More often than not, direct-to-video Disney sequels are plagues upon their respective franchises. Even the term “direct-to-video” carries with it a kind of implied mediocrity. And the origins of such skepticism are, for better or worse, clearly carved into the company’s hallowed annals. The Return of Jafar started the trend in 1994, smack dab in the middle of the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999). With 15 million VHS tapes sold and over $300 million shoved back into the Mouse’s fat, deep pockets, the film is considered a commercial success. Not sure how much that will matter after you’ve watched it. But hey, shit don’t stink if you Febreze it, right?
The majority of these films fall somewhere between schlock and brilliance, with few scratching either extremity and most functioning as forgettable jaunts through laughably bad stories. There are, of course, exceptions. Disrupting this pattern like a herd of savannanimals is The Lion King 1 1/2, at face value a silly, low-commitment romp with just enough comedic oomph to keep viewers reasonably diverted. Dig a bit deeper, though, and there’s far more to this harmless adventure. It’s not really a commentary on anything, but it does have fleeting moments of wisdom that place it a cut above others of its ilk.
This in-betweenquel takes place both before Simba’s birth and into his young lionhood, a tumultuous time in the young cub’s life. But while Simba and Nala frolic around the kingdom like it’s their own personal playground (which, Mufasa’s teachings be damned, it kind of is), Timon meets the gassy warthog who quickly becomes his best friend.
Timon and Pumbaa have always been one of Disney’s strongest pairings, and The Lion King 1 1/2 only reinforces that. Despite this being a “Timon” story, it’s Pumbaa who benefits the most from Timon’s character arc. He gains a friend, a companion who lacks his emotional intelligence but always operates with pure intentions. More importantly, though? He finds a home. But Timon’s growth is the crux of the story and the movie rightly grounds itself in that decision. Our actions have the potential to change lives, and it just so happens that Timon’s openness to change and growth positively impacts both him and Pumbaa in a big way.
And then there’s Rafiki, the wise mandrill who kickstarts Timon’s personal development. What’s astonishing about Rafiki is his ability to help without getting in the way. The best mentors take a hands-off approach to teaching, nudging their mentees when necessary but leaving most of the epiphanies to their proteges.
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Did You Know?
Timon’s voice actor, Nathan Lane, had initially wanted to play Zazu, but after meeting Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa) auditioned for one of the hyenas. They hit off so quickly that directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff cast them as Timon and Pumbaa soon after the audition.