Better late than never, right? The Lion King is another feather in the Disney cap and the last as Disney’s grandiosity and need for awards caused them to enter shaky territory. The studios take on Hamlet (or Kimba: The White Lion depending on how much you believe Disney plagiarized) and it is a visual and aural delight; not to mention the best voice cast, in my opinion. It’s time to find out what it’s like to be King with The Lion King.
The pridelands are ruled by noble Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) who is training his son, Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) to one day rule. However, Mufasa’s brother Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) wants to dispose the King and rule himself.
The Lion King wasn’t the Best Picture nominee that Beauty & the Beast was, which did draw some concerns despite positive critical reviews. In terms success, it was a commercial blockbuster and was the highest grossing home video release for the year. The famous wildebeest chase tested the strength of the burgeoning CGI system Disney had employed; ultimately, taking three years to perfect the wildebeest from running without bumping into each other. Unfortunately, the songs ended up being recognized come awards time. The film would win for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”), while getting nominations for another song (“Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata”). So with the Original Song category dominated by this film, why didn’t anything else? Putting on my armchair Oscar predictor cap for a second; it probably didn’t get anything higher because the 1995 Oscars were glutted with quality films, and two heavy-hitters fought for the majority of the awards: Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption.
I could be rehashing the same points I stated in last week’s Beauty & the Beast review, which all apply here; the casting, the script, and the animation are all first-rate. There’s two distinct halves to The Lion King: cub to lion, and comedy to drama. The first half follows Simba when he’s a little boy – and voiced by 1990s icon Jonathan Taylor Thomas. The songs are all capricious and establish Simba as a selfish boy who has to get over his own ego. It’s a build that’s necessary to get kids prepared for the events of the second half of the movie. It’s a courageous part of the script to tackle parental mortality, a moment that you don’t often see in kid’s flicks. When Simba and Mufasa are father/son bonding, Mufasa explains that one day he won’t be around – if he only knew! – and goes on to present a vision of the afterlife where the past kings become stars. It’s a remarkable sequence that isn’t filled with religious posturing, cements the seriousness of it, and shouldn’t traumatize children. Of course, it’s necessary once Mufasa is killed and Simba is left on his own. Thus, we enter into the second half which isn’t particularly my favorite half of the film. Part of it is Matthew Broderick’s vocal work which screams of “A-list casting” and just never seemed to fit the character for me. While you have the dynamic duo of Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), the movie takes on a significantly darker tone by story’s end.
Speaking of the voice cast, it’s first-rate here specifically Jeremy Irons as Scar; he enters the pantheon of top villains including George Sanders as Sher Khan and George C. Scott as McLeach. Scar does present some issues in the “dandying” of villains that would continue over the next few movies, and would give academic writers countless theories to use with regards to Disney and homosexuality; we’ll get to that next week.
NEXT WEEK: Disney goes historical with Pocahontas!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.