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The Lion King (1994)

September 20, 2011

9/10 Circles of Life

If Beauty and the Beast never happened, this might be the best Disney movie out there.

The Lion King is about a lion cub growing up in the wilderness of Africa under the watchful eye of his father who reigns in harmony over the animal kingdom. Everything’s going swell for the curious young cub and his parents, but then there’s his power-hungry uncle who decides to take matters into his own paws now that his right to the throne has been passed down to his nephew. Before long, the evil uncle decides to put his plans into action, tragedy strikes, and because sometimes uncles just suck, he convinces his innocent little nephew that it was all his fault. Guilt-ridden and devastated, the cub runs away in shame while his uncle has his way with the kingdom. Years go by, the cub grows up with his new jungle friends, and when his old life tracks him down, the young lion is forced to face his demons and return to the life he left behind.

The first time I saw this movie was in a theater with my mom in 1994. I liked it, she loved it, we bought the soundtrack, and it didn’t leave our car’s CD player for the next three months. The second time I saw this movie was last Friday with 3D glasses on and a 17-year age difference amidst a gaggle of kids who were quoting and singing the thing verbatim. I have absolutely no idea why it took me so long to revisit this movie, but it probably had to do with a teenage misconception that Disney movies are for kids. Although the upside of the bias is that I’d pretty much forgotten everything about this movie aside from a bunch of the songs that I couldn’t forget if I tried. It wasn’t quite the same experience as watching Beauty and the Beast for the first time in two decades, but it sure made me feel stupid for taking so long.

On that note, the great thing about movies like these is that they don’t cater to a demographic. If you don’t like musicals, just wait ’til “Hakuna Matata” starts up. If you equate animation with child’s play, then just wait ’til those tears start a-flowin’ when Scar gets down to business. Sure, I doubt there were many adults who nudged their kids and said, “Can we go see that?!” when they first saw the trailer, but this is right up there with Back to the Future in terms of movies that will please regardless of who’s watching. And it’s hard to point to one aspect of this movie and say, “That’s why adults like it,” because when every aspect is as phenomenal as the next, you might as well keep that finger up the whole damn time.

For the sake of not rambling, the artwork and visuals are stunning, each new song is as memorable as the next, and the voice acting is top notch (even if I’m still not sure about Matthew Broderick). And for an experience that was always envisioned in two dimensions, it does happen look great in 3D, even though it doesn’t really add much to what made it great to begin with. But the one thing that really blew my mind is the way it drops some serious knowledge in deceptively simple ways. The one scene in particular is when Rafiki smacks grown-up Simba with his stick because Simba’s too afraid to return home. When Simba rubs his head and asks, “What was that for?,” Rafiki responds, “It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.” Simba says, “Yeah, but it still hurts,” to which Rafiki replies, “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.” Rafiki then swings at him again with the stick, but Simba dodges it this time.

Lesson learned, Simba sprints back to the Pride Lands to start taking care of business.

I’m not usually one to quote scenes ad nauseum, but that was a freaking epiphany for me. 99 times out of 100 I could walk out of a movie involving humans and never learn anything as profound and true-to-life as that ten second exchange between a lion and a monkey. Yes, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this movie, but it’s rare that one actually teaches you something and makes a light switch go on. That’s like Yoda from Empire stuff.

And come on, it’s a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. How legit is that for a “kid’s movie?”

So the story, the music, the knowledge, the characters – they’re all top-notch. But alas, the only reason this isn’t a perfect 10 is that it doesn’t tap into its full potential until Timon and Pumbaa show up 30 minutes in. It’s still great up until that point, but once the comic relief gets thrown into the mix, that’s when I realized how well this had aged. That’s when I started laughing out loud, tapping my foot to the songs, and savoring every minute thereafter with an ear-to-ear grin. Maybe it’s my affinity for Beauty and the Beast and the way I still laugh my ass of at the “Gaston” song that came in right early and left me with a cracked rib, but with a movie like this that has to win over the adults from the get-go to stand any chance of breaking the mold, you need to get the adults laughing just as much as the kids. The good thing is that it totally gets there, it all comes together, and it keeps hitting all the right notes once it does, but I wish it had gotten there earlier is all.

I’ve already said a lot, but The Lion King is one of those rare movies that really speaks for itself. Right from the unbelievable opening sequence at Pride Rock to its final moments of redemption as it comes full circle, I can’t imagine anyone walking out of this without being affected by everything it brings to the table. Folks, it’s just great to watch a movie and have your biggest complaint be that it should have kept going for another 90 minutes. If you never got the chance to enjoy it in theaters with hundreds of other kids in age and kids at heart, you don’t know what you’re missing.

And I can’t be the only one who loved the Sega Genesis game of this, right?

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Moose permalink
    September 20, 2011 8:53 am

    That Sega game was LEGIT, especially the stampede level, wicked hard. The final boss was impossible though.

    And you just convinced me to go see this in theaters. I don’t remember if I saw it when I was younger, so now I have to see it to make sure.

    • September 20, 2011 9:04 am

      Damn right it was! And the final fight with Scar WAS impossible! Dammit, I’m giong to see if I can get an emulator of that going. And def give this another watch, still freaking great.

  2. September 20, 2011 9:11 am

    Beauty And The Beast DID happen, and this is STILL the best Disney film – man, the Lion King rocks.

    Awesome justification for going back to the old DVD copy and having another viewing, man. Great review, once more, Aiden!

    • September 20, 2011 9:19 am

      Hahaha. If this movie wasn’t so awesome, I’d take issue with that statement.

      Thanks and good call nabbing a copy of this on video the last time Disney opened the vault. I need to start doing that.

      • September 23, 2011 7:11 am

        Then I assume you’ll be grabbing a copy of it on BluRay quite soon? That opening musical number will be goose-pimple raising in HD…..

      • September 26, 2011 3:03 pm

        Haha, I think the arm and leg I spent to see it in theaters was more than enough for me.

  3. Ryan permalink
    September 20, 2011 1:01 pm

    The video game was the bomb.

    Was it any good in 3D? Did that make it better or worse? Or were they just looking for an excuse to jack up the ticket prices?

    • September 20, 2011 1:14 pm

      Damn straight.

      It actually looked really good in 3D, but it’s not like anyone was actually asking for it to get the 3D treatment. Worth the ticket for the sake of experiencing it in a theater again.

  4. Becky permalink
    September 21, 2011 8:28 am

    Part of the rennaissance of Disney in particular and animated features in general. I remember when cartoons were for kids.

  5. Paragraph Film Reviews permalink
    September 22, 2011 8:44 am

    I reckon this is THE kids film of our generation! Watched this to death as a child and was devastated when I got the Blu Ray and Disney had tinkered with the film a bit.

    No worries though as it’s still epic! Best soundtrack too!

  6. September 23, 2011 11:57 am

    I really like this movie, too — it’s a great coming of age story and full of great music and gorgeous imagery. I love this line: “And come on, it’s a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. How legit is that for a “kid’s movie?”” True enough. Luckily Nala didn’t meet the same fate as Ophelia. 🙂 —

  7. September 23, 2011 1:02 pm

    I love this movie for being a version of Hamlet who doesn’t die in the end. Great movie from a great period. Only Pixar and Miyasaki are currently making animated films this great. I might have to give props to Kung Fu Panda, as well.

  8. September 27, 2011 10:17 am

    Are you implying by your opening line that you think Beauty and the Beast is better than The Lion King? It’s a close one but I’d think I’d go for The Lion King, just. Though I’d have to watch them again, haven’t seen either in ages.

    • September 27, 2011 10:37 am

      Indeed I am. After viewing them both recently for the first time since I was, say, 7, Beauty and the Beast is very much the one to beat. Nothing against The Lion King though since it pretty damn close.

  9. Jessica Reid permalink
    September 29, 2011 1:57 pm

    For me The Lion King IS the best Disney film of all time. I just completely love everything about it and the soundtrack is amazing. Great review 🙂

    • October 1, 2011 7:21 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, I can’t knock you for that, it’s legendary for all those reasons and then some. Honestly, what’s not to love about The Lion King?

  10. Becky permalink
    October 4, 2011 12:12 pm

    The Lion King was epic, but Beauty and the Beast made Robbie Benson COOL.

    • October 7, 2011 2:32 pm

      Hahaha. It totally did! Really think Gaston might be my favorite character…or Lumiere.

  11. October 12, 2011 7:32 am

    These classic Disney animations just refuse to get old. I know Beauty and The Beast is another recent Disney animation but it is still a wonderful film and I think will remain so for just as long as Snow Whit etc.

    • October 14, 2011 5:34 pm

      They’re timeless, man. An insane amount of work went into those movies and it totally shows, especially from The Little Mermaid through the mid-90s. At least those are the ones I grew up on and they’re better now than they ever were.

  12. October 17, 2011 2:50 am

    It’s all about “The Little Mermaid.” (I feel such a sissy saying that. But I felt it my duty.)

    I love “The Lion King” but, my god, my brother, who was 5 when it came out on VHS, played this goddamn movie EVERY MORNING whilst I had breakfast. He copied the fight scenes, roared, and clawed his way on, under, and around the couch–like he was an actual lion. Hakuna Matata!

    • October 19, 2011 12:40 pm

      Oh, man. Great way to ruin any movie.

      And be proud of your Little Mermaid love. I wear Beauty and the Beast like a badge of honor these days.

  13. Crystal permalink
    October 18, 2011 9:18 am

    I am loving your reviews! Ahhh now I’m so tempted to go see the Lion King instead of the The Thing today. Damn. I used to listen to the soundtrack AND watch the movie endlessly *sigh* good memories!! 😀

    • October 18, 2011 9:34 am

      Thanks! And PLEASE see The Lion King over The Thing. Better yet, go home, watch the 1982 remake of The Thing (maybe the best horror movie ever) then cheer yourself up by going out to see The Lion King. Might have just planned the best night ever for you. Enjoy!

      • Crystal permalink
        October 18, 2011 8:11 pm

        Well it came down to my husband& our friend wanting to see the Thing more. Lol I wasn’t demanding enough! But gosh, the Thing was atrocious. I mean, the CGI monster business was so cheesy& it lacked the insane tension/paranoia that made Carpenter’s so memorable. THAT movie made me cover my eyes and bite my nails! Anyways I will probably give my hubby the “eyes” and see Lion King tomorrow hehe. I’m in the process of trying to read most of your reviews- I love me some good writing!

      • October 19, 2011 12:50 pm

        Thanks! And bummer about The Thing, will continue to avoid it myself while telling anyone and everyone to go watch Carpenter’s version.

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