The Lion King (1994)
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers
Written by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton
Starring: Cheech Marin, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg
THE LION KING 3D
RUNNING TIME:89 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Buena Vista International
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
All the neighbouring animals gather round Pride Rock in Africa, where the wise baboon Rafiki presents Simba, the newborn son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi. However Mufasa’s younger brother Scar desires the throne for himself and cleverly gets Simba, accompanied by his best friend Nala, to go to an elephant’s graveyard where hyenas live. They are attacked but rescued by Mufasa. Scar though will not be put off and orders the hyenas to stampede a large pack of wildebeest into a gorge where Simba is, then, as Mufasa rescues Simba, knocks him down into the gorge where he is crushed to death by the wildebeest. Scar tells Simba that Mufasa’s death resulted from the cub’s carelessness, and, ashamed, Simba leaves the Pride Lands with the intention of never returning. Scar becomes King……………….
If there is a poll about which Disney animated film is the best, you can almost guarantee the winner will be one of two particular films – Beauty and The Beast or The Lion King. Now personally, though I still like the movie and it stands proud in my Disney collection, I’ve never quite understood why Beauty And The Beast is so feted, and to me it doesn’t hold a candle to many of the other fairytale-derived pictures such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. The Lion King though, I can totally understand the on-going popularity of and world-wide love for, a popularity and love that has recently seen the US cinema release become the highest grossing film in its first week, the first re-release of a film to do so since Return Of The Jedi, and sold so many tickets that some cinemas carried on showing it after two weeks even though it wasn’t intended to be in cinemas any longer than that. Of course there is the fact that the film has been converted to 3D, but I really don’t think that is a major factor in the film’s recent success, aside from the fact that seat prices for 3D films are higher! No, it’s because The Lion King is a truly wonderful film, a film that remains just as entertaining for adults as kids. It’s a complete experience; what I mean by that is that it has simply everything – humour, excitement, sadness, fear, joy , romance, etc – in a way that many films don’t even try.
The two chief inspirations for The Lion King seem to be Bambi and Hamlet, so much so that in terms of plot the film really does at times appear like a combination of the two. The story of a young animal who loses a parent, grows up and finds a mate, all the time becoming part of the cycle [sorry circle] of life? A king who is murdered by his brother, who is then avenged by his son, who takes his time about it? These two particular story bases have been used in many other tales though- for example the Hamlet story also appears in African mythology and Egyptian mythology thousands of years before. For The Lion King, computers were used more than in any previous animated feature, but much of it was still made the traditional way, with the artists studying real animals for inspiration. The film was actually made concurrently with Pocahontas, and more of the Disney staff elected to work on that movie, as it seemed to be a much more important project, but when the first trailer for The Lion King was received with such excitement, even though it only showed some of the opening scene, the studio realised they possibly had something very special. I personally really like Pocahontas, it’s something of a neglected Disney movie, but it just doesn’t compare to The Lion King!
It’s perhaps important to consider that, while its quality cannot in my opinion be disputed, many have said The Lion King is an unofficial remake of a 60s Japanese animated TV series called Kimba The White Lion, also known as Jungle Emperor. Now I have yet to see Kimba The White Lion, but apperently Matthew Broderick, who voices Simba, has said that he initially thought he was working on a remake of the series, and I have read about many similarities and even seen pictures of exact shots duplicated. Some claim that Disney wanted to do a proper remake of Kimba The White Lion, but were refused the rights and went ahead and borrowed huge chunks anyway. Disney’s official story is that they didn’t even know of the existence of the series until they were half way through, and were stunned by unintentional similarities but it was too late to change them. It’s certainly possible, I mean there are many occasions of things throughout cinema history that are unintentionally similar. I like to think Disney are beneath this sort of thing, but who will ever really know? I must say, all this leaves a nasty taste in the throat, but the other major controversy about The Lion King is more amusing. On early prints, dust kicked into the sky apparently formed the letters SEX, and despite it being made known that it was actually a joke by some of the artists that actually spelt SPX, the letters were removed from all later versions!
The opening scene really lets you know that you are going to see something special. I’m not a huge fan of the song ‘Circle Of Life’, but the African sounds and chanting really build up a sense of awe and majesty, as all the animals, summoned it seems by Lebo M and his singers on the soundtrack, head for and gather round the tall rock on top of which is Mufasa, holding baby Simba out, showing him his future domain. The epic nature of this scene then switches to the setting up of the plot, and this is done superbly, with pace and humour – the storytelling here is especially good – until we get to the film’s ‘traumatic’ scene, the one that upset many children but probably more adults. The vivid stampede of the wildebeest was the first largely CG animated sequence is Disney’s history, and there is no way such a complex sequence could have been done with purely hand drawn animation without it taking a year or so to do like with the very earliest Disney features. Unlike Bambi’s mother, whose dead body we never see, in this movie we see Mufasa dead on screen and the heartbreaking attempts by Simba to revive him. I must admit it still almost brings a tear to my eye, and despite my slight misgivings at Disney often using the death of a parent as a plot device, it does directly communicate to young children that Bad Things Happen.
After intense despair, with Simba exiled and alone, we switch to a very humorous section, and one of the many reasons The Lion King is so great is that it manages its changes in tone so well. Timon and Pumba may seem like the typical Disney funny sidekicks, but in this movie they’re actually far more than that. Their appealingly carefree, almost hippy-like philosophy Hakuna Matata [no worries] may let Simba grow up safely but almost stop him from returning to the Pride Lands to do what he has to do, and their ideas, which seem more like laziness and lack of responsibility, end up not being shown as contrary to what is right. Of course, after a romantic section, it all ends in a violent showdown, and the animal fights throughout, though usually bloodless, have a viciousness and a realism about them that remainds striking. This may be a cartoon about talking animals, but in no way is it innocuous; it’s full of danger, nastiness and violence, and it’s right that young children should be subjected to things like this at times, because it prepares them for life. Of course there are jokes dotted throughout, but they don’t affect the overall seriousness and makes me wonder why so many modern animated films feel the need to throw you a joke every second.
Out of the voices, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella have great chemistry as Timon and Pumbaa and Metthew Broderick is as likeable a hero as one could want, but its Jeremy Irons as Scar who really stands out; he delivers every single word with wonderful relish. Of course the animation is astounding, and the backdrops skilfully chosen, often to help psychologically what is going on in the foreground. Rather than Bambi’s soft, delicate paintings, here we have jagged shapes and in-your-face colours, really giving you an Africa which has its beauty but is extremely dangerous and forbidding. The usual lush look of Disney animal-centred films is missing here except for the Timon and Pumba sections and especially the love montage of Simba and Nala [which virtually copies the one in Bambi]. The images are superbly augmented by Hans Zimmer’s often grand score, which nicely mixes in African sounds at times. I’m not a fan of Zimmer nor his corrosive influence on film music, but occasionally he did knock it out of the park, there is no denying! As for Elton John’s songs, I really disliked them when the film first came out, partly because I don’t like Elton John, and partly because I felt the songs jarred with the film, though I’m not saying Broadway-style show tunes would have worked as well either. Dare I say the film may have worked better with no songs at all, though then we may not have been treated to magnificent sights such as the hyenas gathered Triumph Of The Will-style while Scar sings ‘Be Afraid’. I’ve learned to accept them, and ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ is rather lovely in its non-Elton John version, while I can never get the chorus of ‘Circle Of Life’ which ends the film out of my head whenever I watch the film! Fortunately this version omits the poor ‘Morning Report’ song which was added to some DVD releases.
Now I’ve left mentioning the 3D to last, because frankly it’s unimportant. The 3D isn’t detrimental to the film, but doesn’t really add anything either. You get some depth of field, though often it feels like you are watching things on a stage, and other times like you are in a children’s pop-up book. The whole thing seems pointless to me; at least with 3D of live-action films, it makes a bit of sense because the main aim is to increase the reality, as if you were there, but with cartoons, it’s stupid, because they were never meant to look realistic anyway. I’m not happy about Disney’s plans to convert some more animated features, and I think if they try it with the really old classics it may ruin them. Still, even in 3D, The Lion King is terrific, combining great characters, brilliant storytelling, great animation and a variety of emotions and moods so that afterwards you really feel like you have had a great, fulfilling experience. I can’t quite give it a rating of 10 because I still feel that Bambi is a greater artistic achievement. Is The Lion King more entertaining though? Hell yeah.
[pt-filmtitle]The Lion King[/pt-filmtitle]