"The Lion King 1 1/2" reveals a hysterical twist behind some of "The Lion King's" most dramatic moments.

Prequel Pride

In the Circle of Disney Life, animated films that become box office blockbusters never fade away -- they return over and over again in direct-to-video spinoffs, TV series and "special edition" reissues every few years.

Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in "The Lion King." In the 10 years since the wise monkey Rafiki thrust the young lion Simba toward the heavens on Pride Rock, the world has seen "The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride," as well as the "Timon & Pumbaa" animated series.

The problem was that the spinoffs felt like they were created just to suck more money out of the loyal Disney fan base.

Now there's "The Lion King 1 1/2," a tale that relates the origins of the friendship between Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog in the context of the original movie. And surprise -- it's actually watchable. Entertaining, even.

It helps that Timon and Pumbaa are two of the most memorable secondary characters created by Disney's animation department in the past 10 years. (By contrast, just try naming any two characters from, say, Disney's recent Oscar nominee, "Brother Bear.") Nathan Lane, who voices Timon, and Ernie Sabella, the voice of Pumbaa, have always added a splash of joy and fun to their carefree characters. Unlike other actors who have voiced characters for theatrical releases and then stepped aside to let replacements voice the same characters for spinoffs, Lane and Sabella have returned to reprise their roles every time.

The best way to describe "The Lion King 1 1/2" is as Timon and Pumbaa's humor-filled "director's cut" of the original film -- they're even shown in silhouette at times, pausing and commenting on the on-screen action -- with additional padding about Timon's journey from his homeland in the far, far, far outskirts of the savanna to Pride Rock and beyond.

While this creates many opportunities to recycle footage (this is a direct-to-video spin-off, after all -- gotta keep those production costs down!), it also creates opportunities for great parodies of the original scenes. As such, viewers who also saw the original film will appreciate the jokes in this release the most. Seeing the real reasons why the animals bowed before Rafiki and Simba, or why the adult Simba and his girlfriend Nala went tumbling down a grassy hill during their big romantic number, are rather entertaining.

Most of the original material isn't too shabby, either. Jerry Stiller, voicing Uncle Max, and Julie Kavner as a heavily Marge Simpson-influenced Ma, flesh out their characters well and excel in playing the klutzy family behind the self-assured Timon.

But the new songs -- "That's What I Want," by the original film's music composers Tim Sale and Elton John, and the meerkat anthem "Digga Tunnah" -- follow the recent Disney trend of inserting grand musical numbers that tend to disrupt, rather than contribute to, the story's flow.

In addition to the usual slew of DVD extras including behind-the-scenes featurettes, interactive games and deleted scenes, the most entertaining feature has to be "Hidden Mickey Hunt." When the movie is played back in this mode, a special icon will flash on the screen, indicating that the image of Mickey's head, one of 20 total, is hidden somewhere in the scene. It's a feature that will keep audiences of all ages fascinated.

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