Better late than never, Nolan and I finally got around to watching the Disney Junior original TV movie The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar this week. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s now available in its entirety on the Watch Disney Junior site and app!
I have been anticipating this franchise since the D23 Expo last summer, and I wasn’t disappointed. The movie opens with familiar music and scenes, but this time we find ourselves listening in on adult Simba talking with his children about “everything the light touches”.
The story takes place during part of The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. Kiara is a child, in training to be queen – and she’s quite proud of it. Her younger brother is more free-spirited and fun-loving. “I know what I’m going to do with my life,” she says to Kion. “What are you going to be?”
“Happy!” Kion replies. “I can’t believe we’re related,” mutters Kiara.
It turns out, of course, that young Kion also has a purpose. We learn quickly that he has been given The Roar of the Elders. “The Roar of the Elders,” Simba explains, “is a great gift. It will make you the greatest lion in the Pride Lands.” It will be Kion’s job to protect the Pride Lands and defend the circle of life. He assembles the Lion Guard, which consists of his best friend Bunga (a brave but sometimes foolish honey badger and a bit of a troublemaker), a cheetah named Fuli, a hippo named Beshte, and an egret named Ono. It’s an unorthodox assemblage (historically, the Lion Guard was made of, well, lions…), and Simba isn’t pleased with Kion’s choices. Kion will have to decide if these are the right animals for the Guard. The rest of the movie is far less intense than its predecessory, but still highly entertaining. I may have even chuckled at a “fart joke”, for the first time in my life. That may have been laughing at my son though, more than with him. 🙂
In addition to the five members of the Lion Guard, we meet Kiara’s lioness friend Tifu. We find a pack of new hyenas, led by Janja, that possess the same quirky, skittish personalities, and comedic relief of the original pack. A vulture named Mzingo joins them in their pursuit of evil. We are treated to more of Rafiki’s wisdom and cave drawings, and even get more of Scar’s backstory – including his experience with the Roar of the Elders, and how he went from the leader of the Lion Guard to the mangy, evil-minded villain we love to hate. It’s a wonderful mix of new characters and Pride Land traditions, plus further development of characters we’ve known for more than 20 years.
One thing I noticed right away was the super fun soundtrack. The music has much of the same feeling as the original, if a bit more playful overall. “Zuka Zama” is a cute song that is simultaneously reminiscent of “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” and “Hakuna Matata.” The animation and scenery is absolutely stunning. I remember the first time I watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and swore I’d never get used to a “3D” Mickey (I did, eventually). With The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, I felt like I was continuing a story in a familiar land. It’s a spectacular use of computer animation that brings back the feel of the hand-drawn art.
A handful of the actors from the original movie have reprised their roles, including Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), and Jeff Bennett (Zazu). It’s a little strange to hear Simba voiced by anyone other than Matthew Broderick, but I imagine I’ll get used to it. The rest of the voice cast isn’t full of slouches, either. Rob Lowe, Gabrielle Union, Blair Underwood, and Christian Slater are among the cast. James Earl Jones even reprises his role as Mufasa when Kion needs a little help figuring out who he is.
Perhaps most important though, is the message of teamwork and individual strengths. Admittedly, the group of people who are upset that The Force Awakens is a bit too reminiscent of A New Hope (they’re wrong by the way, it’s basically perfect) may be annoyed that there are a number of plot lines that almost directly mirror The Lion King. As the introduction to characters in the new Disney Junior series though, and as a revival of what is undoubtedly one of our most beloved animated movies for a new generation, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is a lovely little TV movie. I can’t wait to see more from this fun cast of characters soon!
What if The Lion King changed my childhood (and my life), but I don’t have kids? Should I watch The Lion Guard?
I think the 44-minute TV special is worth watching, if just to revisit old friends. I can’t speak for the upcoming series, but the fact that it’s a Disney Junior original (and not on Disney XD or Disney Channel) means it will almost certainly be geared toward a younger audience. It remains to be seen if it will have enough of a nostalgia factor for adults to return, but I honestly wouldn’t count on it.
Catch The Lion Guard on Disney Junior, premiering January 15th at 9:30am EST.
UPDATE: You can also watch Episode 2, “The Rise of Makku”, on Watch Disney Junior for a limited time. We just watched it and at the very least, it kept the attention of a 3.5-year-old and his mama. It’s a tad “sillier” in story, but just as well made as the longer TV special. Having learned of the backstory in the introductory event, we immediately dive into a new conflict, a new antagonist, and a lot more development of the members of the Guard and the inner workings of the Pride Lands. I think this series is going to be a hit in our whole family for a long time!
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