The film is told through the perspective of Timon and Pumbaa through the literary device known as a frame story. The two are shown in silhouette form watching the original film. Timon interrupts the film to fast-forward to his scenes, but Pumbaa's protest prompts Timon to share his backstory.
Timon is a social outcast in his meerkat colony on the outskirts of the Pride Lands. While unconditionally supported by his mother, Ma, Timon dreams for more in life than his colony's bleak existence hiding from predators. Uncle Max is nearly eaten by hyenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed due to Timon's day dreaming. This becomes the last straw for the colony, prompting Timon to leave to find a better life. He meets the mandrill, Rafiki, who advises him to find his place in the world via "Hakuna Matata" and to "look beyond what you see". Timon takes this saying literally and observes Pride Rock in the distance. Believing Pride Rock to be his paradise home, Timon ventures to the rock and encounters Pumbaa the Warthog on his way. The two quickly form a bond and Pumbaa accompanies Timon.
The pair arrive at Pride Rock during the presentation of the new prince to the Pridelands' animals (to Timon's annoyance, believing the crowd to be a long line to claim Pride Rock as real estate). Timon then "looks beyond" pride rock to find a small cove near a pond. To Pumbaa's reluctance, the pair cut through the crowd, but Pumbaa nervously claims he doesn't "do so well in crowds". Pumbaa explosively passes gas, causing nearby animals to faint but prompting animals further away to bow to Simba. The pair make a home at the cove near the pond, but are awakened one morning to the sounds of Simba singing "I Just Can't Wait to Be King." The pair leave due to the "noisy neighbors", and find a new home at the Elephant Graveyard. They are scared away from there after witnessing Mufasa fight the Hyenas, and Timon decides to make a home in a glowing green cave. Scar's rendition of "Be Prepared." scares the pair off again, and Timon then chooses to find a home in a hot gorge. The pair are then chased by the Wildebeest Stampede (that results in Mufasa's death in the original film), but miraculously survive albeit being thrown off a waterfall.
Exhausted from their adventure, Timon decides to give up, until Pumbaa (who had been talking about a magical place that raised skepticism from Timon) turns Timon's head to a luxurious green jungle. The pair finally settle there with the philosophy of "Hakuna Matata". During their time there, they encounter a homeless lion cub named Simba in a nearby desert, nearly dead. The pair rescue young Simba and decide to raise him under their philosophy. Scenes are shown of Simba's chaotic upbringing from a hyperactive and affectionate young cub, to an ambitious and egotistical adolescent, to a laid-back and content young adult.
Years later, Nala appears after chasing Pumbaa and reunites with Simba. Believing "Hakuna Matata" to be in jeopardy, Timon and Pumbaa attempt to sabotage their dates, but fail. After witnessing Simba and Nala's off-screen argument, Simba disappears, to Timon's horror. Nala and Rafiki explain that he had run off to challenge Scar, and need their help. After Nala leaves to follow Simba, Timon, who is hurt that Simba had left them, unsuccessfully tries to persuade Pumbaa to stay, believing he has everything he wants in the jungle. Pumbaa leaves to follow Simba, and loneliness starts to overcome Timon. Rafiki appears again and helps Timon realize that his true Hakuna Matata is with the ones he loves, prompting Timon to take off after Simba, Nala, and Pumbaa.
Timon catches up and reconciles with Pumbaa, before then journeying on to Pride Rock. After helping Simba and Nala with a distraction (the "luau" dance), Timon and Pumbaa evade the hyenas and run into Ma and Uncle Max who came looking for Timon (after Ma met Rafiki earlier in the film). Timon proposes that they help Simba by getting rid of the hyenas. Whilst Simba battles Scar, Ma and Uncle Max are directed to construct a series of tunnels beneath them, and Timon and Pumbaa use various tactics to distract the hyenas while the tunnel is being made. When the tunnels are finished, Max quickly knocks down the sticks, breaking the ground under the hyenas. However, the last few get stuck and the plan fails. Cornered once again by the hyenas, Timon bravely dives underground and breaks the remaining sticks, completing the cave in, and causing the hyenas to be ejected through the tunnels. Immediately afterwards, Scar is thrown off the top of Pride Rock by Simba.
Simba accepts his place as king of the Pride Lands, thanking Timon and Pumbaa for helping him. Timon takes Ma, Uncle Max and the meerkat colony to live in the predator-free jungle to complete his "Hakuna Matata." Pumbaa and Simba celebrate with the meerkats, who praise Timon as their hero. In the final scene of the film, Ma, Uncle Max, Simba, Rafiki and many other silhouetted Disney character cameos join Timon and Pumbaa to re-watch the film in the cinema. As the film fades to black, Pumbaa reminds Timon that he still doesn't do well in crowds.Nathan Lane as Timon, a meerkat who is Pumbaa's best friend. Though somewhat selfish, arrogant, and withdrawn, Timon shows courageous loyalty towards his friends. Lianne Hughes and Alexs Stadermann served as the supervising animators for Timon.
Ernie Sabella as Pumbaa, a warthog who is Timon's best friend. Though slow-witted, he is very empathetic and willing to trust and befriend anyone. He is also claustrophobic and passes gas in crowds. Bob Baxter served as the supervising animator for Pumbaa.
Julie Kavner as Ma, Timon's caring mother. She is overly protective and attached to her son, often trying to get him accepted amongst the colony, but never succeeding. Lianne Hughes served as the supervising animator for Ma.
Jerry Stiller as Uncle Max, Timon's paranoid, eccentric but deep down kind-hearted uncle. He initially doubts Timon's ability, but warms up to him at the film's climax. Lianne Hughes served as the supervising animator for Max.
Matthew Broderick as Simba, Mufasa and Sarabi's son, Scar's nephew, Nala's husband and the current King of the Pride Lands. Matt Weinberg voices Simba as a cub. Bob Baxter served as the supervising animator for Simba.
Robert Guillaume as Rafiki, a mandrill who teaches Timon Hakuna Matata, as well as giving him faith in himself to do what he dreams of doing. Alexs Stadermann served as the supervising animator for Rafiki.
Moira Kelly as Nala, Simba's childhood friend and eventual wife. Most of her dialogue is archived from the original film. She only has one scene with newly recorded dialogue.
Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings as Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, a trio of hyenas who act as the local predators of Timon's meerkat colony before their allegiance with Scar. Bob Baxter served as the supervising animator for the hyenas.
Edward Hibbert as Zazu, a hornbill and the resolute adviser of the Lion King.
Jason Rudofsky as Flinchy, an unseen meerkat who is a member in Timon's colony.
In April 2000, it was announced that the Walt Disney Company selected Jeff Ahlholm, Colin Goldman, and Tom Rogers to write the script for The Lion King 3. It was scheduled to arrive in video stores sometime in 2001. In May 2003, The Lion King 1½ was scheduled for home video release in early spring 2004 with Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, and Matthew Broderick reprising their original roles, and Elton John and Tim Rice returning to compose a new song, "Meerkat Rhapsody".
The film was animated by Walt Disney Animation Australia studio in Sydney, Sparx and Spaff Animation.
Upon its initial home video release, The Lion King 1½ was accompanied by with a marketing campaign tie-in with McDonald's with six Happy Meal toys including Simba, Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa, Mufasa and Ed.
In May 2003, the DVD edition was confirmed to include music videos, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes views of how the movie was made, and two featurettes: Timon -- The Early Years; a mockumentary tracing Timon's childhood through tongue-in-cheek interviews with family and friends; and Disney's Funniest Moments, highlighting Disney animated characters from the Seven Dwarfs to Brother Bear. Two games are also featured, including a virtual safari backlot tour through the Pride Lands and a Lion King trivia game in the format of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, titled Who Wants to Be King of the Jungle?, and hosted by Meredith Vieira, then-host of the current U.S. syndicated version.
On the first day, the film sold 1.5 million units of home media, and in the first three days, the film generated about $55 million, selling 3.1 million copies, with DVDs accounting for 2.5 million units. By March 2, 2004, six million DVD and VHS units had been sold in North America. A DVD boxed set of the three Lion King films (in two-disc Special Edition formats) was released on December 6, 2004. In January 2005, the film, along with the sequels, went back into moratorium.
The Lion King 1½ was first released on Blu-ray in an eight-disc box set trilogy set on October 4, 2011. It received its separate Blu-ray release on March 6, 2012, just like The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. It was produced in two different packages, a 2-disc version with Blu-ray and DVD, and a DVD edition.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 76% approval rating based on 17 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10.
Frank Lovece of TV Guide gave the film 3½ stars out of 4 stating that "This retelling of The Lion King (1994) from the point of view of comic sidekicks Timon (voice of Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) is one of the rare Disney direct-to-video sequels worthy of the original." He went on to say that 'the only aspect of the film that feels forced is the revisionist positioning of Timon as young Simba's step-dad, which has no emotional echo in the first film. The quality of the animation is surprisingly impressive; some static backgrounds are the primary concession to a small-screen budget and the fluid character movements and expressions are vastly superior to those of, say, The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa TV cartoon series.'" Joe Leydon of Variety gave the film a positive review writing "toddlers and preschoolers will be equally enchanted and amused by colorful toon shenanigans." Los Angeles Times article writer Susan King wrote that "Because Disney's made-for-video sequels to their classic animated films have been mediocre at best, expectations for this new sequel to the mouse house's 1994 blockbuster were slim. But thanks to a clever story line, snappy dialogue that kids and adults will enjoy, a couple of decent new songs and the return of the original voice actors, Lion King 1 1/2 is an irreverent gas."
Many reviewers have suggested that the film was influenced by the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which follows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, and details their experiences taking place during the same time as the events of Hamlet, similar to what the film does with its predecessor (which, in itself, was largely inspired by the story of Hamlet).
The film's soundtrack album contains 2 original songs; "Diggah Tunnah Dance," written by Lebo M., who helped write many of the songs for the original film, and "That's All I Need," written by Elton John and Tim Rice, who also worked on the first film. The latter song, which is performed by Nathan Lane in the film, is largely based on a cut song from The Lion King titled "The Warthog Rhapsody," with which it shares a similar melody. The film features the song Hakuna Matata from the first film, which is featured both as the original soundtrack recording in the soundtrack album and in the film as a new cover performed by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. The soundtrack also consists of various covers of pop songs, such as Hugh Masekela's Grazing in the Grass performed by Raven-Symoné, Kool and the Gang's Jungle Boogie performed by Drew K. and The French, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight (which appears briefly in the original film as well) performed by Lebo M. and Vinx. Other songs featured in the film that aren't in the soundtrack include the song "Sunrise, Sunset" from the musical Fiddler on the Roof and the eponymous theme song from the television show Peter Gunn composed by Henry Mancini. The film contains original score composed by Don Harper, and also features the instrumental theme "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" composed by Ennio Morricone. 2005 Annie Award for
"Best Home Entertainment Production" (Won)
"Music in an Animated Feature Production" (Nominated)
2005 DVD Exclusive Awards in the following categories:
Best Animated Character Performance (Nathan Lane - voice, Alexis Stadermann - animator) for "Timon" (Won)
Best Animated DVD Premiere Movie (Won)
Best Director (of a DVD Premiere Movie) - Bradley Raymond (Won)
Best Editing (of a DVD Premiere Movie) - Joyce Arrastia (Won)
Best Screenplay (for a DVD Premiere Movie) - Tom Rogers (Won)
2005 Saturn Award
"Best DVD Release" (Nominated)
A video game based on the film was published in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, featuring Timon and Pumbaa as the playable characters.