johnlink ranks THE LION KING (1994)

We were in the mood for an old standby. For my wife and I, THE LION KING is certainly that. It is a movie whose dialogue we both know verbatim, and many of whose songs and lines enter daily life. Of all the films I love from the 90s, THE LION KING is one of a couple handfuls which I feel will endure as all time classics.

I watched THE LION KING (1994) on 8.7.10. It was, I would guess, my fortieth(ish) viewing of the film, though my first since living in LA. TRAILER HERE

Here’s a list of moments which aren’t just right.

1) The Special Edition DVD has added a song called Morning Report. While the moment isn’t bad (and, even if it is only a couple of lines, more dialogue from James Earl Jones is always welcome) it doesn’t have the rousing musical quality of the rest of the songs. The first diegetic song in the theatrical version is ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’. That serves as a much better intro to the film’s musical style.

2) There are some sound effects edited on to the moment when Mufasa has the hyenas pinned to the ground. The sounds are old cartoony sounds. These moments are when Ed nods and when they all run away. I think the idea was to make the scene a little less scary, since the world of the film is so dark and foreboding at that point. But it just doesn’t ring true.

3) In the song ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ they have a shot of adult Nala (Moira Kelly) trying to look sexy. Always seemed odd to me, and always felt a little too human.

4) The last, slow motion, fight between Simba (the elder, played by Matthew Broderick) and Scar (Jeremy Irons). It reads as silly instead of fierce. This wouldn’t be here if not for the one paused moment of Simba rising up on his back legs and looking deceptively human.

That is it, that is the list. A total of, perhaps, twenty seconds from a ninety minute movie. Everything else? If it isn’t perfection, it approaches it.

I am a big fan of early 90s Disney animation. After LION KING it drops off a bit, but the run from LITTLE MERMAID to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST to ALLADIN to THE LION KING is stellar. But of all four of those, THE LION KING is the most nuanced and the strongest.

I point to moments like Scar’s song ‘Be Prepared’. The ‘camera’ sits up top while the hyenas march, Nazi style, below. Meanwhile, behind the villain, rise pillars of light which are reminiscent of the German classic METROPOLIS. Like Pixar soon to come, this film is more than just a kids’ movie. It is a layered telling of a story with a conscious knowledge of its place in film. The mocking of the Disney classic ‘It’s a Small World After All’ supports this as well.

The opening sequence, with the animals approaching Pride Rock to the song ‘Circle of Life’ is exquisite in its imagery. Every hand drawn technique available to provide depth of field is utilized without being showy. A change in focus from ants marching on a tree to larger quadrupeds running in the background is an example of this detail. With the editing set to the music, it provides the right note to start off the movie (and ultimately end, since this life is a circle).

The script gets credit for updating Hamlet without being enslaved to it. I thought I was real clever when I figured out, at the age of 14 or so, that these two stories are so similar. Now, I feel less clever, and I can also begin the separation without feeling like I’m winking at the screen. The script holds up on its own merits, even if it does have one or two moments when the story is a little convenient (i.e., why doesn’t Scar kill Young Simba himself in the gorge).

The TOY STORY films are the only animated films I can think of that can match up with the sheer number of great supporting characters the LION KING boasts. From Nala to Timon and Pumba, and from Rafiki to Zazu and the coyotes, there is always someone engaging to watch. Much of the success this film has on a purely entertaining level has to do with the strong voice work in combination with the wonderful animation. The characters are just plain fun to watch!

Look, I could go on citing samples of great scenes all day to support why I give this film such a high ranking (no really… the gorge stampede, the first encounter between Simba and Timon & Pumba, when Simba finally ‘pins’ Nala… I could go on and on), but the reality is that this is a 90 minute film which feels like its 20 minutes long because of its pace and joy. Couple that with a tight script (there are very few scenes in this film, compared to others of its length), amazing hand-drawn animation, and a visual direction which is technically brilliant as well as beautiful, and you have one of the great animated films of all time!



The bonus is for the music by Elton John and Tim Rice, as well as the score by Hans Zimmer, which I previously hadn’t even touched upon. The songs of this film are iconic and lasting, and they ground the film with, in turns, a sense of strength and vivacity that makes the LION KING so memorable.



~ by johnlink00 on August 8, 2010.

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