The Lion King Review
These days, Disney has a habit of turning out a succession of excellent animations in the CGI realm, but it wasn’t always so. After the success of their classic animations from the 1940’s to 1960’s there was a bit of a lull in the delivery of quality product. It kicked off again with 'The Little Mermaid' in the late 1980’s – but Disney had learned that their movies had to have something for adults and children alike by then.
‘The Lion King’ came along in 1994, while CGI was still in its infancy, so it largely used the talents of the hand animator. Now out on American Region free Blu-ray, a whole new generation has the chance to gasp in wonderment at the beauty of the artwork, to enjoy the excellent musical numbers - written by Elton John and Tim Rice - and to be enthralled by the mastery of the storytelling.
When it was first released into Cinemas, there was a murmur of discontent among adults that one of the animated characters was seen to die in the story. Many parents were concerned that their little angels would be upset by such a scene. After all, it was a Disney movie! Maybe they remembered what Disney movies used to be like from their own childhood, but times had changed. Despite the whinging, ‘The Lion King’ went on to be one of the studio’s most successful releases – raking in the shekels thereafter upon its home video release in VHS, Laserdisc and DVD formats. Indeed, after the Laserdisc went out of print, it became one of the most sought after titles on that format.
Simba (voiced as an adult by Matthew Broderick), the Lion cub is born into Royalty as his father, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), is King of the jungle. Lurking on the sidelines is sneaky, sly Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) looking for any opportunity to undermine and depose his brother. Simba grows up with a young Lioness, Nala (Moira Kelly) chaperoned by a brightly coloured bird called Zazu (Rowan Atkinson). Simba leaves the pride believing himself responsible for the death of his father (but we all know it was really Scar, don’t we boys and girls). He teams up with the happy go lucky Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. Their rendition of the musical number ‘Hakuna Matata’ is brilliant as it involves a fart joke that makes kids laugh but can’t really offend sensitive adults. The rest of the songs in the movie are excellent too. ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight’ spring to mind as the best, the latter doing very well in the pop charts for Elton John for ages when the movie first came out. But I digress, Simba grows to adulthood with his two ‘chilled out’ pals until Nala (remember her?) comes calling. The poor sap Simba falls for her, much to the consternation of Timon and Pumbaa who note, in song “In short, our pal is doomed!”
The story has some more adult themes. Old style Disney movies would have had a bunch of fluffy animals living together in blissful harmony. In ‘The Lion King’, Mufasa has a father/son chat and explains in a very logical manner that Lions eat other animals and that it’s all part of the circle of life. There’s no attempt to pull the wool over the kids eyes in this movie. It also explains life and death in a matter of fact way that children will understand, without being patronising to the little ankle biters. There are also lessons for children to learn via the young Simba. If an adult tells you not to go to the Elephant’s graveyard, then you should do as you’re told – otherwise the Hyenas will eat you up.
The voice talent is a major part of every animation. The poor ones tend not to attract big names – and spotting the voices is half the fun. James Earl Jones’ rich, deep tones are just perfect for the King, Mufasa. Rowan Atkinson’s nasally pinched speech is a perfect match for Zazu, the bird with the brightly coloured beak, and his delivery of his character’s lines incorporate sarcasm and disdain equally. Jeremy Irons comes across as the untrustworthy, cowardly Scar in a way that only he (and perhaps the wily Terry Thomas of old) can. You really want him to get his come uppance.
The storytelling in ‘The Lion King’ is first class. We’re given enough time to get to know the hero, so we care about him. We see a major personal loss happen to him and he suffers at the hand of a liar. We’re on his side! While we’re happy to see him find new friends in Timon and Pumbaa, we know that he’s not fulfilling his potential and can’t wait to see justice done when he returns to face Scar. There’s enough threat and drama to keep us on tenterhooks when the confrontation finally occurs. Will Simba win or die trying. Watch the movie and find out. I can’t believe I just spent a paragraph analysing the storyline of a cartoon – but it’s not just any cartoon, it’s a Disney!
The film looks amazing. It always has done, but now we get the chance to own something that looks like a brand new 35mm print of ‘The Lion King’ to show in our own home cinemas. This is one for fans of Disney movies, animation buffs and those who just love well made films.