a babysitter why not just make them go with her initially like Sarabi did with Zazu when he was a cub?
I actually do think there’s a really interesting explanation for this though and that’s to bring in Kopa. Simba’s cub from the first film and the Six Adventures books released after it. Now yes I know Disney has said that the cub at the end of the first film is Kiara and later books of The Lion King refer to the cub as a daughter, but I’m sorry Disney you can’t ret-con like that it simply doesn’t work. The cubs are clearly different, the ceremonies are clearly different. So I and many other fans have concluded over the years that the only reason Kiara is going to become queen is because that first cub died. It makes the films make so much more sense together really. Now Simba has a reason to be so overprotective of his daughter, because he already lost his son. Now there’s a reason for Zira to be banished if she’s responsible for what happened to Kopa. She would see him as an obstacle to be removed so Kovu can become king. People may say Disney wouldn’t do that because it involves a child death yet they had a child death in Tarzan, off-screen of course, but it was there, and people still accepted that film. And heck I’m not twelve anymore so I totally would have been on board for a darker film rather than something filled with cartoony shots and fart jokes. In fact the whole subplot of Nuka and his jealousy of Kovu was actually my favourite part of the movie. It ties nicely back in with the first film. Scar chooses the youngest cub to be king rather than the oldest one because of his own issues with Mufusa. Nuka gets jealous anyway and we even get to see why Nuka would not make a good king. He’s cowardly, scraggly, and has no command presence at all. It’s the one thing in the film that I think is properly paced. We’re introduced to Nuka we see what kind of person he is, we know what his problem is and we see him try to overcome it and ultimately fail, why couldn’t everyone’s arc be like this?
All right to try and sum this whole mess up I think that this movies tries to build a story onto the first film, and doesn’t do a very good job of it. The main couple isn’t developed. Simba goes from a fun guy who takes responsibility for his life to over protective jerk of a father with no explanation. Timon and Pumbaa are annoying comic relief and Mufusa keeps meddling in his son’s time as king. The animation is just okay and the music and acting is good but they don't outweigh the flaws of the film for me. Outside of seeing wonderful fanart from people who put much more thought and effort into making this whole thing fit together I don’t recommend this movie. It’s just a let-down that they didn’t put as much effort into this as they did the first film. That making this film was seen as a cash-grab opportunity rather than a chance to truly grow the story of The Lion King. And what’s even more depressing is that we still have another sequel to look at that manages to be even worse than this one was.