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Among the Best of Disney's Traditional Animated Films

  • Jul 8, 2009
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In 1994, Disney was at the top of the chain when it came to animated movies.  In the years prior they had released classics like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.  All were incredibly successful films (Beauty and the Beast is still the only animated film ever nominated for Best Picture).  The Lion King blew them all out of the water, and blew audiences away.  A very emotionally driven film that was also perhaps one of Disney's darkest films.

The Lion King is about a young lion cub named Simba.  As the movie opens we are treated to his birth and a ceremony known as the "Circle of Life."  One day, Simba will grow up to be King.  His father Mufasa has made it a point to show Mufasa everything that Simba will one day rule.  Mufasa has also prided himself with taking care of Simba and teaching him.  His voice is soothing and mentorial... like a father ought to be.  Simba, however, is a very curious and adventurous cub.

But there is someone else in the picture that isn't exactly thrilled of Simba's birth.  Mufasa's brother, Scar, who believes that he was next in line until the little hair ball was born.  Knowing that Simba is a very curious and adventurous cub, he tells Simba about the elephant graveyard, a place his father told him he was not to go to.  Simba decides it would be cool to go there, and takes his friend Nala.  When they get there, however, they get into a little bit of trouble when they run into three hyena's who are determined to kill them.  With help from Mufasa, Simba and Nala are able to escape and are safe.  Except Mufasa isn't happy with his son for disobeying him. 

As it turns out, the elephant graveyard was a plot designed by Scar to get Simba killed.  And he isn't pleased that the hyena's failed.  "What were supposed to do?  Kill Mufasa?" one of them asks, to which Scar gives a maniacal look and replies, "Precisely."  And thus he hatches another plan in which he starts a stampede.  In the midst of this, Simba is in the gorge at the time, thanks to Scar bringing him there.  Mufasa tries to save his son.  After Simba gets to safety Mufasa has only one hope, his brother Scar... who decides to kill Mufasa.  Because of what Simba doesn't know about the incident, Scar is able to manipulate the young cub and make him think that he murdered his father.  And so Simba decides to run away.  And when he does he runs into Timon and Pumbaa, who introduce him to the philosophy of "Hakuna Matata."  It's a wonderful phrase that means no worries, for the rest of your days.  Simba lives and grows with Timon and Pumbaa, until one day when a lioness chases Pumbaa and Simba--now a full grown lion--comes to his rescue.  After she pins him Simba realizes that this is his old friend Nala.  Nala informs Simba that Scar has taken over the Pride Lands and that everything under his rule has been destroyed.  Simba must go back and reclaim his throne.  But how can he when he is harboring a "secret" that only his uncle knows? 

Through a bit of persuasion, however, Simba decides that he must go back and fight his uncle to reclaim his throne, and bring peace back to the pridelands.

The Lion King is often described as an animated version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Indeed they share similar themes.  From a main protagonist who can't exactly make up his mind to the idea of a man who loses his thrown through the death of his father.  Yet what makes The Lion King so special is that it has a good story and encompassing narrative.  It is a family movie, yet it is also very dark.  There is, of course, the death of Mufasa.  What exactly would Disney be without parental death, though?  It's a theme present in several films.  If not parental death there is usually an absent parent.  Take The Hunchback of Notre Dame (perhaps the darkest of all their animated films) where the main characters mother is killed at the start.  Or how about Finding Nemo where the mother is killed immediately?  And, of course, there is Bambi.  But if not that there's usually a parent missing.  Where was Princess Jasmine's mother?  Or Aladdin's folks, for that matter?  How about Belle's mother in Beauty and the Beast?  This is a theme that has often been alive and well in Disney.  But The Lion King gives a much more emotional impact because the death of Mufasa is much more scarring for Simba than he lets on.  And the audience gets to see Simba grow up and try to outrun his own past.  A past that was manipulated by his power-hungry uncle.  The dark nature goes further when we get a chance to see just how the Pride Lands have suffered under Scar.  All of this is packed into an emotional rollar coaster of a film.  There are very movies that can fill with so many emotions at once.  At one point you want to laugh, the next you want to cry, and the next you find yourself worried, and angry.  A huge mixture of emotions.  And despite all this, The Lion King keeps its focus throughout.

The movie is fairly short but there's a lot of good character development and the pacing moves swiftly.  Everything that needs to play it's part does.  Not a single character is wasted or simply put into the role of a "plot device."  They all play a specific role of their own. 

Perhaps the best part of The Lion King is its incredible soundtrack.  From it's humble beats to the songs presented in the film itself.  These are lovely and fun songs.  From the opening song of "The Circle of Life," to Scar's dark themed "Be Prepared" to Elton John's love song, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."  Most songs are upbeat, but the film knows when it needs to slow down and give the audience something else.  In short, despite only being around 87 minutes, there's a lot more packed into the film than you might expect.  It's able to not only flesh out it's characters, but pack several songs and emotions all into one.  And yet it's organized about it and puts them all into appropriate context.  The humor can make some of the darker parts easier to swallow at times.  Scar himself is by far one of the greatest villains that Disney has ever come up with.

It's a fun movie that isn't afraid to pull at your heart strings.  It came out during the animation domination of Disney and this is perhaps the prime movie to watch.  It's such a fantastic film that it demands at least one watch. 

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January 11, 2010
I used to talk to someone who worked at EB Express who saw this 12 times and kept the stubs as souvenir. weird and kinda creepy as to how this movie became such a hit! Nice review.
More The Lion King reviews
Quick Tip by . October 30, 2009
This movie gets me every time. I had Lion King sheets, stuffed Simba and Nala and all the action figures.
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
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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The Lion King is a 1994 American animated feature produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation. Released to theaters on June 15, 1994 by Walt Disney Pictures, it is the 32nd film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. The story, which was strongly influenced by theWilliam Shakespeare play Hamlet, takes place in a kingdom of anthropomorphic animals in Africa. The film was the highest grossing animated film of all time until the release of Finding Nemo (a Disney/Pixar computer-animated film). The Lion King still holds the record as the highest grossing traditionally animated film in history and belongs to an era known as the Disney Renaissance.

The Lion King is the highest grossing 2D animated film of all time in the United States, and received positive reviews from critics, who praised the film for its music and story. During its release in 1994, the film grossed more than $783 million worldwide, becoming the most successful film released that year, and it is currently the twenty-seventh highest-grossing feature film.

A musical film, The Lion King garnered two Academy Awards for its achievement in music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. Songs were written by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, with an original score by Hans ...
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