Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Lion King (1994)

Fig 1 - The Lion King Poster
The last time I recall watching this film was back in 2011, and presumably to promote Disney's release of the 'Diamond Edition' of The Lion King, the film was re-shown in cinemas in 3D. The film grossed over $30 million opening weekend and instantly found itself number one at the box office once again. But I remember watching it and thinking, "All this is adding to my experience is that I now have to wear a pair of glasses." Which incidentally wasn't true, as I took the glasses off halfway through and still had a great time. Of all the films that 'needed' 3D to enhance the spectacle of its run-time, The Lion King was not one of them. So my previous viewing of this is somewhat marred by that fact...

However this time I've re-watched in the intended format and, as expected, can say that it was a tremendous hour and a half. I've seen the film countless times since its release in 1994, but a six year hiatus still left my memory a little fuzzy.

For the uninitiated, the film opens with possibly one of the greatest sequences in animated cinema, perhaps even cinema itself. We watch as the lazy sun rises over the great plains of Africa, illuminating the vast wildlife and exhibiting the natural chaos to The Circle of Life. From the ants marching along the branch to the elephants plodding gracefully in the distance, we are well and truly transported to the Savannah. All of which culminates in a mass gathering at Pride Rock, where baby Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is to be presented to the kingdom as their new prince.

Soon after, a confrontation between Simba's father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) takes place, revealing a great deal of tension regarding the now altered proceedings over the thrones' heir. And for my money, Jeremy Irons casting as the role of Scar is some of the finest voice acting you will get from a Disney film. It has a real sinister growl to it with a touch of campy that makes every second of screen-time a joy.

Fig 2 - The Lion King - Simba and Scar
Anyway, following this, Mufasa educates his son on 'the circle of life' and essentially continues to foreshadow the notion that 'all things pass and thus is life'. All the while, Scar continues to brood in the background and hatches numerous plans to have the new heir 'bumped off' in order to regain his position in the hierarchy. Things come to a head when Scar triggers a stampede within which Simba is trapped and, though Mufasa comes to his aid, Scar spoiler alert sends his brother hurling from a cliff.

The rest of the film then deals with Simba's devastation over the death of his father and the guilt put upon him by his uncle who convinces him it was his fault. We watch as Pride Rock is overtaken by ravenous hyenas and darkness falls upon the land as the natural order of things spirals out of control. It is then Simba's job to find it within himself to accept the past and go back to his routes to end this depravity. That's basically it. And it's so unbelievably good.

One of the things that always impresses me with The Lion King is how smooth everything feels. Even if you're not an animal lover, you will never find yourself bored watching this film. The beauty of the imagery (under the art direction of Andy Gaskill) and the animation go hand-in-hand, with some stunning shots which pan almost entirely around a static character, giving a real cinematic feel to the direction. And the level of perfectionism here can be summed up by the fact that the wildebeest stampede sequence alone took three years to achieve.

Every musical number has become a classic Disney hit ever since. From the joyous innocence of Just Can't Wait to Be King to the ominous, nazi-esque visuals of Be Prepared, there isn't a single dud here. And they feel much more like interludes than 'musical' fodder, in the way that Disney does very well. The songs never feel unnecessary, more-so they are tone-setting additions to the divisions in the narrative.

It's a film that I always forget how much I love until I'm reinvigorated by its charm and magic. It's timeless and brings to life so many themes of acceptance and morality that perhaps the world could use more of. Until 2013, The Lion King was the highest grossing animated film of all time, nudged somewhat despicably from the podium by the inferior Frozen (I'm not bitter, obviously). But alas, you cannot change the past... So I'll let it go.



Fig. 1 The Lion King Poster (1994) From: The Lion King - Directed by: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff

Fig. 2 The Lion King Screenshot (1994) From: The Lion King - Directed by: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff

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