The Lion King (1994): United States – directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Rated G by the MPAA – contains violence, scariness, mature themes
It’s been several years since I’ve seen The Lion King. It was a favorite of mine growing up, primarily because we got it on video in Pakistan shortly after it came out and had many chances to watch it. Watching it again with older eyes proved to be an interesting experience.
We start at the beginning of the great circle of life, where young Simba (voice of Jonathon Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick) is presented to the animal kingdom from the top of Pride Rock. His father Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones) looks on proudly. Simba soon grows into a young rapscallion. Mufasa shows him the kingdom he will soon take over and tries to teach him that there is more to being king that showing how brave he is. There is also the small matter of Simba’s uncle, Scar (voice of Jeremy Irons), to deal with.
Scar has never had the chance to be king because he’s a bit scrawny. He’s also devilishly clever, though, and soon devises a plot to be rid of both Mufasa and Simba and take over the kingdom with his gang of hyena friends.
To be honest, I had some trouble during the first quarter of the movie. For some reason I couldn’t shake the fact that these were animals in the Savannah acting like humans in the United States. They have the same social structure, same social mores, and the same problems with parental authority. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough until Mufasa’s death. At that point the grandeur and emotional depth of the film finally carried me away.
After the amazing wildebeest stampede the film just gets better. Simba meets two wonderful characters in Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). There are some wonderful songs whose words I could still remember. And then there are the dark times that Scar brings to the kingdom after taking power and the gorgeously staged climactic battle before the circle of life comes back to the beginning. The whole film, actually, looks quite amazing, and I especially enjoyed some of the sound. The voices of James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons reverberate with deep bass, making one believe that they actually are lions.
The Lion King ranks among the upper echelons of Disney efforts. The production is practically spotless, the film is bereft of anything extraneous and runs an appropriate 89 minutes. There are numerous colorful supporting characters, the most famous of whom (Timon and Pumbaa) even got their own TV show and sequel, if I recall correctly. Even though the beginning minutes are a little on the cheesy side the rest of the film is powerful and engaging enough to keep adults interested alongside their kids.
P.S. This past week I got a chance to meet Don Hahn at the Heartland Film Festival, where he was presenting his new film Waking Sleeping Beauty, a documentary about Disney from the lows of 1984 to the historic heights of 1994 and the release of The Lion King. Don was the producer on both The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, which is my favorite Disney film. Don was a fantastic guest for the Festival and seemed to be the type of guy that just has fun doing what he does, sort of like I imagine the Pixar guys to be. He also had some interesting things to say about his past films, including how surprised they were when The Lion King received a “G” rating from the MPAA. It is quite violent, even going so far as bloody scratch marks, and contains some very dark themes. Don also mentioned how the plot was basically Bambi in Africa meets Hamlet, which adequately sums up the storyline.