Disney’s The Lion King is my favorite childhood movie. It came out when I was 8 years old, and I was obsessed: I had posters on my bedroom wall, a complete bedroom set with a weird bathmat, and kissing Simba and Nala dolls. I memorized the entire screenplay, which I can still recite word for word (sorry to anyone who watches this one with me, but I can’t help it!) Full of the very real dangers of the wild, it was a unique, grim departure from Disney’s princess films, and a brilliantly animated movie.
If you’ve somehow never seen it, the film starts with lion cub / prince Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick) being convinced he was responsible for his father’s death by his evil uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons). He’s then chased into exile by three wicked hyenas (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings) — servants of Scar, who has his eye on the throne. While Simba grows up following a philosophy of “No Worries” with his new pals Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), Scar is slowly destroying their home. Soon, Simba must face his past and return to fight for his rightful place of king.
The Lion King was one of the first full-length animated Disney films not to be based on a fairy tale of some sort. Instead, Disney got their inspiration from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and old Greek myths, which might account for the rather harsh tone. Sure, there are the classic Disney songs and the good vs. evil theme throughout, but there is also a degree of death and sadness that hadn’t been seen since Bambi or Dumbo. However, this does not detract from the film’s appeal in the least; in fact, combined with the adult humor provided by Timon and Pumbaa, the grim elements of the Lion King make this just as much as a film for adults as it is for children.
Helping to bring this story to life is the amazing animation. The opening scene, where all the animals in the kingdom come out to meet the new prince to the backdrop of the fantastic Elton John original “The Circle of Life,” is one of the very best opening scenes in cinema, in my opinion. The time taken by the animation team to add detail to the African landscape is remarkable, and carefully depict the way the sun moves and illuminates everything it touches. It even took Disney three years to complete the wildebeest stampede scene, as they had to create a whole new CGI program just so that the animals didn’t look like they were running into each other. It’s a pretty impressive achievement, especially considering that Disney put their B team of 600 animators on The Lion King. They had their A team deployed to Pocahontas, which the studio thought would be a much bigger success. As much as I love Pocahontas, it is no Lion King.
No discussion of this film would be complete without highlighting the talent of its voice actors. Almost every character in this movie is voiced by a big Hollywood name — another rarity for Disney features. Most famous of them all is James Earl Jones, whose large, deep voice is worthy of the king Mufasa, Simba’s father. Providing one half of the comedic relief for the film is Nathan Lane as Timon. He is borderline obnoxious and completely full of himself, leaving you to laugh or roll your eyes any time he opens his mouth. As effective as these two performances are, however, my very favorite is Jeremy Irons’ Scar. I remember being terrified of Scar when I was a child, though I now find myself enjoying his one-liners and his dry, witty sense of humor. It’s also crucial to mention that Elton John’s voice is of immeasurable benefit to the film. Instead of voicing a character, he provides some of the best original music ever created for a Disney film. As stated above, he sang the opening “Circle of Life,” but he also performed the famous “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. I had the soundtrack on cassette tape, and if it isn’t already clear, I loved it so much.
The Lion King is a true family film. It helps kids to learn important life lessons, such as discovering who you are, and to learn from your past rather than simply running from it. Its darkness also provides an adult element to a Disney feature, so Mom and Dad can enjoy it too. Even now, many years after I first saw it, watching this movie over and over again still pulls at my heart strings. It brings me back to my childhood, reminding me how much I love Disney, and how much they have to do with my love of cinema in general. This is a brilliant, wonderful movie.
The Lion King landed at #62 out of 1353 movies on my Flickchart. That converts to a rating of 5 out of 5 stars or 95%. It is ranked #11 out of 254 movies I have seen from the 1990s, and is ranked #3 out of 18 movies I have seen so far in this challenge.