Disney Movie Review: 32/52 - The Lion King
Ryan Dosier- The third masterpiece in a row for Disney animation came in 1994 with the arrival of The Lion King. You would be hard pressed to find anyone born after 1984 that doesn’t positively adore this movie and connect it 100% with his or her childhood. The Lion King allowed a warthog to sing and delivered the biggest hit animation had ever seen. The impact and love for The Lion King can still be seen to this day. It truly is the king of them all.
After the unbelievable success of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin it seemed doubtful if not impossible that Disney could create a trifecta of masterpieces—but lo and behold, they did it. The Lion King is a powerful, resonating, joyful, dark, and astounding ride from start to finish. It is a triumph of animation, voice acting, layouts, music, and so much more.
Simba is one of the truly fantastic characters created by Disney. He is incredibly real with emotions that connect powerfully with any audience. Simba goes from plucky kid to would-be king and his journey shows how we all must accept our place in the “Circle of Life.” Simba’s reluctance, acceptance, and power make The Lion King what it is.
The villain of the film, Scar, is one of Disney’s strongest. Cruel, contained, and crazy, Scar is willing to kill his own brother and nephew to get power. Watching Scar fail at being king and starving his people is a smart, subtle story point that I just love. Jeremy Irons provided Scar’s voice and it is amazing. Every line of Scar’s is sardonic or evil and it shows what a great actor Irons is. Andreas Deja, who animated Scar, also deserves special mention here for doing more masterful work with a Disney villain after his turns as Gaston and Jafar.
But once again my favorite characters in the film are those in the supporting cast. Timon, Pumbaa, Zazu, and Rafiki make for Disney’s funniest, wittiest, and most delightful cast of characters yet. Of course Timon and Pumbaa steal the show completely (most of the credit there goes to the fabulous Nathan Lane), even though they smartly don’t appear until 30 minutes into the film. Timon and Pumbaa are so funny and so enjoyable that it’s no wonder Disney chose them to star in a TV show and a sequel as well as countless promotional things.
Zazu is my favorite character in the film. The put-upon British hornbill provides all of the comedy for the film’s first act and he does so brilliantly. Rowan Atkinson provided Zazu’s voice so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the bird is so funny. Rafiki the baboon is also a true delight. He only has one real scene of significance, but Rafiki turns it into one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Again, he is hilarious, but he is also powerfully wise and provides great guidance.
And for the third film in a row, a Disney filmed is packed full with amazing music. Elton John and Tim Rice created some of the most memorable Disney moments ever with “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata.” I cannot think of a more powerful, electric opening to a film than the “Circle of Life” sequence. Talk about breathtaking. “Hakuna Matata” created a phenomenon and made a Swahili phrase an international hit. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is incredibly fun, “Be Prepared” is the best Disney villain song, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” joins the long ranks of Disney love songs and stands high on that list.
The film’s score is the greatest of any Disney film, in my opinion. Musical mastermind Hans Zimmer orchestrated the film with unbelievable grace and power. The ever-present chorus of African voices throughout the film gives The Lion King a truly authentic and magnificent feel. Kudos to African singer Lebo M. and his choir for their impressive and under appreciated work.
The Lion King boasts some of the most gorgeous and seamless animation in a Disney film as well. All of the characters are so fluid and lifelike and amazing to watch. Rafiki is especially amazing as he hops and runs and goofs around. Same with Zazu—a bird has never been animated as well as he is. And sequences like the wildebeest stampede, Mufasa in the clouds, and “Be Prepared” all stun with outstanding colors and animation.
The Lion King is a story of coming to terms with your past and fighting for your future. It is a story of family, friendship, love, acceptance, honor, power, greed, and a score of other themes. Rafiki illustrates the plight of Disney animation so well with one line: ”The past can hurt, but the way I see it you can either run from it or learn from it.” Disney animation learned so much from their past misfires (The Rescuers, The Black Cauldron, etc.) and it took them to The Lion King, their crowning achievement. The film is royally fun, heartwarming, exciting, and just plain perfect. The Lion King is deserving of the endless praise and love it receives.