Disney Junior has more than enough programming on their network to keep preschoolers busy and interested. Aside from their staple series, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, there have been several series which have become incredibly popular with younger Disney fans such as Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First but there’s always room for something new. Generally the series have consisted of new characters and locations although there are a few exceptions to this such as the Disney Princesses occasionally making a cameo on Sofia the First or Jake and the Neverland Pirates which of course is set in Peter Pan’s Neverland and features the iconic Captain Hook as the main villain, but recently Disney Junior decided to revisit the Pride Lands.
The Lion Guard reintroduced the world of The Lion King and with its premier movie, it also served as a primer for bringing in new faces to a franchise which some already know and love. The series stepped away from having Simba as the central character and instead brought in his young son Kion who has learned of the destiny that awaits him. Like others in his family, Kion has the responsibility of forming the Lion Guard, a group dedicated to protecting the Pride Lands from those who would want to destroy the peace of the land. However Kion goes against what has normally been the foundation of the group. Instead of finding other lions to join Kion asks his friends of different species as he sees great power and potential in each of them.
The core of the Lion Guard consists of Kion who has a powerful roar he can muster when it seems all hope is lost. There is Fuli, a cheetah who of course relies on her speed to combat evil, an egret named Ono who has keen sight, Beshte who is a hippo with great strength, and finally Bunga, a honey badger who Kion recruited for his bravery although he has some other tricks that he relies on. Together the five friends protect the Pride Lands and the Circle of Life so that the lives of everyone can remain peaceful. While the series may focus on these five that doesn’t necessarily mean that other characters from the Lion King are absent. Simba make occasional appearances as does Rafiki who often is the voice of wisdom for the group, and of course Pumbaa and Timon drop in as well from time to time.
The Lion Guard: Unleash the Power is a collection of six episodes from the series although they aren’t presented in broadcast order. However there isn’t a continuing storyline as you’d find with something like Rebels so most youngsters aren’t going to be bothered by something such as seeing the episode in any given order. The central theme to the series of course is teamwork as well as acceptance of individuals despite their differences although this seems to be more of an underlying concept and isn’t necessarily addressed as much as it was in the premier movie. Typically the group faces challenges of adversaries from the Outlands, in particular Janja and his hyena companions. The episodes also teach things such as not judging someone based on the actions of a few, the importance of not only working alone but also that sometimes being alone is fine, listening, and not allowing a special ability or trait go to your head. The themes of course are presented in a way where children might not necessarily realize they are being taught something important but the characters and situations help to make it a more valuable learning experience.
The series also works in quite a few Swahili phrases and each character has their own catchphrase although the series never quite takes the time to translate them to viewers and instead seems to rely simply on them hearing the words enough that they will say them. It also works in quite a few different animals unique to Africa. I did however notice in one episode that when Bunga is bitten by an Egyptian cobra he is informed that it’s venomous and poisonous which is slightly incorrect. Poisonous only refers to something which is touched or eaten. The cobra is in fact venomous meaning that it injects poison. Also, don’t think for a moment that the series is trying to teach children something which isn’t true as the honey badger is in fact immune to snake venom thanks to its thick skin which is exactly what the series states.
The DVD doesn’t include any additional features although it does come with a necklace although it’s a rather cheap offering. I am still a bit disappointed to see that Disney doesn’t seem to have any interest in releasing these types of series on blu-ray nor do they have an interest in making digital copies of the episodes available after inputting your DMR code.
The Lion Guard is one of those series which I really didn’t believe Disney could manage to pull off as new especially when the iconic characters from the original only make brief appearances but they in fact have managed give The Lion King an expanded assortment of characters. Of course the series is intended for a younger audience so it’s not going to be quite the thing that fans of the movie might be expecting but overall, Disney has done a great job with the show and, just like most of the programming on the channel, you can expect a song to pop up in every episode and it still seems like the villains get the more memorable musical numbers. With a second season in the works it seems that Disney has another hit on their hands with this one.
Mike is the resident reviewer for Couponing to Disney and his own site Underland Online. He has a toddler daughter and is obsessed with Haunted Mansion and all things Disney. You can read Mike’s complete bio here.