Rather than view
Disney’s The Lion King, Return of the
Roar as a successor to the original theatrical feature, or even as a sequel
or “parallel-quel” like The Lion King 2 and Lion King 1½,” it might be best to
take the new release for what it is: the double length kickoff episode for the
recent Disney Junior series for preschool and school age children.
Taken in that
context, The Lion Guard is more
ambitious than the garden-variety Disney Junior series. There are no pauses as
a character waits for the viewer’s response to a question (as is the custom on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). The series is
cel-animated, making it visually different from much of Disney’s early morning CG
programming. In that way, it’s akin to the traditionally animated source
material, though of course limited to—but not always creatively constrained
by–a TV budget.
concerns young Kion (voice of Max Charles), who learns he has a powerful roar
with almost mystical powers (for Don Knotts fans, it’s like Mr. Limpet’s
thrum). This roar signals a turning point in his life, he is now the successor
to a bold group of protectors called the “lion guard,” which kept things nice
in the Pride Lands until Scar killed them all. (Like Voldemort, Scar had the
power but it went to his head.)
enlisting another group of ripped “Navy Seal”-ish lions, Kion jolts his dad
Simba (voice of Rob Lowe) by recruiting his young pals, who don’t exactly fit
the mold and have as many shortcomings as virtues. This in itself sets up a
wonderful opportunity for the series to send messages to kids who, to quote the
musical version of Lost Horizon,
“Just because you think you’re small, that doesn’t mean that you’re small at
all…” and so on, without being clunky about it.
This is the
second TV series based on The Lion King.
The first one followed Timon and Pumbaa on their travels beyond the Pride
Lands. The Lion Guard should please
young fans because it stays put, leaving the door open for appearances from
familiar characters like Simba and a cumulonimbus Mufasa (voiced by James Earl
It’s also chock
full of original songs that suggest the flavor of the original film and also
move into other musical directions. They’re the work of singer/songwriter Beau
Black, who is featured in the DVD’s only bonus feature, singing the Earworm
Award contender, “Here Comes the Lion Guard.” Classic pop fans take note, he’s
the son of legendary singer Jay Black of Jay and the Americans (“Come a Little
Bit Closer,” “This Magic Moment,” “Cara Mia’).
album of songs from
both the TV soundtrack featuring Black and members of the voice cast, as well
as a selection of music from Christopher Willis’s score, have been released by
Walt Disney Records.