The Strange History of Lion King Animated Spinoffs

Goth lions and fourth wall-breaking meerkats and buff doppelgangers, oh my

The unprecedented blockbuster success of 1994’s The Lion King was the peak of the Disney Renaissance. The film was a critical and commercial hit and was licensed out into a mountain of toys, comics, video games, and a Broadway musical. And of course, the company that made Pocahontas II and multiple Beauty and the Beast sequels was going to try and squeeze every last narrative drop out of it. In honor of the upcoming rerelease, let’s take a look at the extended universe of animated Lion King movies and TV shows that continues on to this day.

The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998)

Picking up where the first movie ends, The Lion King II has most of the original cast and a bigger budget than most of Disney’s straight-to-video sequels. It also has the fascinating feeling of official fanfiction. 

A group of radical gray Goth Lions with dark eye makeup refuse Simba as the true king, believing only in Scar. For their insolence, they are banished from the kingdom and called Outsiders. We have Zira, a snarling megalomaniac, her enforcer daughter Vitanti, and her son Nuka, who is Andy Dick the Lion. He’s literally just Andy Dick playing a shithead lion. There’s also Kovu, an orphan who Scar adopted and groomed as a successor.

Simba’s daughter and the future queen Kiara is a rebellious kid who meets Kovu by chance when they are young, but their respective parents keep them apart. While Kiara is being trained as a hunter, Kovu is brainwashed by Zira for years to eventually ingratiate himself with Simba in order to assassinate him. When they are older,  Kovu manages to move in with Simba’s pride on his killer mission, but falls in love with Kiara who teaches the little edgelord how to have fun. Will the star-crossed lovers reunite the two tribes and live happily ever after? I mean yeah, it’s a Disney movie. 

The songs in this one are pretty unmemorable but I guess we’re comparing it with Elton John and Tim Rice so what can you do? Timon and Pumbaa make “Great Taste, Less Filling” Budweiser commercial jokes and talk about giving Kiara a beeper in case you were wondering exactly when this movie was made. Interestingly, an entire TV show that takes place chronologically in the middle of this movie. Which brings us to…

The Lion Guard (2016)

So it turns out that Simba and Nala — here played by Rob Lowe and Gabrielle Union — also had a son named Kion who we never heard of and I guess he’s off on spring break or something during the latter half of the Lion King II

The Lion Guard is extremely anime. Kion finds out that the second born of each generation of the pride, including Scar, get something called the Roar of the Elders. This power lets the lion hurl enemies through the air and make sweet ghost lions appear in the sky. It’s basically Skyrim.

Whoever inherits the Roar of the Elders gets to lead The Lion Guard, a Power Rangers-style group which protects the Pridelands. Also they get magic tattoos. While previous generations of the guard were all lions, Kion goes with a multi-species group made of a hippo, an egret, a cheetah, and Timon & Pumbaa’s child, a honey badger named Bunga.

The show really goes ridiculously deep into creating new Lion King lore. Kiara and the Outlanders are in the show, but the cast is mostly new animals. It’s not exactly Game of Thrones, but there are shifting political alliances between all the assorted crocodiles, hyenas, vultures and whatnot. There’s an evil snake named Ushari who discovers a way to bring Scar back from hell and now Scar is just a fire ghost controlling an army of creatures to get his revenge on Simba. It’s wild. But it wasn’t the first Lion King product to retroactively add in a bunch of extra story.

The Lion King 1½ (2004)

Just as The Lion King borrows from Hamlet, The Lion King 1½ borrows from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, following the lives of Timon and Pumbaa before and during the original movie. Framed within the meta-narrative of the comedy duo watching their own movie like an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Lion King 1½ takes the maudlin melodrama, pop culture references, weird ethnic jokes, and gross out humor of the average Disney movie and cranks things up 300%. 

We learn that Timon is the screw-up meerkat in a clan that includes his mother — played by The Simpsons’ Julie Kavner — and his Uncle Max,  portrayed by Seinfeld star Jerry Stiller. Timon goes on a quest to find a new home, meets his lifelong friend Pumbaa, and has a wild journey searching for a place to call his own while being interrupted by the musical numbers from the original Lion King. Pumbaa’s farts make the animals bow down during The Circle of Life, they knock over the dancers at the end of I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, they sneak around the edges of Be Prepared, and they make active attempts to sabotage Simba and Nala during Can You Feel The Love Tonight, which inadvertently create the romantic atmosphere of the original song. 

The world of the framing device itself is just as silly. Timon and Pumbaa have a follow-the-bouncing-bug karaoke sing along to Hakuna Matata and Pumbaa eats the bug offscreen. They pause the movie so Pumbaa can take a bathroom break in real time while Timon picks his nose. The movie ends with dozens of other unrelated Disney characters entering the theater to watch an encore. It would certainly be the wildest animated Lion King spinoff — if not for another Timon and Pumbaa project.

The Lion King’s Timon & Pumbaa (1995)

The earliest of The Lion King’s animated spinoffs, Timon & Pumbaa is pure chaos. While other Disney TV shows like Aladdin or The Little Mermaid try to vaguely match the tone of their movies, Timon & Pumbaa is the product of animators doing absolutely whatever they want. Simba, Rafiki, and Zazu occasionally show up, but the show is mostly about Timon and Pumbaa hanging out in ancient Egypt, working at a fast food restaurant, prospecting gold in the Yukon, being used car salesmen, and straight-up going to outer space, because who cares. 

This show works on 100% Looney Tunes logic. Timon and Pumbaa just show up wherever or whenever the writers think is funniest. Sometimes there are Mickey Mousestyle fully clothed talking animals and sometimes there are real humans. They have muscular doppelgangers named Pimon and Tumbaa who have the motto “Kahuna Potato”. The entire proceedings have the vibe of an alternate version of Taz-Mania complete with heretofore unseen extended families, tons of forgettable recurring characters, and a guy who is just a Bing Crosby impression for some reason. The show lasted for four years and 85 episodes and I am still amazed that it exists.

The Lion King has been told and retold and expanded on in so many weird and wild ways. Who would have figured that you could create an entire universe of stories based on an all-animal version of a Shakespeare play? Who knows, maybe the photorealistic remake will prove popular enough to expand into a new universe of its own. Or perhaps it will be just another strange footnote in the long history of The Lion King.

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