Friday, July 12, 2019

Green Phoenix - The Lion King (1994) Review

In 1988, during a promotional tour for Oliver and Company in Europe, a meeting was held between Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, and Peter Schneider to discuss future projects for The Walt Disney Studios.

Among the projects discussed was a desire by the three to create an animated film set in Africa. The project was handed over to the vice-president of creative affiars, Charlie Fink, who developed the project further. Katzenberg would later add his elements, creating a coming of age story and some elements that he would later credit to his own life.

In 1991, the film, tentatively called King of the Jungle, was put into production, though many animators and directors wanted to work on Pocahontas (which was considered the more prestigious and likely to be successful of the two) instead, with The Lion King representing the lesser of the two projects.

In spite of that; by 1994, King of the Jungle, now renamed The Lion King was released to critical and financial acclaim and has since gone down in history as among Disney's greatest animated films. With a "live-action" adaptation of the film expected for later this year, I felt it only fair to take a look at this legendary picture to see if it still holds up.

***
  • Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
  • Produced by Walt Disney Pictures
  • MPAA Rating: G
  • Running Time: 88 Minutes

***

SUMMARY

The Lion King takes place in the Pride Lands of Africa, where a pack of Lions rule the animal kingdom. Their king, Mufasa, is celebrating the birth of his son and heir, Simba. However, the birht of Simba places Mufasa's brother and rival, Scar, farther down in the line of succession, placing the young lion in the path of Scar's desire for the throne.

Following a plot by Scar to seize the throne, Simba goes into a self-imposed exile where he befriends Timon and Pumbaa and grows into a strong and powerful lion. But when a childhood friend returns and tells of the terror of Scar's reign, Simba will have to reclaim his rightful position as the Lion King.

***

REVIEW

The Lion King is a film which is near and dear to my heart. My earliest memories as a kid involve sitting in front of the TV watching The Lion King on VHS. In fact, I watched the film so much as a kid, I burned through three VHS's and can still quote the film and the sing the songs.


VISUALS - 10/10

The Lion King was released at the height of the Disney Renaissance, and as such, possesses the same clean animation look that has become the standard of the era and inspired many of the current Disney films.

This is incredibly interesting as The Lion King was held as the unpopular project at Disney at the time, with Pocahontas taking the greater portion of attention from animators. Despite the lack of interest, the quality of the animation is among Disney's best, with animators even going on a safari in Kenya to get a sense of animals in motion.

As a result of this labor, The Lion King gives off a singularly unique impression from a visual perspective, with its realistic portrayal of animals counterpointed beautifully with highly choreographed musical segments to give a film that remains a joy to watch even today.


SOUNDTRACK - 10/10

The soundtrack and music of The Lion King is absolutely perfect. Iconic and memorable even to this day, I still find myself, after almost 20 years, turning on the soundtrack to jam or relax. There is a reason that the Broadway adaptation has continued to be performed even after nearly a quarter of a century.

A magnificent fusion of Broadway and traditional African sounds, the musical identity of The Lion King is absolutely unmistakable. Songs like "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata" have remained exemplars of film soundtracks, and the labors of Phil Collins with songs like "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" remain among the artists best work. Alongside them, "Be Prepared" is held among the best of Disney's villains songs (which is almost a genre in and of itself).

I could gush about the soundtrack forever, as I have been listening to it as I write this review. Just go and listen to it. It is so much and could almost stand on its own, independent of the film it is attached to.

CHARACTERS - 7/10

The characters of The Lion King are among the best in the Disney lineup. Scar is quite often held up as among the best of the Disney villain pantheon, for good cause. His Machiavellian nature and the plotting and scheming, coupled with his absolutely brutal death have stuck with me in how a villain ought to be written Though I do think he gets significantly less interesting once he has power then when he is working to gather it.
Image result for mufasa and darth vader
"No Simba, I AM YOUR FATHER!!!

Then we have Mufasa, the king of the jungle and Simba's father. This character is played by James Earl Jones.

That's right? Mother**cking Darth Vader is Simba's father! How cool is that?!

Even though Mufasa is really only in the first 30 minutes of the movie, he absolutely steals every scene he's in. Despite having such an iconic voice, Jones' performance just immerses you in the gravitas of the character. I can absolutely see why the upcoming adaptation won't even bother with replacing Mufasa's voice. I honestly think it cannot be done.

Image result for simbaBeyond Scar and Mufasa, we also have the comedic duo of Timon and Pumbaa, who have almost written the book on good Disney comic relief, adding in humor and levity at just the perfect moments without taking away from the drama and pathos when it is there. I do wish that some of Disney's current comic reliefs took more from this classic duo.

I do however have one complaint. Not a major one and not one that takes away from the overall point, just a feature that is shared with many Disney Renaissance films. Simba and Nala are kind of the least interesting characters in their own movie. Again, this is a trait shared by many Disney films of the same era and it is really just a case of so much focus on the villains and side-characters that the protagonist and love interest end up going along for the ride. But their not offensively bad, just bland in comparison to the rest of the cast; and with a cast this strong and fun, is that really all that bad?

STORY - 9/10

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This movie is an epic. There really is no way around it. The sheer size and scope of this film is unlike anything else in the Disney Renaissance. It is in many ways a singular film and even to this day, very few films can even stand up against it.
That being said, this film is fairly predictable, though at this point that may be because this is one of the most recognizable films and many copy it. There are naturally the jokes that have existed from the beginning, referring to this film as "Disney's Hamlet" and "Bambi with Lions", and those comparisons are not without merit.

There is something Shakespearean in the overall scope and scale, but even if the story is predictable; it is so sharply written and thematically consistent that you are still sucked in and drawn to the passions and desires of the characters. The world demands and earns your respect and is truly a film for all audiences, never babying or coddling its audiences.

It remains among Disney's best...and no, I will not mention the "Kimba the White Lion" comparisons.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So I must admit, I might be something of a fanboy of this movie. But so what? The fact that this film can create in me such a passionate and devoted viewer, even after 25 years, speaks to the strength and power of this Disney classic. It is easily among Disney's best and I consider myself extremely blessed that my childhood could be filled with this epic adventure. If you haven't seen it?

First, I would love to see the quality of the rock you've been living under. Secondly, I would demand that you see this movie.

Go. Go see it. The review's over. Go watch it.

WATCH IT!!!

VISUALS
  •  10/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 10/10
CHARACTERS
  • 7/10
STORY
  • 9/10

 FINAL SCORE - 9/10

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