The Lion King (1994)

22 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember those old Disney animated movies which featured moments that scare little kids (and maybe some older ones too), or at least emotionally scarred them? “The Lion King,” a Disney animated feature released decades after those films, recalls such moments and creates a whole movie with them. One of those Disney animated features was “Bambi,” and everybody mourned Bambi’s mother. Here in “The Lion King,” another young animal character loses a parent. It’s a sad moment. Disney animators can create such appealing animated characters and then have the courage to a) put them in danger or b) kill them off.

“The Lion King” is one of the best Disney animated features I’ve ever seen. It takes elements of “Bambi,” crosses them with “Hamlet,” and turns the characters into lions, a bird, a warthog, and a meerkat (whatever that is). And of course, the makers of “The Lion King” add some ideas of their own.

And also, it adds some very memorable songs. The film features a cute little lion cub named Simba who dreams of being king of the pride one day, as he expresses to his little cub girlfriend Nala in one of the film’s best musical numbers, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” Other great, memorable songs include “Circle of Life,” which establishes the power of the lions’ home and order of the other animals in a great-looking-and-sounding opening sequence. Also, there’s “Hakuna Matata,” sung by Simba’s newfound friends late in the movie, which tells him not to worry about his past. (“Hakuna Matata” means “no worries” in Swahili.) But by far the best song is the film’s love song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” by Elton John and Tim Rice. These songs add to the charm of this wonderful movie.

The story is about guilt and redemption. Simba (voiced by “Home Improvement’s” Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is the heir to his father’s throne. Something goes horribly wrong and he is led to believe that he is the cause of his father’s death. So he runs away and lives with a meerkat named Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and a warthog named Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella) to find peace. But letting go of the past isn’t easy.

The cub’s uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons, with his dry British accent) is the one who made Simba feel guilty. He comes from a long line of Disney villains and he’s definitely one of the best. Scar is the farthest from a buffoon. He’s a slimy, conniving, mysterious, evil lion who travels with a pack of laughing hyenas (two of which are voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin). He kills his own brother Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and leads his nephew to believe he caused it. This is not a lion to be trifled with. In fact, I don’t know if the scene in which Mufasa meets his demise should even be shown to children under 8. For a film rated G, this film has a rather large amount of violence, including a sequence in which two lions fight to the death. Parents, take that into consideration.

Aside from the drama and the grimness of the story, we get some great comic relief. The hyenas are like angry villagers who don’t get paid enough at their odd jobs. And Timon and Pumbaa are very funny supporting characters, helping Simba get over his problems. How do they help him feel better? By feeding him a grub and singing him a song about no worries.

The animation, as if predictably, is amazing. The best handdrawn animated sequence in the film features a stampede of wildebeests chasing young Simba through a gorge. Amazing, and it looks almost life-like. Disney animators always seem to master handdrawn animation. Remember the ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast?” In “The Lion King,” they use lighting and colors to make everything bright and great-looking and doesn’t forget that these characters are not human.

This is truly a great animated film by the Disney studios, telling a tale of redemption and guilt and facing the past. It also adds comic relief and a good deal of fun. The animation is bright, the songs are memorable, the story is great, the characters have depth, and I’d even put “The Lion King” in a class with “Bambi” and that’s a very high class indeed.

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