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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Disneyear: The Lion King (1994)

We've come at last to probably Disney's biggest hit, The Lion King. It garnered over $900 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing traditional-animated film of all time. On top of that, it received a lot of positive reviews from the critics and the audience loved it due to it having a great story (Hamlet with lions), fantastic animation, great action, and good character performances all around. If you know the movie's back story, it's your classic "the little engine that could" scenario. Basically, Disney suprisingly had no faith in this film and thought it's big success would be in the next film in line of Disneyear. The irony was that this film was such a gigantic hit and the next one failed to garner as much acclaim from critics and the audience alike. And back when I was a kid, this was one of everybody's favorite Disney films. Almost 20 years later, it still holds up for a lot of people. Me? It still holds up, yes, but there have been a few glaring flaws I've noticed watching it again that keep it from being in my top 5. It's a strong film, but not necessarily the strongest in my opinion. If you wish to know why, let's head over to Pride Rock to see what's with all the hubbub in The Lion King.

The film begins in sub-Saharan Africa, where we see the arrival of a new lion cub named Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broedrick). Not just any old lion cub, but the next in line to be king of the savanna. This gains the envy of  the cub's uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) because he was supposed to be the next king, so he plots to rid himself of Simba and his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones), who teaches Simba everything about how to be a good king. None of the plans work until one day a wildebeest stampede is caused by Scar's hyena friends (Whoopi Goldberg, Chhech Marin, and Jim Cummings). Simba is rescued by his father, but loses his life doing so because of Scar. Scar tricks Simba into thinking he killed Mufasa and tells him to leave the Pride Lands and never return. Feeling guilty, Simba does and winds up nearly dead in a dessert. He's rescued by a meerkat and warthog named Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella) who teach him to run away from his problems and turn a new leaf. Simba spends the next few years growing up with them and vows to never return to his past life. That is until a childhood friend of Simba's named Nala (Moria Kelly) meets with him and tells him that the Pride Lands have turned for the worst since Scar took over. She also tells Simba that since he's the rightful king, he's the only one who can make things right again. Doubting himself because he still thinks he killed his father, Simba doesn't until he meets with a wise old mandrill named Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) who reminds him that his father is still with him in spirit. Simba sees a vision of Mufasa in the sky telling him to go back and face his past. Simba decides to go back and fight his uncle to the death. Scar of course is defeated and with Simba now in throne, everything returns to normal.

I'm sure you're wondering what sort of issues I have with this story that's very adult, considering it's borrowed from one of the Bard's best dramas? Well, one is the message. Now, I actually do like this message. It's a very mature one to give in a Disney film and I especially like it when Simba talks with Rafiki about it. It's basically, "The past can hurt, but you can either run from it or learn from it". Now, that's very clever and I can get behind it. What I'm not behind is how the movie treats him when he does go and face his past. When he goes back to face his fears, the fears begin to win and everything he was taught before is turned against him. No one is behind him, no one supports him, no one helps him until it turns out he didn't commit the murder he thought he committed! Wait... how is this confronting his past? It's a past that never happened and even when he did thought he did it, the film doesn't support him! Almost to say he really did accidentely kill his father and that he deserves to die until he says, "Wait! I didn't do it!" I'm sorry, but that's a really serious flaw! Well, it was a good try, Disney...

Another issue is the villain. Now Scar shows in the beginning that he's a very intelligent and capable threat to our heroes, which by law makes him an interesting villain. However, it's when he gets his power that he stops being interesting. In fact, he starts acting like a prima donna, which just sucks out the dignity that you feel for a villain. Now to be fair, here's a clip of his song with a few examples of what I'm talking about. I still think he's an alright villain but a little overrated in my opinion.

Now I'm through with my problems. So you must be asking yourself, what do I still like about The Lion King? Well for starters, this is a big movie. I mean a really big movie. Just the size and scale of this movie is worth the admission price. The action scenes seem bigger and grander whenever you see it in a theater. I still remember seeing it when it first came out. I was about two or three when this movie came out, making this the first movie I ever saw in a theater and for that I still feel attached to it despite my recent issues with the film. If you ever get to see it in a theater, do it! Or find it on Blu-ray.

The characters are also good too. You have James Earl Jones as the wise king, Jeremy Irons is over the top and fun during the first half of the film, Rowan Atkinson gets a few good puns, the hyenas are funny, of course Simba is a sympathetic hero, and while I may not love Timon and Pumbaa as much as I used to, they still have some funny lines in this film. The voice acting is actually great, probably some of the best in a Disney flick I've seen. I hear them as the characters instead of a celebrity behind a microphone just doing a voice.

It's a great cast with good characters.
On top of that, this is definitely one of the more adult Disney films. Like I mentioned earlier, the story is basically a family-friendly version of  Hamlet but with talking lions. And the film doesn't really sugarcoat it that much like you'd expect Disney to do. For instance, they don't pull a Bambi's mom off-stage when Mufasa dies. No, you see the body! This was a really big thing back then and left a really big impact on all of us when that happened! It also was very unexpected for Disney back then to kill a character on-screen during a big action sequence! And even though the message sort of backfires, I still like the one it was trying to get across. For Disney to even attempt to pull off a story like this is very admirable effort that for the most part still works.

The artwork of course is a great as any Disney film. The animation (especially from Andreas Dejas) is wonderful as always, some of these angles are spectacular, and the backgrounds make you really feel like you're in the African wilderness. There's also some traces of traditional African culture in the film, which is pretty cool. Most of it is in the music by Hans Zimmer and a few of the names if I'm right are Swahili names. Nice touch!

This is still the most epic still of the movie. Just look at that!
I can tolerate these songs. They range from average to pretty epic. My personal favorites are probably Circle of Life and Be Prepared. However, my beef with them is that I think if the film wanted to be a little more mature and groundbreaking, it could have done with out the songs. But there's only song I truly hate is one that was added on when it was re-released into IMAX theaters in 2002: The Morning Report. Holy crap, I hate this song! I know it was added on to the memory of the talented Howard Ashman, but every artist makes a dud at some point. This song is so pointless and unneeded, it's no wonder that it was removed from the original final film. I had to scramble around trying to find a DVD copy of this film without that insidious song! It's so aggravating! Thank goodness for the recent Diamond edition that removes it completely! If you need a DVD of this film, get the Diamond edition for the love of humanity!

Overall, I still really enjoy The Lion King. While not necessarily perfect, it's a grand film with an adult story and a pretty big message. I just have my own personal irks with it and I do wish that other Disney films got the attention that this one gets every day. And if it ever gets re-released in a theater, I'll still go check it out. It's a film you need to see in a theater at least once before you die. Not my favorite Disney film, but it's still one of the best for sure.


lee said...

I love this film, the best song for me is the Scar's them, he is the best.

Filmgurulad said...

I agree with you about the Morning Report song, but I think The Lion King is the best animated movie ever because it was such an epic and it had everything including talented voice acting and a really superb score by Hans Zimmer.