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The Lion King 3D

The 2011 3D rerelease of the 1994 Disney blockbuster

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The 3D Does Not Usurp the Throne

  • Sep 17, 2011
Star Rating:

In late 2006, I received a flyer in the mail from the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. It announced a special rerelease of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which, for the first time, had been converted to 3D. I was at that point a diehard Nightmare fan for thirteen years, and I enthusiastically jumped at the offer. Sitting in the theater as the movie played, I came to a disappointing realization: Although it was telling the same wonderful story and featured the same wonderful characters, I had not gotten my money’s worth out of the 3D. There was no significant sense of depth, no uncanny feeling that I was immersed in another world. In my defense, I had no way of knowing beforehand it would be like this. 3D films had not yet saturated the market in 2006. I had no frame of reference.
Now that it’s 2011, now that I have a wealth of experience with the 3D process, I find myself in the position of reviewing Disney’s The Lion King 3D, a special rerelease of the 1994 animated blockbuster. Strictly from the perspective of narrative and animation, it’s the movie we all know and love; the Shakespearian plot remains fun and fanciful, the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice remain catchy, the characters remain memorable, and the drawings remains superb. But the 3D is unimpressive. That’s a bigger deal than it might seem, because that’s the only selling point of this rerelease. Sitting in the screening room, my mind drifted back to Nightmare, and I came to the realization that, because I now know what to expect of 3D – especially a post-production conversion – I made the mistake of not lowering my expectations. I’m going to give you my usual advice, followed by an optional addendum: See it in traditional 2D, or save your money altogether and watch it at home.

Now that I’ve made my feelings known about the 3D process, let’s drop that subject and make this more of a generational analysis. In some ways, the movie made a bigger impression on my now than it did seventeen years ago, when I had not yet turned eleven. I grew up with the Disney Renaissance, as many Generation Y children did, but only with the recent development of my critical-thinking skills was I able to fully appreciate the films of that era – the artistry, the talent involved, the sense that they were aiming for a family audience and not just children. What I responded to the most with The Lion King was the maturity with which the story was told; it is, overall, a great deal of fun, but it’s not without its darker moments, and there are specific sequences just intense enough to frighten really young children. Even today, I get a small chill watching the hyenas goosestep in full view of Scar, and I get just a little choked up at the death of Mufasa, the unfortunate victim of regicide.
Now that I’m older, I also respond much better to the humor, a lot of which is reserved for the comic duo of Timon and Pumbaa. As a kid, I could easily laugh at the sight of their Hawaiian luau number, intended to distract the hyenas and give Simba a chance to sneak past. Only now could I laugh at Timon’s wisecrack about how nothing could be eating Simba because he’s on the top of the food chain. And how about the moment Pumbaa goes postal when the hyenas call him “the pig”? Unless your eight-year-old is a cinephile, it’s unlikely he or she will know that Pumbaa’s response is derived from famous lines in Taxi Driver and In the Heat of the Night. I get that joke now. And I thought it was quite funny.

I appreciate the voice work in a way I never have before. James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Ernie Sabella inhabit their characters with such conviction that I could freely disassociate actor and character – it wasn’t Thomas singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” it was young Simba. Jeremy Irons steals the show as Scar, who in 1994 was the most deliciously evil Disney villain since Ursula and who has since only been matched by Hades and Dr. Facilier. Scar, along with a multitude of hyenas, sings what I consider to be the film’s best song, “Be Prepared”; not only did it give Rice an excuse to indulge in bitingly clever lyrics, it also allowed for intense and beautifully rendered visuals of volcanic and seismic activity. The final shot of the song, a pullback, is one of the best belonging to a Disney movie.
As you can see, I don’t want to turn you away from seeing this movie, a highly entertaining chapter of the Disney Renaissance and a very good film in its own right. What I am trying to do is get you to see it for reasons apart from the 3D process, which was clearly employed as a marketing gimmick rather than as an artistic decision. Quite simply, the 3D doesn’t work. When Rafiki raises the newborn Simba on the edge of Pride Rock, he doesn’t come off the screen and fill the theater. When the herd of water buffalo stampedes into the canyon, they don’t invade our field of vision in a blur of hooves and dust. I never once felt as if I had been transported to the wilds of Africa, or anywhere else. The Lion King 3D does not need to be seen simply because a digit and a letter have been added to the end of the title. It should be seen for its story, its music, and its animation.


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September 19, 2011
I LOVED the original, so I wasn't sure about this one in 3D, but I'm glad to hear that it's good!
September 20, 2011
The movie itself has always been good. The only thing I'm being critical of is the 3D conversion. It's just a marketing gimmick. In this particular case, it doesn't enhance the moviegoing experience at all. See it in 2D, if you have the choice.
September 20, 2011
I just might have to do that. I'm so not a fan of 3D in general because it hurts my eyes.
September 19, 2011
This was a great follow up to the success of Beauty and the Beast; it was such a good undertaking in animation. That said, this is one of the modern animated classics ever made and I was a little disappointed as to why Disney would add 3D to a classic, it was like Oshii adding CGI animation to the fantastic 1997 anime classic Ghost In the Shell. I'd rather see this on dvd or Bluray; I guess it was to be expected that this was converted to the marketing ploy that is 3D. If only filmmakers would bother to come up with a great story than stooping to profitting in 3D....
September 20, 2011
You're right about Beauty and the Beast, which is, in my opinion, one of the best films Disney ever made (along with The Hunchback of Notre Dame). As for Ghost in the Shell, I've never seen or even heard of that film, so I'm going to have to take your word for it.
More The Lion King 3D reviews
review by . May 25, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Reissuing movies in 3D has become the new fad.  While some say it's to milk some of the classic films (and it's most certainly true) I'm not one who believes 3D doesn't have it's place.  What I do believe, however, is that a lot of films don't actually utilize it well.  This is especially true of films which must be converted to 3D rather than actually being filmed in 3D.  How To Train Your Dragon works because it's not only filmed in 3D, but makes …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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