Monday, February 01, 2010

The Lion King II: The New Batch (1998)

Yeah, so I know straight-to-DVD Disney sequels have a dire reputation, but I wanted to see for myself. Conventional wisdom, I have often found, is full of shit. But damn, man...

I actually watched the first ten-fifteen minutes of the movie in kind of a delirious haze--it was sort of like how I felt playing Suikoden II--OH BOY OH BOY, all the characters are back how exciting! I was absolutely all ready to love the shit out of this film and if that meant that I had irredeemably terrible taste, then so be it.

Alas! Or hooray, I suppose, if we care about my taste's reputation! This was not to be.

First, you have to swallow the idea that Scar, during the original Lion King, had a mate and three cubs, but uh, gosh, we sorta forgot to put any mention of this in the movie, possibly because it would have made Scar into a completely different character. If you can buy that, you shouldn't have much trouble buying the notion that there were also a whole bunch of other Scar-aligned lions hanging around just off-camera. Anyway, Simba banished them all, because, on the evidence of this sequel, he's kind of a dick. You probably aren't able to accept all this--what sane person would be?--but you HAVE to, because we're moving on, okay?

The regular lions look fine--pretty much just as they did in the original--but the banished lions are kind of hideous--they're meant to be Scar-ish, but the results are not pretty or even particularly ept. Can I say something? Yes, there are a handful of Disney movies I haven't yet seen, but I'm going to provisionally state that Scar is easily Disney's best villain (though I wish they'd allowed him to maintain some dignity at the end). His widow, Zira--not even CLOSE. They try so desperately to make her a female version of the character, and they fail so utterly. It's pretty embarrassing to watch.

As stated, she has three cubs: forget about the girl cub; she's not a significant character (although she made enough of an impact on somebody that she has a li'l fanpage--I like it; a very late-90s-geocities aesthetic). Then there's the older boy cub, a scraggly teenage-Scar type who combines his father's personality with disaffected teenage petulance. I really can't tell you the extent to which riffing on Scar's character like this feels utterly, cosmically wrong. He dies, but no one cares because he was an awful character. His mom's sad, but we don't care about that either, because she's an awful character too. With more competent writers/character designers, they could have actually done something affecting here (if you're willing to accept the egregious retconning that was necessary for these characters to exist in the first place), but there's no point mooning over a meaningless counterfactual.

Then there's the main cub, Kovu, the good one and the love interest for Simba's daughter, Kiara. Here's a particularly inept instance of the movie trying to have it both ways: it is stated several times, not particularly artfully, that, oh he's not Scar's real son; Scar just, uh, found him. Somewhere. And adopted him. Never mind the fact that he is designed to look like a less-evil Scar. This intelligence seems to have no purpose in the story; nothing's ever done with it. Then, you realize that it was so he could have a romance with Kiara without raising the specter of incest. Okay, but then there's a whole fucking big, angsty deal made about the question of whether he can escape the evil that was in his father or whether he's inherited it; there's a part where he sees his reflection in a pool and it morphs into Scar, BUT YOU JUST SAID THEY WEREN'T BIOLOGICALLY RELATED! WHAT THE HELL?!? ARE YOU *TRYING* TO DRIVE ME CRAZY?!? I'm pretty sure that the incest thing didn't even occur to them until late in the game, so they hurriedly inserted the not-really-related disclaimer without any regard to the fact that it makes the character's ark totally nonsensical. That, my friends, is a commitment to art.


For what it's worth, Kiara is a perfectly competently-done character, and Kovu isn't exactly unlikable, notwithstanding all the incoherence surrounding him--but they are drowning in a sea of madness.

There are also songs. I can't call them terrible, because that would imply that I remember anything about them. The filmmakers try to recreate the original's whole big-musical-set-piece thing, but they fail utterly. I'm not actually a huge fan of the original's soundtrack, but "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" are undeniably instantly memorable, whereas the only song from the sequel that I remember at all is "Upendi" (it means 'love,' apparently--trying, clumsily, to copy the idea of having a song with a Swahili refrain), and the only reason for that is because of its completely batshit sequence where Rafiki is playing matchmaker for the two young lovers while they float down a river and through the air on a leaf-boat and various hearts and shit flutter around, and I cannot TELL you how bizarrely out-of-place it is. Also, there's a song where the prey animals sing. That, too, is seriously strange.

Anyway, there's a little bit of conflict, blah blah, the two prides fight, Zira dies, all of the other exiles go from being evil degenerates to good guys over the course of about thirty seconds, the pride's reunited, the end. Sorry for spoiling it for you, but believe me--it was for your own good.

Fuck--I can't even claim to completely hate the movie; there's just something about redemption stories that I think we're programmed to respond to, even when executed as poorly as they are here. But you couldn't even remotely call it a good movie, and I think my curiosity about these direct-to-DVD sequels is pretty definitively cured. But hmm…maybe the Aladdin sequels are better...? NO! THAT WAY LIES MADNESS!


Blogger Lorraine pontificated to the effect that...

Any chance you'll be seeing "The Lion King 1 1/2?" Because if there's anything better than sequels, I think it might be midquels.

(I haven't seen nor do I plan on seeing any Disney prequels, sequels or midquels. I think encouraging you to watch them and then reading your outrage would be tons, tons more entertaining.)



12:17 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Oh god help us--I can tolerate Timon and Pumbaa in moderation, but I feel like an entire film focused on them would quickly become its own little layer of hell. I mean, I watched Atlantis: The Lost Empire, god help me, but a line must be drawn somewhere.

Thanks for your kind words, however. It's good to know that someone enjoys this nonsense I write.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

Most sequels suck. I'm sure Disney's are no exception, especially when they go direct to video. But, having a brother twelve years my junior, I often had The Rescuers Down Under foist upon me. I believe I have seen that stupid movie more times than any single film or episode of a show. And you know what? George C. Scott's villainous McCleach stands as one of my favourite cartoon villains of all time. He's just so happy to do wrong. It's infectious.

So, ah, maybe you might want to try that one before swearing off all Disney sequels forever and ever.

5:03 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Yeah, I plan to (actually, I saw it in the theater way back in the day, but I have little memory of it). Most of these lame sequels were done not be the regular Disney people but by their Disneytoons subsidiary; TRDU is the lone exception to that. It's part of what I think of as the canon, so I'm definitely going to watch it at some point.

11:23 AM  

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