16/09/2013

The Lion King (1994)

Film: The Lion King
Release: 1994, Theatrical
Starring: Matthew BroderickJeremy IronsJames Earl Jones
Directed by: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Prince of the lion pride, Simba flees his homeland when he's tricked into thinking he killed his father.

Hans' thoughts:

Walt Disney Pictures has always been a powerhouse for crafty animation, family friendly storytelling and wonderful music. It's main source of recognition being it's animated adaptations of classic tales in a musical format - most following the same recipe but all somehow managing to be of high quality. Their biggest success is arguably The Lion King, being the highest grossing traditionally animated feature-film of all time.

Now the Lion King is a bit out of the ordinary from it's animated predecessors. First off, it's not based on a fairy tale or even a story normally intended for children. No, The Lion King is an adaptation of sorts of Shakespearean theatre, as well as influenced by biblical stories. The film takes place in Africa, meaning the animators and background artists stood before the momentous task of capturing the beauty of the continent - and boy did they deliver. In the opening musical sequence alone you know that you are in for a grand experience - The song "The Circle of Life" setting up the spiritual premise of the story along with the now iconic sunrise shot and later Rafiki holding the baby Simba over Pride Rock to the climax of the musical number makes that single sequence perhaps one of the most perfectly composed opening sequences of modern animation. 

Now, this movie is of course not all good things. Unfortunately the protagonist of the movie, the young lion cub Simba a bit two-dimensional and actually most of the lion characters are not all that interesting. With the obvious exception of our main villain Scar, one of the great Disney villains from the era. He does pander to a trope though, the sinister yet androgynous male villain - used in other Disney movies such as Pocahontas and Robin Hood. However, Scar is a character oozing of charisma and while his motivations may be shallow it doesn't take away from enjoying his presence on screen along with him having one of the best musical numbers of the picture - a fun fact though, Jim Cunnings had to stand in for Jeremy Irons who were the main voice actor for Scar. Irons had lost his voice singing part of the song, I really have a hard time distinguishing Cunnings from Irons though and that I applaud highly. The break away characters from the film was, as you may know, Timon and Pumbaa. Serving the purpose of lightening the mood from the drama of the story with some well-needed comedy from the protagonists side. Most of the comedy up till that point has been provided by the Hyenas who were villains and the bird Zazu, who's dry wit may only have worked for the adult audience.

I have to commend the animators part on the characters, you can almost see the acting style of the voice actors oozing through the characters they portray, this is especially apparent in the case of Zazu portrayed by Rowan Atkinson and the female hyena Shenzi voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. The animated characters do a lot of the work for voice actors so it is nice once in a while to see the two blend together so well. Another great animation feat was the computer generated stampede in the middle of the movie, I think everyone who's seen this as a child can picture this scene in their minds without even having to re-watch the movie.

Of course you can't really talk about this movie without mention the musical number "Can you feel the love tonight?", while actually not my favorite number of the piece (I prefer Circle of Life) there is no denying the greatness of this song. This song uses the music stylings of Elton John and Tim Rice coupling it with instruments traditionally used in African music. This goes along with the main score done by Hans Zimmer almost completely with african instruments. The song appears in the movie in two versions, during it's main sequence in the actual films sung by the actors playing Nala and Simba along with a choir and again during the movies credits with the main verses sung entirely by Elton John himself. 

Lion King is one of those movies that just work from top to bottom, somehow the creators have managed to add just the right ingredients to make a true animated ever-green. A spiritual tale of karma, along with a classic coming of age story with loss, love and taking responsibility for one's actions. The Lion King ended up being the high point of what is now known as the Disney Renaissance, an era started by The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan. An era all filled with great films in their own right, along with the former biggest Disney success, Beauty and The Beast.
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