The Lion King (1994)
March 16, 2011 by 4 Comments
Combine the tone of a Greek tragedy, a plot based off of Hamlet, throw in some talking animals and you get Disney's The Lion King as your entrée. Don't let any of those ingredients discourage you from enjoying this amazing animated film (and if you haven't seen it, then go out and rent it already). With a talented ensemble cast, gorgeously colorful animation, a gripping, but also heartfelt soundtrack, how can I go wrong with The Lion King? The film hit the theaters in 1994 and that was the year I witnessed this awe-inspiring work of art. The Lion King was a life changing experience for me and was the catalyst that drove my interests to films and eventually drawing when I was told it was a hand drawn animated movie. Here's a summary of the storyline and a mentioning of some of the important characters in the film. The Lion King begins with a majestic intro of the rising sun illuminating the African savanna and illustrating the variety of creatures in its animal kingdom. The scene has such vibrant use of colors to accentuate the landscape, use of angles to display the massive herds of creatures all heading towards the same region, all this accompanied with Carmen Twillie, Lebo M and his African choir's superb vocals perfectly matching the sequence of events taking place. It is near the end of this prologue where we witness where all the animals are en route to and get our first glimpse at the protagonist, a newborn lion cub named Simba, the heir to the Pride Lands. It is shortly after, that the antogonist is introduced, Scar (Jeremy Irons). As the former heir to the throne before Simba was born, it is easily seen that Scar is plagued with the fact that he has lost all hope to ever be king. This creates an already uneasy relationship with his older brother, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), current King of the Pride Lands and father of Simba. If you've read Hamlet, you could speculate where this is going to lead up to. If you haven't, well shame on you, but I'll summarize the story regardless. A few years pass, and Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is a child with a desire to one day fill his father's paws. There is a scene in which where Simba's young paw steps into a footprint of his father's, indicating the role he is destined to one day fulfill, but is not yet prepared for. His adventurous attitude lands him in near danger when his manipulative uncle, Scar, who tricks Simba into visiting an area his father previously prohibited his son from visiting. Simba brings along his childhood friend, Nala (Niketa Calame), to visit the forbidden area, an elephant graveyard, after ditching their caregiver and majordomo to Mufasa, Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) a red-billed horndrill. Zazu eventually catches up with the couple and urges them to leave, but unfortunately run into a nefarious trio of hyenas, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Benzai (Cheech Marin), and Ed (Jim Cummings). Mufasa ultimately shows up in time to protect the three from the hyenas and later lectures his son about being courageous. Scar hatches up another scheme (and what an evil scheme it is) that conclusively makes him the new king and forces Simba to run away, although Scar believes he's succeeded in killing his nephew. As a result, Simba is left to die in the cruelty of the wasteland but is rescued by the comedic duo Timon, (Nathan Lane) a meerkat, and Pumbaa, (Ernie Saballa) a warthog. They educate Simba in their carefree, "no worries" lifestyle to lighten Simba's current mood. Several more years pass and our little hero is now an adult with a full head of mane. Simba (now voiced by Matthew Broderick) runs into his old childhood friend Nala (Moira Kelly) and predictably fall in love. She tries to convince him to return to the Pride Lands in order to overthrow Scar and take his official place as king. Like Hamlet, Simba delays action until he speaks to a certain character and is inspired to go back and overwhelm his evil uncle. You don't need me to explain the rest of the movie now do you? Disney films are known for its animated characters, but what I enjoy the most are the atrocious villains the protagonists have to confront. Scar is, without a doubt, one of the most treacherous characters ever to be witnessed in an animated Disney film. All anyone has to do is glance at this suspiciously, black maned, green eyed lion with a (surprise!) scar on his left eye to understand he means trouble. If his looks don't scream devious villain, I don't know what does anymore. As if that isn't convincing enough, just listening to his voice is proof that this lion is full of antogonism and malevolence. Jeremy Irons accomplished a prime job voicing one of the most memorable villains in Disney. I guess the British really do make great villains. Perhaps it's their articulate way of speaking? Anyways, back to Scar. This is a character that actually killed his target. Allow me to repeat the preceding sentence: a character that actually KILLED his target. Wait, I thought this was a Disney film? I just witnessed a murder in a movie that its main audience is targetted at children. That's how evil this guy really is, making other Disney villains seem as soft as jellyfish in comparison. Scar's so malicious he even references another film starring Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune ("You're so weird." "You have no idea."). That's right, shiver in fear. Now comes the unavoidable comedic duo of Timon and Pumbaa. They're sure to make your children laugh at their goofiness, but at least they have humorous dialogue for adults as well. Unfortunately with Puumba, it feels as if his entire purpose in film is to serve fart jokes after another when he had the potential to be much more than the same old running gag (although there is a fart joke about stars that I found hilarious). Despite that, the duo serve their purpose well and contribute as much as any character to make the film what is, a masterpiece in animation. I was shocked when I was told The Lion King was hand drawn not long after I first watched it in the '90s. The fact that the awe-inspiring scenes were hand drawn almost seemed beyond belief. Mark Henn, Ruben A. Aquino, Tony Fucile, Andreas Deja, Aaron Blaise, and Anthony DeRosa were the animation leads that achieved in creating the beauty and elegance of the main characters. The character animators prepared for the making of the movie by studying real-life animals and an abundance of the crew members had taken a trip to a national park in Kenya. When every scene looks downright amazing and captures the beauty of the African wildlife perfectly, you know that the animation team has done their job considerably well. Especially the scene with countless of wildebeest on a stampede because of the fact that they are cel-shaded. Those clever geniuses had me fooled for more than a decade, believing this movie had no 3D modeling in it whatsoever, but I suppose that is the result of working on a scene that is a few minutes in length but required almost three years to create. It is one of the reasons The Lion King became the most successful animated film before Finding Nemo took its place almost a decade later. Looking pretty isn't enough, though. The film is going to have to be accompanied with an amazing soundtrack. Ah, yes, the original score of a movie. It's sometimes an important factor in a film and can make it that much more memorable. The proof is there in the opening of the film. "Naan ts'ingonyama bagithi baba!" All I have to do is listen to the first second of "The Circle of Life" and I'm flushed with waves of memories from first observing that introduction. Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the songs you hear in the movie including the Academy Award winning song "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Although I believe the lyrics to that song could have been improved by Tim Rice, the mood still fit well nonetheless in the scenes where Simba and Nala were realizing their attraction to one another. Another notable example is "Hakuna Matata" for being a wonderful phrase and being too catchy no matter how much I attempt to get it out of my head. So a thumbs up to Elton John and Tim Rice for the songs in the movie. I'll never forgive myself if I forgot to mention about Hans Zimmer composing the original score. It's such remarkable music to correspond with certain incidents and events in film. Zimmer fuses his own style of composing with an African taste to fit perfectly with savanna setting. I reminisce listening to Paul Simon's Graceland album or some Ladysmith Black Mombazo because of this score. If you need an example of why I believe Zimmer achieved a stupendous task in scoring the movie, just listen to beautifully orchestrated "Under the Stars" or the epic "To Die For." Another thumbs up is necessary for you Mr. Zimmer. So what can we learn from The Lion King? That "Hakuna Matata" is a wonderful phrase? Never believe a word that comes out of incredulous green-eyed uncles? Perhaps, it's that we should never run away from the past despite the suffering it can bring, but instead learn from the experiences that follow the past. Another possibility is that despite the obstacles that come with adulthood, we should never forget who we are, where we come from and just go with the present. No matter how you interpret the film, we can all agree that it comes with great lesson experiences about life for children despite being darker in tone than your average Disney movie. This isn't a movie just for children though, adults can enjoy the adventure of following Simba's journey from his birth to adulthood as much as anybody. I enjoyed watching this film in '94 and I absolutely took pleasure going through it again as if it were a brand new experience more than a decade later. Disney's The Lion King is a picturesque animated film surrounded by stimulating music captivated by an ensemble cast of voice actors that helped change the course in animation film industry forever and can even change the course of someone's life.