The Lion King 1 1/2

2004, Movie, G, 77 mins

Review

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This retelling of THE LION KING (1994) from the point of view of comic sidekicks Timon (voice of Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) is one of the rare Disney direct-to-video sequels worthy of the original. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 framing device has meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa silhouetted before a movie screen. The animal odd couple reveal their hitherto unknown presence in parts of the first film — unnoticed in the shadows of history, they witnessed key events in little Simba's life before actually meeting the exiled cub (Matt Weinberg) — and details their other unsung foibles and heroics. Who knew the meerkats of the savannah were Lower East Side Jews, until hearing Timon, his Ma (Julie Kavner) and his Uncle Max (Jerry Stiller) yelp "Oy!" and "Are you meshuggah?" The wisecracking but sensitive Timon reveals in flashback that he was a one-meerkat disaster area whose attempts to dig tunnels and stand guardwatch regularly ended in slapstick disaster. Setting off on his own, he encounters enigmatic baboon-shaman Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), who advises Timon to "look beyond" what he sees, metaphorical advice that Timon takes literally. En route to Pride Rock and the first film, he meets the outcast Pumbaa, who's afflicted with poisonous flatulence, an overused comic trope that actually works as both a character trait and a plot point. Remember the opening of THE LION KING? Now you'll know why all those animals were bowing. You'll also learn how Timon and Pumbaa distracted the hyenas when Simba (Matthew Broderick) fought his machiavellian uncle Scar (seen only in clips from the original). Nathan Lane's performance is paramount among the film's virtues; it elevates Timon from a standard-issue, misunderstood young hero to an everyman for viewers of all ages. The film's verbal acrobatics occasionally rival classic Bugs and Daffy exchanges — witness Pumbaa's unintentional, rapid-fire array of phrases rhyming with "hakuna matata" — and the two new songs are equally polished — "Diggah Tunna" is as catchy as any LION KING tune. The only aspect of the film that feels forced is the revisionist positioning of Timon as young Simba's step-dad, which has no emotional echo in the first film. The quality of the animation is surprisingly impressive; some static backgrounds are the primary concession to a small-screen budget and the fluid character movements and expressions are vastly superior to those of, say, the Timon and Pumbaa TV cartoon series. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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