Picking up where the 1994 original left off, The Lion King II roars paws-first into its own story. King Simba and Nala now have a daughter named Kiara. She’s independent, free-spirited, confident and curious—reminding Simba of his young self more each day. After disobeying her father one day and wandering past the intriguing edge of Prideland, Kiara strikes up an unlikely relationship with Kovu, the son of Simba’s evil (and dead) Uncle Scar, whose pride was banished from the kingdom. Meanwhile, Kovu’s sinister mother, Zira, sees the budding friendship as the perfect opportunity to avenge her husband’s death by dethroning the eminent princess and placing Kovu on the throne instead.
Fast-forward a few years, and Zira has trained Kovu for one purpose: Kill Simba to become the rightful prince of Prideland. But when he rescues Kiara from a fire and is invited into Simba’s pride, Kovu’s true self begins to emerge. In the process, Simba’s trust is tested as he deals with his doubts about Kovu, his deep-seated hatred for Scar and his guilt over his own father’s death.
Forgiveness takes center stage in Simba and Kovu’s relationship. The king struggles to accept Scar’s son because of the rogue pride’s history of deceit. Watching his daughter fall in love with this renegade makes it even harder. When Kovu appears to redeem himself, Simba admits he was wrong and apologizes. Later, however, he exiles Kovu after the younger lion seemingly leads the king into an ambush—despite Kovu’s pleas for forgiveness. On the flip side, Zira refuses to forgive Simba for his role in her husband’s death. Her life is devoted to seeking revenge at all costs; yet the movie clearly depicts the destructive power of bitterness.
The importance of trust is shown from all angles among Simba, Kovu, Kiara and even Zira. Kovu must gain the trust of Simba despite his background and apparent failures. As a parent struggling to let his daughter grow up, Simba must learn to trust Kiara and let her venture out on her own—mistakes and all. Kiara, meanwhile, has unwavering trust in Kovu’s heart, despite his alleged actions. And finally, even Zira gets the chance to trust Kiara with her life on the line.
Despite being brainwashed his whole life to hate Simba and his pride, Kovu rescues Kiara twice. As he's welcomed back into Prideland for these heroic acts, he sees firsthand the loving family relationships among Simba, Nala and Kiara. Kiara and Kovu break up the climactic showdown between their two prides by emphasizing similarities. "What difference do you see?" Kiara says, adding that, "They are us."
From the opening song lyrics of "He lives in you/He lives in me/He watches over everything we see," The Lion King II follows the same ambiguous spiritual path as its predecessor, blending Christian themes with New Age philosophy. Simba’s deceased father, Mufasa, is a God-like figure, speaking from heaven with the booming CNN voice of James Earl Jones. "Well done, my son," he says with rays of sunlight radiating down on earth, and then adds, "We are one." His voice can also be heard through the wind to the wise baboon Rafiki, who plays the role of prophet and matchmaker.
In Christlike fashion, Simba prays to his father, asking for guidance. In the next sentence, however, he tells his wife he was "seeking counsel from great kings" of the past, then mentions that they are "silent as the stars."
And once again, the reincarnation-based "circle of life" theme takes precedence to show nature’s pecking order. While lions are honored as kings of the land by every creature under the sun, the message heard in the song "We Are One" infiltrates most group scenes: "We are more than we are/We are one/Even those who are gone are still with us as we go on." Animals throughout the kingdom preach the message (in song, of course) that to find courage, wisdom and strength, simply look within to realize that you are part of a bigger picture.
None, unless you count feline cuddling and monkey smooches!
Simba is ambushed by Zira's pride, and the ensuing fight involves wrestling, biting and clawing. The result of this skirmish is Kovu's older brother being killed by logs. Later, when Kovu fails Zira, she hits him in the face, leaving blood and a claw mark. Though not always as physically violent, Zira is abusive and enraged throughout the movie, often taking her anger out verbally on her cubs.
In separately intense scenes, Mufasa, Simba and Zira all fall off cliffs. The final showdown between Simba's and Zira's prides involves more tussling and biting while Zira paces on the sidelines screaming, "Go for the eye! Go for the jaw!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
While arguing about fine dining on bugs, Timon and Pumbaa play verbal ping-pong with the a variant of Miller Lite's popular ad campaign: "Tastes good!" "Less filling!"
Other Negative Elements
Timon has a penchant for bodily function humor. When he and Pumbaa are discussing Simba's heir at the beginning of the film (and before they know the cub is female), Timon says, "Who's gonna teach him to belch?" followed by a loud belch of his own. Later, Timon and Pumbaa find themselves surrounded by hostile lions from Zira's pride. Timon grabs Pumbaa's tail and fashions it into a "gun," frightening the big cats away. Timon says, "Talk about your winds of war!" referring the power of Pumbaa's backside.
It’s no small undertaking to serve as follow-up to the most successful animated movie in Disney history. To avoid unfair comparisons to its predecessor, creators of this movie decided to follow other Disney sequels and bypass the big screen for a stab at straight-to-video (and now DVD) fame. Smart decision. Because despite a solid moral foundation, respectable family values and constructive lessons in trust, forgiveness and unity, The Lion King II often tries too hard to measure up. Adults will find the story predictable and formulaic, and the music lacks the engaging emotional power of the original's soundtrack (Elton John is missed). And kids will find the messages about growing up mixed and misleading.
While the father-daughter relationship between Simba and Kiara is filled with love, the creators chose to highlight their stereotypical parent-teen disputes as plot points. And Kiara always ends up with the last word. Twice she disobeys Simba and runs away from home—yet she's never punished. Her rebellion is portrayed as a natural part of growing up, and because she is repeatedly saved or protected, the ramifications of her defiant actions never come about.
The Lion King II also has more dark moments than parents might expect. Zira's character isn't just evil, she's a sad case of a parent gone mad. She refuses to forgive Simba for her husband's death, and instead devotes her life to seeking revenge at all costs—even her children's lives. Her obsession causes her to be quick-tempered and anger-driven, especially toward her own cubs. She outwardly favors Kovu among her children, which is shown most tragically when her dying son's last words indicate his hope to gain her approval just once.
Add to that heaviness the one-world spiritual elements and you've got a Disney movie that roars too loud for the kiddos, yet won't hold the interest of teens.