The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride
I’m gonna be talking about Disney’s 1998 direct-to-video animated sequel: The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride stars the vocal talents of Matthew Broderick, Neve Campbell, Jason Marsden, and Suzanne Pleshette and was directed by Darrell Rooney. It continues the story of The Lion King, focusing on Simba and his daughter, Kiara.
When Kiara becomes involved with an outsider lion named Kovu, old grudges and prejudices are reignited as true intentions are revealed. Following up The Lion King was an impossible task. Sequels are a tricky thing and far more fail than succeed. Audiences want more of the same; they want the characters they love, they want a similar style, and they want familiarity. But, at the same time, they want a sequel to be distinct and not just feel like a downgraded rehash of the movie they already love. And, it’s really difficult to meet both of those audience requirements.
That overlap is such a small target zone that, incredibly, any sequel manages to ever hit it. For The Lion King II, there was yet another challenge that needed to be taken into consideration: the masterpiece status of the original Lion King. If you saw my review for The Lion King, you know just how important a film it is to me and just how much I love it. It was my favorite movie of all-time for quite a while and I used to watch it all the time. So, when a sequel was released, eight years old me was ecstatic. I was so excited to see more of Simba’s saga and was thrilled by the prospect of learning what happened after The Lion King.
I watched this movie quite a bit as a kid. Certainly not nearly as much as the original film, but this VHS got more than its share of plays. As a continuation of the story, The Lion King II is fairly successful. We pick up with the birth of Simba and Nala’s daughter and get to see the return of most of our old favorites, like Timon, Pumbaa, and Rafiki. The aftermath of Scar’s betrayal and defeat is still fresh in the minds of all the characters and, thematically, that’s one of the biggest driving forces for Simba’s continued story.
He’s a bit blinded by hatred when it comes to Scar and his inability to forgive, or at least fully move on, creates quite a bit of tension in the story. As far as Simba’s concerned, this movie shows his continued character growth as he learns the best ways to lead. Other themes from the first film are also expanded on here. Perhaps most prominently is the concept of parenthood. In The Lion King, we had some excellent father-son moments between Mufasa and Simba, as the king imparted wisdom about life and leadership onto his son. Here, we see the exploration of a father-daughter relationship.
Simba is exceptionally protective of Kiara, perhaps due to his parental tragedy, and so the life lessons go both ways this time. Simba teaches Kiara many of the lessons Mufasa taught him, but Kiara teaches Simba about trust and letting go. Simba’s story is important, but only a small part of this overall story. The film’s other key emotional journey is that of Kovu, the young outsider. His story is perhaps the most interesting of the film, as he struggles with deciding between the life that was chosen for him and the possibility of something new. During his time with Kiara, he learns about and experiences things he was never exposed to before: fun, love, and acceptance. He truly struggles with who he is and there’s a particularly impactful scene where he and Kiara are looking at the stars together.
She tells him the ‘kings of the past’ story that’s been passed down by her family and, before he can catch himself, Kovu wonders aloud “Do you think Scar’s up there?” It’s not something that gets explored much further, but that concept is something that does make you think. We view Scar as nothing more than a villain, but he was a King for a brief period and meant something to this outsider group. It’s just an interesting and poignant minor thing that was included in this movie. While The Lion King was a retelling of Hamlet, The Lion King II remains based in the realm of Shakespeare as well, retelling Romeo and Juliet.
It’s a commonly overused story basis in films, but the whole romantic subplot does introduce an interesting, albeit potentially icky, aspect to the story. Although there are a few lines of dialogue to the contrary, it’s heavily implied that Kovu is Scar’s son. It’s stated that he was the last cub born before the exile and considering Scar was King at the time and the only male lion around, it’s not a big stretch to make the connection. Then, you take into consideration Kovu’s similar appearance, his “chosen one” status, and even his name (which means ‘scar’ in Swahili) and there’s little doubt regarding his ancestry. Biologically and behaviorally, it all makes sense, but it even works well on a thematic level given Simba’s understandable grudge.
I think it’s clear that this was the original story intention, but after the incorporation of the romantic subplot, those few throwaway lines of dialogue were added to make it less creepy. And, it’s understandable that Disney didn’t want to showcase a romantic relationship between first cousins once removed. Despite its interesting story elements and themes, The Lion King II does struggle with common trapping of sequels: it rehashes quite a bit of the original film. There are so many similar stories beats between the two movies that it almost becomes a game to spot them.
The cub presentation ceremony, the “lesson” moment after a dangerous situation, Timon and Pumbaa introducing Kiara to bugs, Zira essentially being a female Scar, complete with her own sinister plotting song sequence that ends with her perched high in the air, backlit by an unnaturally colored sky. Even with all the parallels and callbacks, it does mostly still feel like its movie, thanks to the other plot elements. The Lion King II is by no means a perfect movie. Its rehashed plot structure knocks it down a bit and it has some odd and unintentionally hilarious moments (like the dramatically overlaid “deception” antelope and “disgrace” zebra during the Not One of Us sequence). But it’s still a good movie.
The voice acting is still great, the animation remains very good (especially for a direct-to-video release), the songs are memorable, and the themes are strong. Even the name is wonderful, with its tri-meaning. Simba’s Pride: his pride as in a group of lions, his pride as in his self-respect, and then his pride as in his pride and joy, Kiara. Comparatively, The Lion King II is never able to reach the emotionally impactful heights of the original movie, so it frequently gets either overlooked or looked down on. But, I think that if this had been its movie and not “The Lion King II”, it would be more highly regarded than it is. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one has gotta be the themes.
While never quite as emotionally impactful as those in the original Lion King, the thematic expansions here in this sequel are still impressive. The parental themes are perhaps the strongest, but the Romeo and Juliet-inspired plot also push messages of tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness. Notably, Simba isn’t the only character that has an emotional arc this time. Kovu does as well (and Kiara too, to a lesser extent). Pro number two was the continuation of the story. As a huge fan of the original, I was incredibly happy to see what happened next with these characters.
That prospect was a bit more exciting when I was a kid, but it was honestly still enjoyable, even now, to see Simba’s continued growth as a leader. Plus, having a female main character like Kiara was a nice change and it provided a different insight into the, at times, fairly similar story. On the con side, this film’s biggest issue is that it rehashes much of the original film’s story. Like I said before, sequels are tricky and it’s a difficult task to provide the familiarity that audiences want without being too familiar.
This film does cross into the “too familiar” territory at times, but it’s never done poorly. There are plenty of new subplot and unique elements to this movie, but its core plot is a tad too predictable, drawing most of its inspiration from either the original Lion King or Romeo and Juliet. I’m gonna give The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride 3 out of 5 paws. It’s a solid sequel that manages to recapture some of the magic of the original film, but never quite musters enough emotional heft or story intrigue to ascend to the top of Pride Rock. I would recommend The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride to fans of The Lion King. It’s nowhere close to being the same caliber, but it’s still an enjoyable continuation of the story.
I think this could be an especially enjoyable and nostalgic watch for somebody who grew up with The Lion King and saw this film as a kid but hasn’t revisited it in a while. If you liked The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, I’ve gotta recommend The Lion King. It’s the pinnacle of animated filmmaking and serves as the deeply moving and impactful origin of many of these characters. If you’re watching Lion King II, chances are good you’ve already seen Lion King, but you may not have seen my next recommendation: The Lion King 1 ½. It’s a more comedic take, focusing on Timon and Pumbaa, but it offers some interesting insight into the story, serving as both a prequel and an alternate-perspective retelling of the first film. Alright, a couple of questions for you guys.
Number one: Have you seen The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite direct-to-video sequel?