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The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar DVD Review

Disney's The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Howy Parkins / Writer/Developer/Executive Producer: Ford Riley

Voice Cast: James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Rob Lowe (Simba), Gabrielle Union (Nala), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Max Charles (Kion), Joshua Rush (Bunga), Diamond White (Fuli), Atticus Shaffer (Ono), Dusan Brown (Beshte), Eden Riegel (Kiara), Sarah Hyland (Tifu), Madison Pettis (Zuri), Andrew Kishino (Janja), Varcus Mason (Cheezi), Kevin Schon (Timon, Chungu), Jonny Rees (Mzingo), Jeff Bennett (Zazu), Khary Payton (Rafiki), Beau Black (Hyena), Dee Bradley Baker (Hyena), Ford Riley (Big Baboon), Lyons Luke Mathias (Young Hippo), Carter Hastings (Young Hippo), Sam Lavagnino (Young Hippo)

Original Air Date: November 22, 2015 / Running Time: 44 Minutes / Rating: TV-Y

Songs: "Zuka Zama", "Tonight We Strike", "Kion's Lament"

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Hi-Def Broadcast Ratio)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled or Captioned
DVD Release Date: February 23, 2016 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

A case can easily be made that The Lion King is Disney's most popular animated movie ever. No modern animated film has sold anywhere near as many tickets; mega-hit Frozen sold a little more than half, which illustrates how much its jaw-dropping numbers owe to inflation and ticket premiums. The record more than 30 million units
Lion King sold on VHS in 1995 seems as impressive as the 40 million DVDs Finding Nemo sold when released at the height of that format's boom. And should you question Lion King's longevity, take a look at how much better its 3D theatrical reissue in September 2011 performed than did comparable subsequent 3D reissues of blockbusters like Titanic, Jurassic Park, and other beloved Disney and Pixar titles.

Although its stage musical is the highest-grossing show in theatre history (with over $6 billion and counting in worldwide grosses!), The Lion King's success does not translate into all the revenue that other evergreen Disney properties do. The film inspired a popular interactive musical performed several times a day at Disney's Animal Kingdom and a wonderful environmental short featuring its characters plays to a typically empty theater at Epcot, but there is nowhere near the merchandise or meet-and-greet power that the Disney princesses claim. And the 1994 original is now old enough to feel a bit sacred to do anything new with. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Disney has done with "The Lion Guard", a new Disney Junior animated television series.

The half-hour series, whose seventh standard episode premiered yesterday morning, began with a double-length pilot last November. More one-off special than true telemovie, that 44-minute program, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, comes to DVD on Tuesday seemingly more out of obligation than anything else.

Simba tells his son Kion all about the Lion Guard, which is news to us as well.

While the rapidly-selling 1998 sequel The Lion King II: Simba's Pride explored life for the next generation of Pride Rock, this series only keeps the fact that Simba (now voiced by Rob Lowe) has a daughter named Kiara. She had that Romeo and Juliet-inspired movie. Now, while she is being trained to be Queen of the Pride Lands, it is time for her never-before-known redheaded younger brother Kion to take center stage.

Kion (voiced by Max Charles) and his best friend, a honey badger named Bunga (Joshua Rush), are playing ball with a baobab which winds up in the Outlands that Simba has forbidden Kion to visit. New hyenas now reside there, hungry for more than the scraps that they can find. While they are about to torment Bunga, Kion surprises them with a giant roar, which a tattoo on his arm appears in tandem with.

Simba (who, by the way, has turned into quite the boring dad) explains to Kion that he experienced the Roar of the Elders, a potent cry in which great rulers of the past roar with him. Simba also explains, with some retconning, about The Lion Guard and how it featured in the lives of Scar and Mufasa when they were children (if you say so, Dad...). Simba appoints Kion the leader of the new Lion Guard, a group intended to protect the Pride Lands and defend the Circle of Life. The lion cub is to assemble a team of the Pride Lands' finest. Naturally, he chooses Bunga (who injects his name into words like "unbungabelievable") for his bravery and other young, fairly easygoing animals (a hippo named Beshte, a cheetah named Fuli, and an egret named Ono) to round out the ranks.

Psst...behind you, Kion. Grandfather Mufasa is up in the clouds!

That's as far as Return of the Roar gets, establishing a team dynamic that recalls the Furious Five of DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda films and TV series. Conceived by Ford Riley, creator of Disney's "Special Agent Oso" and a writer on Disney cartoons dating all the way back to the latter seasons of "Timon & Pumbaa",
Return of the Roar feels like a television oddity. It plays like an untimely and unsold pilot. It's not, of course, having already gotten a 24-episode first season order by the time this made it to air.

Return of the Roar may include James Earl Jones voicing a Mufasa cameo in the clouds and Ernie Sabella reprising his most iconic role as the flatulent warthog Pumbaa (he and Timon are like Uncles to our protagonist), but it doesn't bear much resemblance to the original film or even its sequels in terms of weight and drama. This is kid-oriented, as evidenced by the Disney Junior designation and the fact that it's rated TV-Y, rather than TV-G. It's not didactic to the point of discomfort the way that "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and "Little Einsteins" were for those without kids. But it makes no illusion of trying to win over the same general audiences that have embraced The Lion King as a film for the ages.

The TV sensibilities are clear throughout from both the production values and the slight storytelling. Backgrounds look okay, but character animation leaves something to be desired. There are three original musical numbers, including one by Bunga (his Swahili catchphrase "Zuka Zama") modeled closely after "Hakuna Matata" and a hyena song recalling Scar's "Be Prepared." But no one is outdoing -- or even pretending to best -- Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M and his choir, or Hans Zimmer. A half-hearted gazelle stampede near the end is supposed to evoke that groundbreaking wildebeest sequence. And per tradition, the title shows up at the end, though with little impact this time, accompanied by the slightest of thumps. It doesn't even seem fair to compare The Lion Guard to Disney's derided but profitable and increasingly sophisticated DTV sequels, let alone one of the most beloved masterpieces ever made. But, at the very least, you now know that this exists and that starting Tuesday, the DVD holding it can be yours.

You know Hakuna Matata. Now, Bunga the honey badger is here to teach you a new Swahili catchphrase: Zuka Zama! New hyenas, same old beefs.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Any other studio out there would probably bite the bullet and treat this to a Blu-ray combo pack on the enduring popularity of the brand. But Disney is hesitant of that kind of hi-def release and probably has the market research to illustrate that this would do most of its business on DVD anyway. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is fine and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is too. Neither the visuals nor the sound design command any more than this, though they do get more, of course, in HD broadcasts.

In the bonus music video, Beau Black performs "Here Comes the Lion Guard", while clips from the series play behind him. The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar gets the most basic of DVD main menus.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

This is as basic a DVD as Disney has put out on its own in some time. There is only a single bonus feature: a music video for end credits number/presumed series theme song

"Here Comes the Lion Guard" (2:37), performed by Beau Black, who is (along with most of his accompaniment) very much a white American despite the song's African flavor.

The disc opens with the misleading teaser for Zootopia and a trailer for The Good Dinosaur. A Disney Movie Rewards promo is all that precedes them from the menu's Sneak Peeks listing. (It also plays automatically following the movie with Disney's FastPlay viewing mode enabled by default.)

Harking back to 1999, the menus are even static, but scored.

Perhaps the most notable thing of all is what accompanies the plain white disc inside the glossily slipcovered black keepcase. No, I'm not referring to the Disney Movie Rewards and Disney Movie Club inserts, although they are there, as always. The value-adding item is a talking backpack "pull." It features Kion's head and when you press the tiny button on the back, it says "Til the Pride Lands' end, Lion Guard defend!" Press it again and it says it again. I kind of feel bad for the kid that puts this on their backpack, but hey, free with purchase and heavy enough to have increased Disney's production and shipping costs to some small degree.

The Lion Guard is all ready for their title logo, as Besthe, Ono, Kion, Bunga, and Fuli strike a heroic pose atop a cliff.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As someone who considers The Lion King probably the greatest animated film ever made, I expected to muster some kind of reaction to The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar. But I have nothing. This slight, kid-oriented 44-minute production seems to mean well, but it exists only to set up a television series I do not care to see, nor am I meant to. This featherweight DVD-only release has value if you don't have cable and don't believe in streaming or downloads, but I can't imagine many enjoying the program enough to want to watch it more than once. Even then, it seems better suited for inclusion in the season set of the series that Disney won't ever bother putting out.

Buy The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed February 20, 2016.



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