The Next Step is a 90-minute special and the first episode of Season 4 of the Disney animated series, The Lion Guard and the 75th episode overall. It streamed on May 20th, 2021 on Disney + and before airing on May 28th, 2021 on Disney Channel. It marks the revival of the series after the Season 3 finale, Return to the Pride Lands.
|The Next Step|
Under One Sun
It is Time
Return to the Pride Lands
The Lion and Lioness Guard
As peace lives in throughout the Pride Lands, things change. Simba and Nala prepare to retire, but are met with the return of an old ally in the Pride Lands.
Reprising their roles from earlier Lion King related media are Matthew Brodrick and James Earl Jones (Coming to America) as Simba and Mufasa Moira Kelly (To Have & To Hold) as Nala, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella (Guys and Dolls) as Timon and Pumbaa, Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, Neve Campbell as Kiara, and Jason Marsden (Boy Meets World) as Kiara and Kovu, and Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls) as Vitani.
Returning to the series from the previous seasons are Max Charles (Mr. Peabody and Sherman) as Kion, the son of Simba and Nala, Joshua Rush and Peyton Elizabeth Lee (Andi Mack) as Bunga and Rani, Diamond White (Sofia the 1st) as Fuli, Atticus Shaffer (The Lion King 2019), Dusan Brown (The Big Bang Theory) as Beshte, Bryana Salaz (The Voice) as Anga, and several others.
Colin Ford (Jake and the Never Land Pirates), will guest star as Kopa, the long-lost brother of Kiara and Kion and the secret Prince of Pride Rock.
The episode picks up where the Season 3 finale had left off: Kion, the former leader of the Lion Guard, and Rani, leader of the Night Pride and the Queen of the Tree of Life, are married in front of their friends and families, and Kion is accepted as the Night Pride's co-leader and the Tree of Life's new King. Kiara announces that the Night Pride and the Pridelanders will be in an alliance now, much to Simba's delight.
Weeks pass in both the Pride Lands, Outlands, and the Tree of Life. Janja and Jasiri have become mates and are ruling the Outlands: Vitani and her Lion Guard have recently made a permanent peace treaty with King Sokwe of the gorillas, whilst Kovu and Kiara have been doing well in their training to become King and Queen of the Pride Lands: Kion's friends, Fuli and Bunga, have found love within their partners, Azaad, and Binga, and Surak and Nirmala have gotten married. Everyone rejoices the peace that has befallen in their Kingdoms and between one another (Under One Sun)
One morning, with Askari's guidance, Kion (who has now grown taller, with a larger mane down his back and chest) practices using the Roar of the Elders at the Tree of Life, with Rani and Bunga cheering him on. However, Kion loses control of the Roar, which creates a thunderstorm that sends the 3 of them flying. They survive the impact, however Kion is taken aback, believing that he was healed from the venom long ago. Consulting his now, aunt-in-law, Kion opens up that he feels insecure about being a King, believing that he'd always be second-best to his sister Kiara, and he goes off to reflect on whether or not he is ready. (It is Time)
Rani goes after Kion, but then stumbles upon her parents' graves. In an instant, she flashes back to the moment they had died: When Rani and Baliyo were both cubs, a storm had raged upon the Tree of Life, which had stirred up chaos. Sãhasí and Ãnanda gave their lives to protecting Rani and Baliyo, but in the end, Rani was scarred after taking shelter in a thorn bush, whilst her parents, and several other members of her pride were killed in the storm.
Upon snapping out of her flashback, Rani forces herself to move on from that moment and goes to find Kion. The two talk, with Rani revealing her traumatic experience with her parents' deaths, and Kion revealing his insecurities of being a King, and the two vow to help each other throughout their reign at all costs.
In the Pride Lands, Simba and Nala look over their Kingdom that they have ruled throughout the years, and they soon make the decision to retire. The announcement shocks everyone, but Kiara and Kovu proudly accept their upcoming titles.
In the Outlands, Kiburi's float are attacked by a rouge lion. Using their battle tactics, they end up warding him off, however they (despite Kiburi's protests) go to Jasiri, who alerts the royal family. The plans for the coronation are held off in order to neutralize what appears to be a new threat. The Night Pride is alerted of this and head off to the Pride Lands.
The unified groups head into the Outlands, and with the help of Reirei, Mzingo, and Kiburi, they manage to find the location of the rouge. However, when the rouge reveals himself, Simba's pride recognizes the lion as Kopa, the lost son of Simba.
Kovu asks Simba how he knows Kopa, and Simba reveals that Kopa was the original heir to Pride Rock, however, after Kopa was abducted by buzzards, Simba became more protective of his son. Fearing that Kopa would become a prime target for the Outlanders, including Janja and Zira, Simba sent his eldest son away to be protected by another pride.
Kopa explains that he had heard of Kiara's wedding and ascension to the throne and returned to the Pride Lands. When the misunderstanding is cleared up, everyone accepts Kopa with joy and he is brought back to the Pride Lands. After some time of getting to know his childhood friends, such as his Johny.
Days later, Simba and Nala officially retire and they pass the crown onto Kiara and Kovu, who roar over their new kingdom, their subjects, families, and friends. (Queen of Pride Rock). Queen Kiara and King Kovu officially establish their alliance with King Kiongozi and Queen Rani, and announce a new era of peace in the Pride Lands. The Night Pride bids their allies goodbye as they head home, and Kiara is ready to follow in her father's paw-prints.
That night, Simba goes on top of Pride Rock and is visited by the spirit of his father, Mufasa, who expresses pride in him, saying he will always be proud of him. Simba states that everyone is ready to take their next step in the Circle of Life.
- Max Charles as Kion
- Joshua Rush as Bunga
- Diamond White as Fuli
- Atticus Shaffer as Ono
- Dusan Brown as Beshte
- Bryana Salaz as Anga
- Peyton Elizabeth Lee as Rani
- Matthew Brodrick as Simba
- Moira Kelly as Nala
- Neve Campbell as Kiara
- Jason Marsden as Kovu
- Lacey Chabert as Vitani
- Khary Payton as Rafiki
- Rowan Atkinson as Zazu
- Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa.
- James Earl Jones as Mufasa.
- Colin Ford as Kopa.
- Maia Mitchell as Jasiri
- Andrew Kisho as Janja
- Kevin Schon as Chungu
- Vargus Mason as Cheezi
- Common as Kiburi
- Nolan North as Tamka
- Fiona Riley as Binga and Shabaha
- Savannah Smith as Kasi
- Sophie Reynolds as Tazama
- Behzad Dabu as Azaad
- Grace Young as Ãnanda
- James Sie as Sãhasí
- Miki Yamashita as Nirmala
- Lou Diamond Phillips as Surak
- Hudson Yang as Baliyo
- This is be the first episode of Season 4 and marks the revival of The Lion Guard franchise after its 2-year temporary cancellation.
- This is the first episode to air in the 2020's decade.
- This marks the second episode where James Earl Jones has voiced Mufasa, the first episode being the series pilot, Return of the Roar.
- This episode marks Kopa's first appearance in the series. According to director Rob Minkoff, this decision was because fans had argued on whether or not Kopa was considered canon in the series, and that they had wanted to end the franchise acknowledging him and the other popular characters from the novelization as well.
- Unlike many extended episodes of the series, this episode is 90 minutes long, and will be considered a triple-parter episode.
- This is the first episode to be originally streamed on Disney +. This episode is also the first to be air primarily on the main Disney Channel.
- Originally, this episode was to air on television on Disney Channel on May 20th, 2021, however was pushed a week back so that the Disney + release would lure in fans on that day.
- This is the first episode to be done in hand-drawn animation, due to Mercury Filmworks moving on from the series after the 3rd season.
- This is the first episode to feature title cards since the Season 2 finale, Fire from the Sky, albeit with a new font. In addition, Kion once again narrates the title cards.
- A new opening sequence for Season 4 is introduced in this episode.
- This is the first episode to have a recap to previous events in earlier episodes.
- This episode reveals how Rani's parents died and how she obtained her scar.
- Kion has aged slightly more as of this episode.
- Kiara officially becomes the Lion Queen in this episode.
- Originally, the episode was going to feature a sub-plot where Kovu discovers he is Rani's older brother and the long-lost prince of the Night Pride. This was eventually cut due to the writers believing that too many sub-plots would've turned the season premiere into filler.