I’ve mentioned on previous occasions that The Lion King is my favourite movie of all time. I would list reasons why, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know the answer, so I won’t waste your time more than I need to.
Now, with that in mind, it should of course come as no surprise that I would eventually write about the 1998 sequel, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride.
So, what say we begin the violent, detailed rant where I break down exactly how this movie is a worthless waste of cinema, and that it has forever tainted the original for me?
Well… No. Let’s not do that.
Because it isn’t true.
This is NOT a bad movie. Nothing in it actively hurts or really diminishes the first movie. The animation, acting and story are all good and while the songs aren’t as memorable or great as in the original, none of them are outright bad. In short, The Lion King II is far from a bad movie. If I was being cruel, I would say that it is better than a direct-to-video sequel has any right to be.
But since I am not cruel (at least not in this instance) I will instead say that if it’s not the best sequel to a Disney movie ever made, it is easily in the top five. Granted, it’s not an amazing competition. You’ve got Jafars Revenge, which was pretty much a pilot for the animated series. There’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2,Mulan 2, Tarzan 2… Really, The only other serious contender would be The Rescuers Down Under, which got a theatrical release rather than being direct-to-video. And honestly, out of the two, I’d actually say The Lion King II is the better movie.
Now, those of you who have recovered by this apparent blasphemy might be asking a perfectly reasonable question right about now.
If I have no problem with this movie, why am I writing about it?
The answer is that I DO actually have a problem when it comes to this movie. It’s a fairly simple problem, and it has nothing to do with the acting, the music or the animation, but rather something tangentically connected to the story.
My problem is this. The people behind this movie were cowards.
Be it the writers or the producers, someone decided to play it safe when they made this movie. Let me explain.
As you probably know, The Lion King is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s a very loose adaptation, I agree, but it is an adaptation.
Now, at the end of the movie, Simba has claimed his place as ruler of the Pridelands and is presenting his newborn child to the other animals, completing the Circle of Life, which is one of the major themes in the movie.
So, the new status quo is that Simba is the king, and he has a child. The question is, then, what Shakespearian stories can be told from that?
The people who made this movie presumably asked themselves that question, mulled it over… and decided “Of course! Romeo and Juliet”.
And the entire world collectively groaned with frustration.
Because Romeo and Juliet is fucking dull! EVERYONE does Romeo and Juliet! It’s been done to death! Two years earlier, there was the Baz Luhrman adaptation Romeo + Juliet, a movie so crap, pretty much the only good things you could say about it was A) the guns looked pretty and B) it left the world sighing in relief, since surely nobody would ever make another adaptation of that fucking play again!
(Of course, here we are, two decades later, and Gnomeo and Juliet is a thing that exists. There is no justice… )
Now, for this idea to work, you need a rival family, a Montague to Simbas Capulet. Trouble is, there was only the one group of lions, with Scar being assisted by the Hyenas. Because of this, they had to retcon the idea of Zira, Scars mate who, despite never being seen, referenced or mentioned, was so loyal to Scar she would betray Simba. And of course, she has an entire entourage of followers, also loyal to Scar.
THIS is the closest the movie gets to harming the original movie.
So not only is it an overdone and clicheéd idea, but it’s such a waste of potential! You have Simba being a king now, and he has children. Let’s see. What other story could be told from that offset? What other Shakespearian story could be told, with a king, and possibly the children of the king being the major focus?
Let’s see… Oh, right! King Lear!
I mean, I’m just spitballing, but let’s take this as a setup. Simba has two children. The older is to inherit the throne, and the younger is not. The older is also privately very arrogant and petulant, with the younger being much more noble. Simba, meanwhile, is haunted by Scars betrayal of Mufasa, and is worried that history would repeat itself (perhaps as a subversion of the circle of life).
Because of this, he grows increasingly distrustful of the younger one, blinding himself to the behavior of the older. The older child takes advantage of this, and manipulates Simba into casting out the younger child, and Simba realizes his mistake too late when his older child deposes him. And then the younger child returns, restores Simba to the throne, eventually inherits the kingdom and everyone is happy.
That is the most basic, barebone setup of an adaptaion of King Lear, into the medium of a disney movie. Is it perfect? No. But then, I’m not a professional movie writer.
I’ve just given the outline, the base structure. It really wasn’t that hard. Surely a highly paid writer for one of the biggest companies on earth could do that?
Or you could do Romeo and Juliet, the boring, done-to-death choice instead!
Now, you might be saying it wouldn’t work, seeing as King Lear was a tragedy.
First off, the Shakespeare play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain. In that story, Leir regained his kingdom and was succeeded by his daughter Cordelia. In other words: the original story wasn’t a tragedy! Shakespeare made up the sad ending.
Secondly, if you think it wouldn’t work because the Shakespeare play was a tragedy, let me remind you. SO WAS HAMLET!
Spoiler alert: at the end of hamlet, EVERYONE DIED! That didn’t stop The Lion King from having a happy ending, to widespread critical acclaim!
So, to summarize, my main issue with The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, is that it’s a wasted opportunity. If the same effort had gone into adapting King Lear instead of Romeo and Juliet, the movie could have been truly great.
I know. It’s shocking. No nitpicking the movie, no hatred, no rabid rage filled rant about how it’s a mockery of everything that made the original great, how it’s a shameless and disgusting cash grab and how it’s very existence is poisoning my memories of the original.
After all, that’s what The Lion King 1½ is for….