I anxiously awaited the November 22nd premiere of Disney's new Lion King based animated series, titled The Lion Guard. Sadly, Comcast is evil and we were out of data (since they have a data cap they don't tell you about, and it's nearly impossible to track your usage, but WHATEVER COMCAST. Your time will come, and we will all laugh with joy while you burn. Muahaha!) so I had to wait until our data cycle reset to watch it.
Before the animated series premieres next year (wow, 2016 is close!), Disney kicked off by releasing a movie that the series spin off from. I tried to keep my expectations in check, especially since they went bazooka when I heard Ernie Sabella and James Earl Jones were coming back to voice Pumbaa and Mufasa, respectively, and Rob Lowe and Gabrielle Union had signed on as well.
The animation was in sync with the style of The Lion King, which I was glad to see. It's nice to see Simba as an adult, and see him handling parenting situations. The Return of the Roar picks up before the events of the embarrassment that was The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, but still includes Kiara, Simba and Nala's daughter, and references the Outlands, also referred to in Simba's Pride.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Return of the Roar. The lions didn't move quite as gracefully as they did in The Lion King, but a quality difference is to be expected between film and television. There was certainly some kid humor, especially concerning Pumbaa and his, ah, stomach problems. There was also some humor for parents, with Simba and his son, Kion, referencing an earlier conversation they had ("the talk" = the birds and the bees--eek! My boys are still in diapers, so that's still a bit off, but their joke was funny regardless!). The story integrates The Lion King well, explaining the background subtly so those poor souls unfamiliar with it can follow the new series, without boring the die-hard LK fans like me who are also watching. It's a difficult balance to strike, but if anyone can do it, Disney can. And they do.
There are, of course, the essential Disney lessons included. From standing up for your friends, to voicing your opinion, to being trustworthy so adults will trust you, The Lion Guard tackles them all in one 55-minute TV movie. The message is delivered gracefully and without shoving it in your face, much like classic Disney animation. Kion's decision to make the Lion Guard include non-lion animals is a great allusion to accepting others skills despite what they look like.
My only real problem with the movie was one character, a female lion who gets her claws stuck in a log and proceeds to act like a valley girl for the rest of the movie. Thankfully, she isn't in it a lot, but her aversion to bugs and her overly-generalized female-ness was off-putting. Kiara is a strong female character, with a level-head and great instincts. I found it odd that her character would be so well developed while her friend's character was simply a series of stereotypes that don't at all fit with a lion. Lionesses are fierce, and I'd except them to be portrayed that way. I also found it interesting that Kiara, a female firstborn, is training to succeed Simba as ruler, when only male lions rule prides. I know it's great to encourage girls to be leaders, and I fully support that. I do worry a bit about this generation of kids not understanding how animals follow a different hierarchy than humans, but it's really a nuance and not a deal breaker at all.
My almost 3 year old watched it and enjoyed it. There was some talk of the circle of life, specifically killing gazelles, but nothing is shown and I don't think he understood. I'm not ready to have the 'where our food comes from talk', so hopefully he stays clueless on that aspect of the plot.
Did you watch The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar? What did you think?