So the Disney Renaissance era was in full swing by 1994, and with three critically-acclaimed films already under its belt, everyone was anticipating what would be the next film to follow in the Renaissance. Well, there were actually two in production at the same time: one was Pocahontas (which I have already talked about), and the other was The Lion King. Long story short, no one at the studio wanted to work on The Lion King, it was just going to be the ‘B’ picture behind Pocahontas, which was meant to be a serious epic that would get the Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. …Let me just remind everyone of how the aftermath turned out for The Lion King.
Highest-grossing 2D animated film of all time. 16th highest-grossing film of all time. Winner of two Oscars, and winner of two Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture. Adapted into successful Broadway musical, winner of six Tony Awards. IMAX and 3D theatrical re-releases. Platinum and Diamond Editions on DVD and Blu-Ray.
The story follows young Simba, the future king of the Pridelands , who looks up to his father, the current king Mufasa. Envious uncle Scar plots to kill both Simba and Mufasa so that he can take the place of king, but only manages to kill one of them: Mufasa. As he grows up away from the Pridelands, Simba must learn to cope with the death of his father, and the responsibility he has shunned since the death.
I don’t think I really need to tell you more, as pretty much everyone knows the story. Everyone knows this film, probably everyone has seen this film, and probably everyone loves its film, according to the aforementioned legacy it has spawned. And with that, I shall firstly say that this movie is big and epic. Just from that summary, it sounds almost like a prequel to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, starting with what happened before Hamlet’s father’s death, rather than after; the people working on it at Disney called it a cross between Hamlet and fellow Disney epic, Bambi, with a few inspirations taken from the story of Joseph and Moses. The theme of the story is pretty big and adult: coping with the death of a loved one and not running from the past (or your responsibilities), but learning from it. And the whole scale of the film, set in the African savannah, is just epic: every location in the film always feels so huge, as if there are no boundaries to it what-so-ever. Oh, and you’ve got a musical score composed by Hans ‘I-Must-Make-Everything-More-Epic’ Zimmer, which doesn’t hurt.
You also have an epic character in Mufasa. Other than the fact that he’s voiced by James Earl Jones. Just give me a minute to praise everything about him. Alright, there may be a chance that Mufasa is too perfect, too good to be true – no, there is a definite chance: Mufasa is too perfect…but he sort of has to be. He’s got to be the person – well, lion, Simba has to look up to, and he’s got to be likeable enough for the audience to be devastated when he is killed by his brother, Scar. So we’re dealing with a total hero in this first act of the film: Mufasa is majestic and wise, brave and protective, and he can also have fun when he wants to; he also remembers the importance of responsibility, family (he never truly dislikes his brother, even though Scar constantly reacts to him with sarcasm and disdain) and the theme of the Circle of Life. The only bad thing about him is that he dies at the end.
The other characters are likeable enough, though Simba sometimes can be a bit bland. Scar makes for a good villain, expertly voiced by Jeremy Irons, with Andreas Deja as supervising animator. The comic relief characters are fine, though the humourous parts of the film do sometimes jar with the drama of the story e.g. about three of four minutes after Scar persuades Simba to run away and never return, we are introduced to Timon and Pumbaa. I understand that a Disney film can’t always be dark and serious all the time, but it would help that the humour was a bit more…timeless. Timon and Pumbaa doing a duet of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Rafiki doing karate/kung fu, Zazu singing ‘It’s a Small World’, Timon and Pumbaa (again) doing the hula dance to distract the hyenas – animals in the African savannah would not really (know how to) do those things, would they?
I’ll admit, I didn’t watch this much as a kid, though I do remember watching the shit out of the bonus features on the Platinum Edition DVD. Either way, referring back to the information in Paragraph 2 again, I’m not really sure why it’s so successful. I’m not saying it’s not a good film, but I don’t know what makes it different from the Renaissance classics before it, like The Little Mermaid or Aladdin, or even Beauty and the Beast (actually, that one’s probably just as successful, perhaps even more, than The Lion King). It’s probably the darkest out of the four films, it’s the most adult – maybe it’s just because of the whole epic-ness I talked about before.
Overall: It’s got a strong story, strong characters and a strong theme, which always makes for a strong film. It’s also got impressive visuals, comic relief and catchy songs. It’s a quintessential Disney Renaissance era film, just as good as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
Next time, I’ll be reviewing…2007’s Meet the Robinsons.