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The Lion King 3D

The 2011 3D rerelease of the 1994 Disney blockbuster

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It's the Circle of Life

  • May 25, 2012
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 the audience that saw it actually feel like they're on a ride.  It actually immerses them in the film rather than being the gimmicky "pop out" kind of 3D.  3D seems to work best with animated films as a matter of fact.  Namely because 3D often seems to bring out the best in these movies.  Especially the computer animated ones because... they're already in a type of 3D as it is.

But this also gives me a chance to relive my childhood with The Lion King.  A film that, to me, still stands as one of Disney's best achievements out there.  This is because like the ones which came before it, there's a lot of heartfelt moments, comedy and things that really engross a kids senses.  It's not as good as Beauty and the Beast... but it is most certainly close.  Ever since The Lion King, however, it seems as though Disney just couldn't really produce much more.  Were it not for Pixar it is a wonder where my childhood would've gone after The Lion King.

As for reissuing The Lion King in 3D for more money... I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised by this.  This is Disney.  And they've done this so many times before 3D was even a thing (The Lion King was previously reissued in theaters in 2004, remember?).  Almost all of Disney's most beloved classics get reissued.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations, Beauty and the Beast (which had a recent 3D release for it's 20th year anniversary and an IMAX release for its 10th year) are all examples of movies that have been reissued.  It seems that for most people they just have a problem with the 3D itself as I never actually heard people complaining about these movies being re-released before... but since 3D is the new thing to hate it's suddenly a problem now.  And I'm not exactly a big fan of 3D but as I've made clear it's because a lot of films don't utilize well... not JUST because it's 3D.

Let's address one thing first.  What some would call a big elephant in the room which is very different.  There is a lot of strange talk about how The Lion King ripped off an anime in the 60's called Kimba the White Lion.  And it's hard not to see why... both films feature a lion on a rock.  But the truth is... they're completely different stories.  It's true Walt Disney liked the film, and I'm sure some imagery is without a doubt inspired by it (as every movie is inspired by something which already exist).  But the core of both Kimba and The Lion King are incredibly different.  And, in fact, Kimba the White Lion actually isn't bad by any means.  But the idea that The Lion King copied it seems to be brought on by a single image without people actually sitting down to watch the former and instead jumping to conclusions about the latter.

In a nutshell, The Lion King is Hamlet.  At least as close as they can get to Hamlet for a young audience.  Mufasa has just had a son, his name is Simba and he is the heir to the throne.  This upsets Scar who was next in line until the little hairball was born.  As a result, Scar devises a plan to actually become the ruler of Pride Rock by manipulating Simba with his unusually strange charm (which is mostly brought on by the fact that Jeremy Irons is the perfect voice for him).  He convinces Simba to go to the elephant grave yard so that the Hyenas can kill him and when that doesn't work, he leads Simba into a gorge where he starts a stampede.  Mufasa saves him, but Scar manages to kill him anyway.  Simba runs away, only to return as an adult and face his uncle.  You all know this story and if you didn't it's because you decided that living under a rock (forgive the joke) was probably safer than going outside.

Part of what makes the story in The Lion King work is that it is the first time when Disney really seemed to try to challenge themselves in some way.  Instead of relying on a fairy tale like The Little Mermaid or Cinderella they relied on William Shakespeare.  The death of Mufasa is really up there.  Not quite as heartwrenching as Bambi but still something that most of us in our childhood most certainly remembered.  For many in my generation, it was one of the most heartaching deaths we ever saw.  And this is primarily because The Lion King really knew how to make us love the characters.  We like Simba because he's young and feisty and he's got attitude.  But we love Mufasa because he's voiced by James Earl Jones and we actually see the bond that he shares with Simba.  Before Mufasa's death we actually get to see just how much he means to Simba and just how much Simba means to him.  Disney makes sure to get us emotionally invested in Simba so much that we the audience are hurt when he dies.

Of course, it is Disney.  And as a result you have to have light hearted moments and Disney seems to excel at that, but to a strange degree.  In a lot of their movies involving heartbreaking moments they usually tend to lighten the mood a little too quickly.  In Bambi it's cutting away to that cheery scene in the forest years later.  In Aladdin we have... Robin Williams who, more or less, makes every moment in the film lighthearted.  In Beauty and the Beast right after seeing how vicious the Beast's temper can be we get that song "Be Our Guest," and later after he's attacked by wolves we get a lighthearted song shortly thereafter.  Sometimes these moments really work (Beauty and the Beast) often times they come across as strange (Bambi).  The Lion King is more of the latter.  Moments after Mufasa has died we're introduced to Timon and Pumbaa who are pretty much the resident comedic relief.  Every movie of this caliber has one.  Simba isn't supposed to be a character you're laughing with.  You're supposed to understand him and sympathize with him.  This is why Timon and Pumbaa exist.  Because in a kids movie you can't beat them over the head wiht a death and then not provide some children with something.  For the kids this is fine and dandy... but for adults Timon and Pumbaa come off as characters that literally come out of nowhere.  They definitely have purpose and it's not as though the transition to them is necessarily bad (Simba is passed out in the desert and is still rather horrified at what happened) but it certainly brings about some of The Lion King's balancing issues.  At least as far as Timon and Pumbaa are concerned.  In particular, when they finally go back to pride rock and Timon and Pumbaa dress in drag and do the hula. 

That's not to say the tone of The Lion King is constantly clashing.  It's only to say that Timon and Pumbaa aren't exactly memorable because they were great characters.  They were memorable because they were funny.  This doesn't take away from Simba, however, as he develops fairly well as a character.  And the movie keeps managing to keep the pacing going rather well.

If there was anything strange about The Lion King it's actually that the villain sort of gets pushed into the background.  Once Scar finally takes over Pride Rock the movie rarely seems to know what to do with him.  He tortures Zazu and berates anyone who mentions Mufasa but he never actually... does anything as far as Villains go.  The first half shows a coniving sneaking Lion that can manipulate anyone.  The second half sort of just gives a guy who seems to have forgotten that.  It's what separates Scar from being one of Disney's BEST villains and only making him one of Disney's better villains.  At some point Scar just doesn't interest the audience anymore.  And given that this is Disney it's actually quite strange because Jafar, Gaston and Ursula really stuck out because even when they (seemingly) achieved their goals the films still gave them something to do.  Here it doesn't. 

The upside to that is simple: The movie doesn't focus on Scar enough for us to care anyway.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some people in the audience just didn't realize it.  We're away from him for so long that when it finally comes back to him it's pretty much when Simba shows up again.  And even then all that is illustrated to us that Scar is a terrible king.  Something it woudln't even have to tell it's child audience.

Does this really make The Lion King bad?  Or even detract from it a lot?  Absolutely not.  It's biggest strengths come from the warmth the film gives us.  Likewise it really does tug at your heartstrings more so than MANY Disney movies.  There just aren't that many moments when you watch other Disney movies and get filled with energy the way you do The Lion King mainly because those other movies play it much more relatively safe.  Not about the bad guys getting punished but mainly keeping some of the more dark moments either off screen or just mysteriously not there.  When Gaston bites the bullet in Beauty and the Beast we just see him plummet to his death.  Here we see Scar get burned alive.  In Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid... one parent is just mysteriously gone--here The Lion King actually kills one off before our very eyes.  It doesn't seem like much but when you look at through that particular lens, The Lion King somehow feels slightly darker than the efforts before.  That's not to say the efforts after weren't dark or strange (The Hunchback of Notre Dame is by far the darkest of Disney's 90's films).  It's only to say that Disney actually pushed the envelope well... for Disney.  But like I said, it is Disney and thus you have certain lighthearted and strange moments that sometimes don't appear to make much sense.  All the songs, for instance are perfectly fine... but when we see "I Just Can't Wait to Be King," however we're taken aback because this song (and ONLY this song) is given a completely different backdrop.  Great for little kids.  But rather odd for adults. 

And yet, The Lion King even has some of the best songs of Disney's renaissance.  "The Circle of Life," "Be Prepared," (the villain's songs are almost always the best in Disney films) "Hakuna Mutata" are some of the best and catchieset that Disney has put out there. 

In truth, The Lion King just really shines because the flaws it has are so easily overlooked because the film is pretty good about hiding them.  But most important, it strives a little bit more than some of their others to take their audience seriously by presenting them with a pretty dramatic story.  I was glad to experience it again, although seeing it on the big screen didn't exactly make it much better than watching it at home.  And I can't really say 3D added much.  In fact some moments the characters look like cardboard cutouts.  Converting films from 2D to 3D just doesn't seem like something rewarding.  But much like Titanic, The Lion King just doesn't have that many moments to immerse us anyway.  I applaud them for avoiding the "Things pop out at you," gimmick, but the point is still simple: Converting a 2D movie into 3D just doesn't make the 3D good.  The movie's gotta be filmed that way.

The Lion King is, like many of Disney's classics, holds up pretty well.  There are a couple of things that keep it from being as awesome as I remember, but it is still by far one of the best Disney has had to offer.

What did you think of this review?

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June 24, 2012
Agreed . Excellent presentation of a classic!
May 26, 2012
Ok--I liked "The Lion King" but I did not love it. However, I would be lying to myself if I did not admit that it was the kind of movie that was easy to love and definitely had it appeal. I am all against it being converted to 3D though and now I heard they were doing the same with "Beauty and the Beast"....
May 26, 2012
Beauty and the Beast already had it's 3D reissue, but see the thing about 3D that movie-goers HAVE to understand is that it's not a useless thing. 3D like CGI is just another film-makers tool. It has it's place and it has it's uses. In animated films in particular there is a lot of use for it because it really can enhance the landscape. The idea that the visual appeal of a movie is not important is a falsehood. It's totally important. It's the biggest thing that, in the end, causes us to suspend our disbelief.

The reason 3D isn't great in The Lion King is the same reason it isn't great in say... Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menance.  The movie just simply wasn't filmed that way and thus it doesn't work.  But in a movie like How to Train Your Dragon the 3D actually is put to good use.  

That's not to say there are NO moments that the 3D doesn't make better with The Lion King.  The stampede scene is actually quite good.  It's just that The Lion King wasn't meant to be a 3D film to begin with.
May 26, 2012
you're right, B and B did already get it itself 3D'ed. Finding Nemo is about to be 3d'ed now. Despicable Me was cool in 3D though.
May 25, 2012
In a terrific review it's great that you praised Scar's song. The villains do get some good ones. Well done.
More The Lion King 3D reviews
review by . September 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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