Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Lion King Review

The Lion King (1994)

Regrettably, I did not see this in 3D. However, I understand that this is going for another week, so I might still have a chance. Regarding the 3D rerelease (and the rumoured 3D rerelease of Beauty and the Beast), I am entirely cool with it, and I would love to see sort of a Disney Classics rerelease collection in whatever dimension, especially a rerelease of Aladdin. Whatever dimension or whatever size screen I watch it on doesn't matter though, because The Lion King is a perfect movie and an animated classic. There is not a single thing wrong with it in my opinion, and even though it is not my personal favourite of the Disney Renaissance (my personal favourite being the film that came out two years prior to this one, which I hope to re-review soon), I think it represents the Disney Animation Studios at their highest point of glory.

Before I get into the meat of the story, I would like to talk about the introduction. The introduction to this movie is one of the best introductions in any movie, not just in the world of animation. In the first five minutes, there is not a word of dialogue, but it is emotionally powerful and visually sweeping. The moment where the baboon holds up newborn Simba and all the animals bow to him is one of the most iconic images in all of Disney lore, as well as one of the most iconic images of all time. If you haven't seen the movie, shame on you. But seriously, if you haven't seen the movie, there might be some spoilers, but I'm sure most of you have, so moving on.

The baby being revealed is Simba, the son of Mufasa, and Simba is essentially being handed the kingdom (after Mufasa's death of course, but handed the kingdom nonetheless). The first part of the film shows Simba as a cub, and he is introduced as a cocky arrogant little boy, who thinks being brave involves searching for trouble. He deliberately disobeys his father, going into the elephant graveyard where he meets the hyenas (who will come into play later) at the behest of the film's villain, Simba's uncle Scar. Mufasa steps in just in time, which gives Scar a brilliant idea to gain the power he so desires, any slight possibility being taken from him when Simba was born.

You see, even though Mufasa says that everything the light touches is their kingdom, and that Simba will have the kingdom one day, there is always a saboteur. The saboteur in this case is Scar, who covets the kingdom and figures the only way that he can be king is if he kills Simba and Mufasa. This brings me to one of the things that The Lion King has done differently than the other Disney Renaissance pictures is that it actually had the balls to kill off a main character and have him stay dead. Even if you haven't seen The Lion King, you probably know about the big death at the hands of a storm of wildebeests. I knew when it was coming, but I didn't remember how I reacted to it, because I haven't seen this film since I was a kid. I didn't shed a single tear, but I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and when it actually happened, it was an emotionally wrenching moment.

Another thing that this film did differently from its predecessors was that it had the villain be successful (albeit temporarily). Scar killed Mufasa and he successfully convinced Simba to exile himself by placing the guilt on his young nephew. He also gets to inherit the throne, but we'll talk about Scar's character later, let's get back to the story. Simba exiles himself and he encounters everyone's favourite prairie dog/warthog duo. That's right, I'm talking about Timon and Pumba, two of the most awesome comic relief characters that Disney has ever created. Over the course of the song "Hakuna Matata", we see Simba age from a small cub to a fully grown lion, and a dead ringer for his daddy.

Nala stops by and so leads to the romantic climax of the film. It would appear I have forgotten to mention the romantic interest prior to now, so I will elaborate a bit further. Nala and Simba are childhood friends who are betrothed to marry. They meet in their adult years and this leads to the aforementioned romantic climax. There is not a word of dialogue spoken, aside from "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" being sang in the background. A tiff between lovers regarding why Simba will not return to Pride Rock results in yet another extremely powerful moment between Simba and the spirit of his father, as well as the baboon that held him up at the beginning.

The film's climax shows the desolate wasteland that Pride Rock has become under Scar's rule, which was previously only contained to the elephant graveyard. He has given the hyenas rule of the land, resulting in famine and thirst amongst the people. However, Scar is entirely oblivious to this. Simba finally goes to confront his uncle and confront his past, letting go of the guilt that has plagued him about his father's murder when Scar casually confesses to the whole act. Scar is dethroned and Simba takes his own rightful place on the throne, the film ending with the reveal of Simba's own cub. This brings us to the thematic importance of the song "Circle of Life". The film starts and ends with the reveal of a child, and it ends with Simba becoming king, and the similar design between adult Simba and Mufasa makes the song all the more relevant.

The character of Scar is one of the most sinister villains in all of Disney-dom, and he is voiced brilliantly by Jeremy Irons in full slime-mode. What is interesting about Scar is that he is incredibly menacing when he is exercising his plan to obtain power, yet he is so stunningly inept once he gets it. This is one of my favourite Disney villains, if not my favourite. I could not picture any other actor voicing Scar but Jeremy Irons. He never really scared me as a child, nor did the hyenas, but I can see how they could scare the shit out of some kids. The hyenas make perfect stooges for Scar, and one of my favourite parts of the film was during the song "Be Prepared" when the hyenas are marching like the Third Reich. Needless to say, a great villain voiced to perfection by a great actor.

The story, so I've been told, is basically Hamlet with talking animals. I have not read Hamlet, and I don't really know the story, so I can't say that it was Hamlet, but it is definitely a great story. It is creative, it's funny, and at times, it is emotionally wrenching. In fact, few animated films get as emotionally wrenching as The Lion King. There is comedy, mostly with the hyenas and the Timon/Pumba duo. Out of the two comic relief groups, I enjoyed the latter more, mostly because of the excellent voicework and writing of Nathan Lane as Timon. The dialogue is interesting and well-written, and it gets done what it needs to get done, although the songs are much better than the dialogue for reasons that I shall explain later.

The characters are interesting and memorable. I've already talked about the villain and the comic relief, so let's talk about the hero. Simba is the plucky hero, and he is a very interesting character and an all-around good protagonist. We want to see him defeat Scar and assume his rightful place as king of the Pridelands. We also see what guilt he felt due to the fact that Scar made him think that his father, whom he idolised, died by Simba's carelessness. He's voiced decently by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick. Nothing great, but nothing terrible in terms of voice performances. Nala is a decent character as well, a strong female character that's not just the love interest. She was decently voiced as well.

Let's get on to the last character I want to discuss, and that character is Mufasa. Mufasa has the second best voice actor of the whole movie, as he is voiced by James Earl Jones (who apparently likes playing iconic fathers). He is firsted only by Jeremy Irons in my opinion, but he is still extremely awesome. Mufasa is a great character and an excellent father figure. He's absolutely badass but caring towards his young son, and it was Scar tricking him into thinking that Simba was in danger that was his eventual downfall. I respect what they did with Mufasa and I think Simba's conversation with his spirit is one of the most powerful moments ever put onto film.

Moving on, this time to the visuals. I think this is better than Mulan, but I tend to lump them in the same category, because they are Disney's two best movies of the Disney Renaissance in terms of sweeping visuals. The Lion King has the best animation out of all the Renaissance films in my opinion, and that's saying a lot, because the animation quality of Disney films in the Renaissance was fantastic. The hand-drawn landscapes of Africa are absolutely gorgeous, and the animation of the animals are absolutely brilliant. The magnificent quality of the animation allows for a lot of the priorly mentioned powerful moments I had mentioned. The herd of wildebeests is charging across the desert, the burning of Pride Rock, and the contrast between the warm colour scheme of the Pridelands and the desolate wasteland that the Pridelands become are all animated gorgeously, as is the rest of the film.

The movie also contains some of the most memorable songs of the last twenty years, and I have one simple explanation as to why. Four words (or five, if you could hyphenated words as two): co-written by Elton John. Elton John was at the height of his popularity in the 1990's, and he cowrote such famous songs like "Circle of Life", "Hakuna Matata", and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" with Tim Rice. My personal favourite of the songs is "Be Prepared", which is Scar's villain song and one of my favourite Disney villain songs next to Hellfire from Hunchback of Notre Dame. Can You Feel the Love Tonight won the Oscar for Best Original song. Hanz Zimmer's score is absolutely excellent, and it suited the majestic nature of the film perfectly. Needless to say, this has one of the greatest musical scores of all time and some of the best songs of the Classic Disney Canon.

Cynics may say that the rerelease of The Lion King is Disney exploiting nostalgia to make money, but they could promptly be shut up by the simple fact that it's The Lion King. I would have loved to see this in theatres as it came out before I was born, but seeing it again after all of these years was excellent, no matter the size of the screen or the number of dimensions. If you haven't seen this movie, you have truly missed out on something great and I encourage you to see this as soon as possible. Although this is not my favourite Disney, this film represents the animation company at its prime of excellence and it remains their most successful film to date. This is a perfect movie, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and everybody should see it. Male, female, young, old, it doesn't matter. I think I'll explore Disney a bit longer, this film has made me want to. If there's a 3D rerelease of any other Disney Renaissance classics, I will be glad to see them in theatres, 3D gimmick aside.

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