The Lion King is one of the best, if not the best, Disney movies ever. I extremely love it, and it’s one of the movies that I never get tired of rewatching over and over again. I also have fondness for the direct-to-video sequels, though they aren’t as profound and impactful, and the Timon & Pumba spin-off animated series, though its goofy tone is a disparate departure from Lion King. So you can say that I have an affinity to this franchise. Thus, it was understandable that I got easily excited when this new Lion King animated series, The Lion Guard, was first announced last year – I was really looking forward to it.
At last, after a lengthy wait, the pilot, a mini-movie titled The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, has finally aired (the rest of its debut season will run on January 2016). It’s set after the events of The Lion King but before the events The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, and centers on Simba’s son, Kion, who is discovered to have the gift of “The Roar”, qualifying him to serve as the leader of The Lion Guard, the elite protectors of the Pride Lands. He then assembles his Lion Guard – Pride Land’s “bravest, fastest, strongest, and keenest of sight” – which consists of a honey badger, a cheetah, a hippopotamus, and a cattle egret.
The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar has flashes of interesting things – like Scar’s backstory as the former leader of the Lion Guard – but I never got to completely invest on it. The premise is bonkers, the tone is juvenile, the humor is shallow, and the characters are uninteresting. But my biggest problem is that there are parts in the script that are noticeable products of dumb and sloppy writing. For example, Simba is worried that Kion isn’t ready to be the leader of the Lion Guard because he is still a cub. And yet, when he narrates the history of the Lion Guard, he tells Kion, “When your grandfather Mufasa was about your age, his younger brother, Scar, was leader of the Lion Guard.” This means Scar was actually even younger than Kion when he was leader of the Lion Guard! In addition, the accompanying graphics for Mufasa and Scar as Simba was narrating this account are those of adults already. No matter how you look at it, the inconsistency is infuriating.
What bugs me further is the choice of setting begs this important question: “Where were Kion and his Lion Guard during the events of The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride?” I think it would have been less problematic if The Lion Guard had been set after Lion King II, and Kion had been the son of Kiara and Kovu.
The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, for me, is an overall disappointment. Don’t get me wrong. I understand from the start that this new show is intended for the kids (and there’s always the possibility that it’ll prove to be a hit to that target audience). But I was actually hoping I could get into this show regardless of this. I was hoping it would provide something for the grownups that grew up on Lion King as well, or, at the very least, be appealing and clever on its own. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case.