The Lion King

The Lion King (1994) movie poster

(1994) directors Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
viewed: 10/01/2011 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, SF, CA

While I’m not opposed to revivals of “classic” films, I am largely opposed to the 3-D-ification of them.  Actually, I’m currently opposed to anything released in 3-D in the present environment because “It’s a fucking rip-off!!!!”

But here I was caught between show-times with another event lurking close by and I had to make a game-time decision about an appropriate and time-effective movie to see.  And it played out thusly.  My personal opposition to paying for the contemporary 3-D experience on a retrofitted movie stood second behind timeliness and convenience.  And that is how we found ourselves at a movie I hadn’t planned to see (while others played that I wanted to see).

Though in many ways The Lion King has come to embody the “Disney Renaissance” (a period between the late 1980’s and late 1990’s) and was Disney’s high watermark of that era in terms of commercial success (it’s still the largest-grossing traditional cel animated feature ever released), I never quite entirely got on board with it.  Actually, in looking back at Disney’s “Renaissance”, one could speculate that it perhaps should be reduced to a handful of films at the beginning of that period, the handful that were pretty good.  I mean really, of The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998) and Tarzan (1999), which of these titles do you consider even half-good?  To be fair, I have never seen Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998) and Tarzan (1999), but I’d still willing to guess that Disney’s rebirth as a “renaissance” may be more colored by their ability to profit in marketing the hell out of the films rather than feeling proud of all of their artistic laurels.

The Lion King, the most somber of these films perhaps, and perhaps does represent a point close to the peak of this period.  Outside of The Little Mermaid, I haven’t seen any of the others in a long time.

Whether it was an intentional “borrowing” from Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion, or an “original” piece based on many biblical, Shakespearean, or otherwise traditional narratives, it’s a film with a rather serious core.  When the James Earl Jones-voiced King Mustafa dies at the hands of his creepy brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons), young Simba is given to think that he brought about his father’s death and runs away.  He takes up with a farting Warthog and a wiseacre meerkat, the classic comic relief of the Disney canon, and grows to adulthood singing, “Hakuna Matata” (“No worries”), until his friend and former playmate finds him, forcing him to confront his past and ultimately the evil Scar.  You know the whole story, probably, right?

The animation is nice, particularly in the landscapes and the general animal designs.  And the film is the traditional Disney musical, featuring five songs by Elton John and Tim Rice.  It’s stuck in that template, so common and oft-used by Disney, especially during its “renaissance”.  In that sense, the film has little radical in it.  Classical epic dramas, stock comedy characters, show tunes, values and ideals easily gleaned from a fairly standard-issue set of messages that even 5 year olds could comprehend.

It’s enjoyable enough, but that’s about all I’d rate it.  I’d feel more cynical perhaps if the kids had liked it more.  They’d seen the musical on stage in London and I’m not sure if they’d seen the film itself before.  It only received a few “It was good” from them without much thought or reaction.

I’m sure to a true Disneyphile, that’s sacrilege.  At least we feel that way as a family.

And hopefully, that’s the last time we don 3-D glasses for some while.

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