The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is an animated movie special which first aired on the Disney Channel on November 22, 2015 in North America. The movie served as a prequel to the TV series which aired in January 2016. An accompanying book was also released on November 3, which tells a more condensed version of the tale. The official DVD was released on February 23, 2016.
The story begins by showing the audience Pride Rock, where the ruler of the Pride Lands, Simba, is teaching his daughter Kiara about her role as future queen of the Pride Lands. Simba's rambunctious son, Kion, interrupts this lesson as his baobab fruit bounces onto his father's head. He soon explains that he and his best friend, Bunga, were playing Baobab Ball, and starts to play again, much to his sister's disgust. She speaks out, and Kion responds snarkily back to her. Seeing the two starting to get rowdy, Simba separates them and tells them to take their fun elsewhere, and so the two take their fun farther into the Pride Lands to avoid further disturbances.
The two enjoy playing together with a baobab fruit which they use as a ball, but soon the ball rolls off into the Outlands. Kion is hesitant to go down, since his father strictly prohibited him from venturing there. Bunga, on the other hand, has no fear of the Outlands, and gladly leaps down. Nearby, Janja, the leader of a clan of hyenas, complains to his clan over the lack of food. A hyena named Cheezi soon spots the baobab fruit, and asks if he and the other hyenas could eat it. Janja snarls at them, reminding them that he's not a vegetarian. Janja then attempts to eat an approaching butterfly, though misses it as it lands on his ear. As the hyenas laugh, Janja then witnesses Bunga near the fruit, and sends Cheezi and Chungu out to get him. Meanwhile, Bunga locates the fruit, though almost immediately after, Cheezi and Chungu grab Bunga before he has a chance to react, and Kion's warning comes too late. Worried for his friend's safety, Kion argues with the hyenas, who taunt the young lion cub. When the banter is finally over, Cheezi announces that it's time to give Janja his lunch. Fearing the worst, Kion lets loose a huge roar, which leaves the hyenas in shock, and gives Bunga a chance to climb back to safety. A marking appears on Kion's shoulder, but disappears soon after.
Meanwhile, Simba and Rafiki overhear the Roar. Whilst Simba is hesitant to accept that Kion is ready, Nala and Rafiki are sure that he is. When Kion and Bunga return, Simba tells his son that they need to talk. Although Kion at first mistakes the 'talk' for something else, Simba assures him that it's not what he thinks it is. Simba and Rafiki then lead Kion and Bunga to a secret lair hidden within Pride Rock - The Lair of the Lion Guard. Simba explains to his son that his great uncle Scar was also gifted with the Roar of the Elders, and that he lost it by using it for evil and destroying his Guard. He then informs Kion that he is the new leader of the Lion Guard, and that he must assemble the Pride Lands' fiercest, bravest, strongest, fastest and keenest of sight. Kion and Bunga get excited and leave, with Kion promising to do his new job.
Outside, Bunga attempts to persuade Kion to let him join, but Kion is quick to ask Bunga to join the new Lion Guard anyway, claiming him to be the bravest animal he knows. Bunga is overjoyed at the news, and gladly accepts. Meanwhile nearby, a vulture named Mzingo overhears the news of a new Lion Guard, and becomes curious. He flies off to warn Janja. Soon after, Kion and Bunga hear a scream, to which Bunga believes it is an indicator that someone needs their help. Almost leaving Kion behind, he runs off to investigate.
The scream has come from Zuri who has her claw stuck in a log, with Tiifu and Kiara nearby. Timon and Pumbaa soon arrive on the scene to help her get her claw loose by using a branch to push it out. Zuri's paw is freed, (albeit with a broken claw), and Bunga arrives on the scene. Timon and Pumbaa, in their joy to see him, push Zuri off the log. She lands in a broken log on the ground, revealing many insects much to the delight of Timon & Pumbaa. Kion arrives to see the mess, and Kiara reveals that they never even got to the Gazelles because of Zuri's accident. Bunga soon reveals the big news of Kion's new leadership. Kiara asks what a Lion Guard is, and Kion explains, with Bunga adding that he is also part of the new Guard. When Timon and Pumbaa hear this, they show their concern (the work and danger involved respectively), and Bunga tries to explain that it's more Zuka Zama than it is Hakuna Matata. Tiifu questions what Zuka Zama is, and Bunga explains. By the time his explanation is finished, Timon and Pumbaa come to accept Bunga's new duty (mainly because Timon learns that Bunga is now considered the bravest animal in the Pride Lands). Pumbaa, in his excitement passes wind, and everyone decides that it's time to go.
Meanwhile, back in the Outlands, Mzingo has reached the hyenas and relays the new information to Janja. Although initially concerned that Mzingo was looking for food, Janja becomes concerned when he hears the full story, remembering what the Lion Guard once stood for before Scar took advantage of his powers. He concocts a scheme to take down as many animals as he and the other Outlanders can before the new Lion Guard is formed, starting that very night.
Meanwhile, Kion has assembled a group of animals which he believes best fit the criteria for being members of the Lion Guard. He and Bunga first stop Ono the egret as he attempts to score some lunch, claiming him as the keenest of sight. They then locate Beshte the hippopotamus, who is getting his friends a water slide by moving a large rock, as the strongest. Lastly, they track down Fuli the cheetah as she scarpers away from some baboons after accidentally offending them. After Beshte blocks them from chasing her, she apologizes, and one of them, Big Baboon, accepts. Kion sees her as the fastest. Kion thanks everyone for meeting with him, and explains the reason he's brought them all together. Fuli is annoyed at first by the name, since lions seem to 'lord over all the other animals' and wishes to see the fiercest member, which leads Bunga to persuade Kion to show her the roar. Kion is hesitant, as he does not wish to abuse his power like Scar. However, when he attempts to roar just for this occasion, all he can manage is a tiny squeak.
Zazu then calls Simba over, having found Kion. Simba then arrives and sends Kiara and Tiifu off to track the gazelles as scheduled, so that he can talk to Kion himself. After seeing the new Guard, Simba is appalled that his son has chosen a group of his friends to be on the new Guard, as opposed to choosing lions. Despite Kion trying to explain to his father about the reason for his decisions, Simba goes on to inform his son that the Lion Guard has always been made of lions. He asks his son to reconsider, since there are plenty of lions from him to choose from, criticizing Kion for not taking his new leadership as seriously as his sister takes hers.
Meanwhile, Kiara and Tiifu arrive at the gazelles grounds. Although Tiifu assumes that they would be attacking them, Kiara explains to her that they would be no better than the hyenas if they attacked for no reason. They soon see Mzingo and become suspicious, and their suspicions are raised when the hyenas appear. Kiara sends Tiifu back to get her father.
In the meantime, Kion, needing to be alone, wanders around the Pride Lands and laments over his problem, losing faith that he was the right choice for the leader of the Lion Guard. A voice calls him from the clouds, and Kion peers up to see his grandfather Mufasa there. Kion expresses his concerns to the great King of the Past, believing that he is not ready for the responsibility yet, as well as his fear of turning out like Scar. Mufasa tells Kion to trust his instincts, and promises to always be there for him, before slowly vanishing back into the clouds. Kion, with renewed faith, realises that it is time. In doing so, the Mark of the Lion Guard appears once more on his shoulder.
Just then, Bunga calls Kion, and tells him that the hyenas are attacking the herd of gazelles. Kion and Bunga then rush off to find the rest of the Lion Guard. Ono, Fuli and Beshte watch on, as Ono explains that Mzingo is telling the hyenas which one to attack next. They soon realise that the hyenas, having already killed two gazelles, are hunting for sport. Kion soon arrives, having heard their words, and tells them that he doesn't care if they're not all lions, and that this was the Lion Guard for him. Although Bunga is quick to leap in, he is stopped by Kion, who has a plan. The lion then goes against his father's wishes and places his paw on each of his friend's shoulders, to give them the Mark of the Lion Guard. Together, they rush into action.
The Guard quietly make their way down to the gazelle's grazing grounds, before launching a surprise attack with Kion at the front of the group. With Ono taking care of Mzingo, the rest of the group focus on the hyenas. The hyenas soon start to make a desperate retreat. Simba, Nala, Tiifu and Rafiki arrive just in time to see the new Lion Guard chase the hyenas away.
Although they assume that their work is done, it turns out that his sister Kiara is still in danger. Tiifu points out that the herd is charging right for Kiara, who is hiding behind a rock. She slips and wounds her paw, leaving everyone concerned. Bunga has an idea, and asks Fuli to get him close. Ono then scouts ahead, and, when close enough, Bunga leaps onto the rock protecting Kiara. He turns around, and lets loose a large fart, which causes the gazelles to part ways. Kiara thanks Bunga, and returns to her parents.
With Kiara safe, the Lion Guard approaches Janja's clan. As Janja taunts Kion, the lion cub makes it clear that the Lion Guard is there to defend the Pride Lands. He lets out the Roar of the Elders, and the hyenas scramble back to the Outlands. After witnessing the whole event, Rafiki assures Simba that he is ready. As Kion and his Guard rush back to Pride Rock, Simba is happy to accept the new Lion Guard, acknowledging that it is now their time.
The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar brings viewers back to the rich world of one of Disney’s most beloved films, The Lion King. It introduces Simba’s son Kion, a fun-loving lion who’s more than happy that his sister Kiara is the one destined to rule the Pride Lands. Yet Kion soon learns he has a destiny of his own. As the Lion King’s second-born, it’s his duty to lead The Lion Guard, the team that protects the Pride Lands and defends the Circle of Life. As the leader, Kion has been given the Roar of the Elders, an amazing power that makes him the fiercest in all the Pride Lands. To complete the Guard, Kion assembles a team of the bravest, strongest, fastest, and keenest of sight in the Pride Lands: Bunga the honey badger, Beshte the hippo, Fuli the cheetah, and Ono the egret. “’Til the Pride Lands’ end, Lion Guard defend!”
The series was announced by Disney on 9 June 2014 on the run up to the first film's 20th anniversary that month and has been described as "The Lion King meets The Avengers".
Attention to detail and care to the storytelling is a key component to the series, as wildlife education experts at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park will serve as consultants on stories for the show, and author and Swahili expert Sarah Mirza is the language and cultural advisor.
After the release, it was announced that the premiere was the #1 Primetime Cable TV telecast of 2015 in Kids 2-5 and the #1 animated telecast across kid cable TV networks in total viewers and adults 18-49. 5.4 million viewers tuned in to watch The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar in total.
Reception has been mixed-positive, with some fans criticizing the age group the special and show have been intended for in comparison to the original movie of The Lion King. However, others have praised the special and the show, regarding it as engaging for youngsters and adults alike.
The series' announcement came after a meeting between Disney Junior general manager Nancy Kanter and Disney chief executive Robert Iger. Iger suggested to Kanter that Disney Junior should consider producing content to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Lion King in 2014. Disney showed early footage to young test audiences, who were able to make suggestions, such as adjusting the look of the hyenas. Disney Consumer Products later launched a line of toys to tie into the television series.