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The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is big news in my family. Thanks to Disney Channel’s savvy and continual promotion of its programming, my 5-year-old has been asking for weeks if this is the night the new Lion King movie is on.
Because even though The Lion King debuted over 20 years ago, the tale of Simba, Mufasa and Scar lives on in any home via a DVD player. Once again, Disney is spot-on in knowing its audience and what they want. The Lion Guard is an idea with a very large and very loyal existing fan base. So, yes, Disney, I can feel the love tonight.
In The Lion Guard, Kion (Max Charles), the son of Simba (now voiced by Rob Lowe instead of Matthew Broderick) and Nala (Gabrielle Union), is full of enthusiasm and playfulness. But he doesn’t have the focus of his older sister, Kiara (Eden Riegel), who takes being the next queen of the Pride Lands very seriously.
Kion discovers he has the “roar of the elders.” “The roar of the elders is a great gift. It will make you the greatest lion in the Pride Lands,” his father tells him. With the roar comes the great responsibility of assembling a team to “protect the Pride Lands and maintain the circle of life.” Kion chooses his best friend, Bunga (Joshua Rush), the nephew of both Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella, reprising his role from the movie) and Timon (Kevin Schon), as the first member of the Lion Guard. (The fact that Bunga is a honey badger and Pumbaa and Timon, his uncles, are a warthog and meerkat, respectively, are details you can’t spend too much time worrying about.) To complete the Lion Guard, Kion chooses a cheetah named Fuli (Diamond White), a hippo named Beshte (Dusan Brown) and an egret named Ono (The Middle‘s Atticus Shaffer, whose adorable voice is instantly recognizable).
The only problem with Kion’s Lion Guard is the fact that none of those animals are lions. “I asked you to assemble the new Lion Guard; instead, you’re just playing with your friends. Do you really think a Lion Guard with only one lion can protect the Pride Lands?” Simba asks him. But, of course, this isn’t a case of father knows best, and Kion’s Lion Guard is able to get the job done. The movie has a great message about working together while utilizing everyone’s individual strengths.
In addition to Timon and Pumbaa (who haven’t aged a day since the original movie — are there plastic surgeons in the Pride Lands?), The Lion Guard also features plenty of fan-favorite characters including Rafiki (Khary Payton), Zazu (Jeff Bennett) and a special appearance by Mufasa (James Earl Jones also reprising his role). New characters, including the brave but not exactly graceful Bunga, are sure to amuse young fans. The animation is lush and vibrant and reminiscent of the original. The musical numbers are delightful and catchy, particularly Bunga’s “Zuka Zama,” which plays like the 2015 version of “Hakuna Matata.” The vocal talents bring the characters to life. And, bucking the Disney trend, both of Kion’s parents are still alive at the end of the movie.
Your children can go ahead and get attached to these characters. The Lion Guard is a series coming to Disney Junior early next year. The circle of Disney continues.
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