The Lion King 1 1/2

The Lion King 1 1/2 (2004)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Trailers, Interactive Games, Music Video

Until "Finding Nemo, " the most successful Disney animated film was 1994’s "The Lion King." In addition to its theatrical and home video successes, the concept spawned a Tony-award winning stage musical and a direct-to-video sequel, "Simba’s Pride." But despite all that exposure, turns out we’ve never been told the real story of Simba. Like so much of life, it’s all a matter of perspective.

If Hamlet had his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Simba has his faithful pals the meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa. And just as we got to see Hamlet’s tale from R & G’s side, "The Lion King 1 ½" completes the circle of Simba’s life by telling the story through Timon and Pumbaa’s eyes.

"Lion King 1 ½" sets its tongue-in-cheek tone from the very first, with Timon & Pumbaa officiating, in silhouette a la "Mystery Science Theater 3000," over their own life story. Timon feels ill fit among his meerkat brethren. Despite the adoration of his mother (Julie Kavner) and the gruff love of his Uncle Max (Jerry Stiller), Timon questions his life of digging and feeding. When an accident threatens the safety of the colony, he sets out to find his happy place in the world. Soon, Timon befriends Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), a warthog with serious digestive problems. Both outcasts, their journey for "Hakuna Matata" takes a Homeric turn when they rescue a small lion cub named Simba, a prince destined to be King of the Jungle.

What could have been another cash-in installment of the lucrative franchise turns out to be a very funny sequel. Sure, the "Hamlet" parallels of "The Lion King" would make it easy to classify "1 ½" as a Disneyfied take on "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," but as Timon and Pumbaa play like Laurel and Hardy I’d tag this romp as "Way Out Veldt." Lightning-fast one-liners and a slew of pop culture references from "Casablanca," "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly," "Apocalypse Now," "Fiddler On The Roof," "Peter Gunn," "The Sixth Sense," and "Lady And The Tramp," among others, imbue "1 ½" with enough hip pedigree for the adults and the non-stop flatulence jokes and slapstick antics will keep the kids occupied. Even the animation looks a cut above the direct-to-video fare, especially since there are a few instances of integrated footage from the original theatrical version. Scriptwriter Tom Rogers manages to cover all the original "Lion King" bases in the tight, seventy seven minute narrative when it comes to Timon and Pumbaa’s tandem point of view. As seen through their eyes (and nose), the "Simba introduction" scene unfolds like the ultimate parody of the infamous "campfire" scene from "Blazing Saddles."

What also works in its favor is the return of the entire voice cast as well as Elton John and Tim Rice, Oscar winners from the first stint, contribute new songs. Everyone – from Lane & Sabella to Matthew Broderick, Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin – steps back into their roles as if they never left it. Julie Kavner’s Mom basically comes off like another version of Marge Simpson while Stiller channels his umpteenth variation of wiseacre curmudgeon with Uncle Max, although I did laugh out loud with his "Meerkat! It’s What’s For Dinner!" warning to Timor.

The transfer is presented in a 1.66 aspect ratio with <$16x9,anamorphic> enhancement and is <$THX,THX>-certified (along with a "THX Optimizer" option for audio/video calibration). Slight black bars run along the side of the image, but depending on some monitors, they will hardly be noticeable. What is noticeable from the first frame is the exemplary video. Colors are brilliant, stable and solid with exceptional depth and detail. The print source is immaculate for a completely pristine image. Deep blacks and no digital or compression artifacts make the visual portion of the presentation as ace as it gets.

Perhaps as a nod to both children and adult fans, the audio is presented in both <$DD,Dolby Digital> and <$DTS,DTS> 5.1. After switching back and forth numerous times, I found myself enjoying the DTS track more. The sound mix itself is very lush and expansive and both audio options present a soundscape just as detailed as the image. Sound effects pan across all channels, the LFE kicks in intermittently with just the right amount of oomph and the rear channels are almost always active. In most cases where the Dolby Digital and DTS audio reside on the same disc, I usually find the DD vs. DTS battle a draw. Here, I found the DTS smoother in dialogue reproduction and surround channel detail. Go figure. A French language 5.1 soundtrack is also included.

Animated menus presented in 5.1 audio guide us through the two supplements housed on the first disc. Introduced by producer George Mendoza and director Raymond, the deleted scenes last twelve minutes and are presented as concept drawings with recorded dialogue. Chapter marked, they can be played separately or all together. Raymond and Mendoza briefly capsulate each snippet a synopsis, place it in context within the feature and explain why it didn’t make the cut. Here, as in most cases, the filmmakers cite pacing and length as the main culprits.

The "Hidden Mickey Game" starts with an invitation from Uncle Max to become a "Meerkat Scout" and find twenty Mickey Mouse icons hidden within the feature. The game is accessible via a set-top DVD player remote and does not require the use of a computer. "Hints" guide viewers when they are "near" a hidden Mickey and there is a little score board for when you’re lucky or missed it. I found three. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please!) Of course, being a Disney DVD, the first disc also houses a few trailers trumpeting the upcoming DVD releases of "Aladdin," "Brother Bear" and the theatrical release of "Home On The Range," as well as a montage of the additional extras on the next disc. (Taking up space on Disc One to promote Disc Two seems a bit odd.)

The remaining supplements lean towards the same irreverence as the feature, even when glimpsing behind the scenes. The "Featurettes" are individually chaptered, leading off with "Timon: Behind The Legend." Riffing on A & E’s "Biography," the five minute segment even has series host Peter Graves giving his usual gravitas, this time unveiling the heretofore unknown beginnings of Timon. Filled with personal snapshots and sound bites, the life examination slightly falls short in getting under the skin of Timon’s success. "The Making of ‘The Lion King 1 ½’" runs exactly fifteen minutes and takes a similarly irreverent backstage tour of the film. Interviews with Mendoza, Raymond and a host of animators as well as voice talent Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella and Cheech Marin swing between canned Disney idolatry and serious technical/character analysis.
Raven’s music video, "Grazing In The Grass," presented in 5.1 audio and full-frame, is a standard, safe music video, good for background music but not exactly cutting edge.

"Timon and Pumbaa’s Virtual Safari 1.5" leads the Interactive portion. In the manner of a Disney attraction, Pumbaa, Timon & family climb aboard a mechanical wildebeest and ride through a safari that looks as manufactured and fabricated as "It’s a Small World" or "Pirates of the Caribbean." (Max comments on why Timon built a ride "when the real thing is outside." Could that be a sly jab at "Disney’s California Adventure" in Anaheim, California?) The ride participants (which we occasionally see in animated reaction shots) humorously comment on the fake scenery and numerous mechanical glitches. Every so often, the ride stops and highlighted arrows take the viewer to the next leg of the journey. The ride is accented with 5.1 audio, a nice touch considering how it tries for a completely immersive environment…just like a Disney ride. "Find The Face" is shape-identification, Disney-style. An unseen narrator prompts the viewer to identify famous Disney characters by their outline.

"Who Wants To Be King of The Jungle" parodies the popular "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" game show, down to syndicated "Millionaire" host Meredith Vieira pulling the same duties here with Timon in the hot seat. Copied down to the kinetic lighting and the lifelines including "Polling The Herd" and "Phone a Friend," viewers can participate, just like the "Hidden Mickey" game, via their set-top remotes. I tried several variations including using the lifelines and intentionally losing (no, really), inviting a variety of responses from Meredith. According to the press materials, they are over 80,000 question combinations. I’ll take their word for it on this. By the way, I tried a couple of times to make it to the top. Embarrassed to say this, but the operative word here is "try."

"Lion King 1 ½" is definitely targeted to the smaller set, but with a winning sense of humor that carries over into the goodies, it’s a Disney trip well worth taking for adults, too.