This article first appeared in Sin October 10 2011.
The 90s were a great time to be a kid. Along with E-numbers, Sabrina and Tamagotchis, there was the ‘Disney Renaissance’; films like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and of course, The Lion King. Beautifully hand-drawn, well-scripted and featuring some serious voice talent, the Disney movies from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s were some of the finest the company ever released. They hold a special place in the hearts of us 20-somethings.
Disney are well aware of this and with unerring cynicism, only release the classics on DVDs for a limited time, before putting them back into the Disney vault. As a result, many of today’s children have never seen the likes of The Little Mermaid and many misty-eyed adults race to the DVD aisle of Tesco clutching a €20 copy of Aladdin before Disney take it away again. Or even more cynically, they re-screen a film in the cinema for a limited time in 3-D.
This is exactly what Disney has done with the The Lion King, one of the highest grossest animated films of all time, and my personal favourite. But is it really worth forking out for the 3-D experience to watch a bunch of cartoon lions frolic on screen?
I can’t testify for the 3-D experience, but the film has most definitely stood the test of time. Until I re-watched it for this article, I hadn’t seen it since I was five. I remember vividly running up to the cinema screen, crying, patting Mufasa’s mane, before my mother whisked me away. When you watch a film you loved in childhood, there’s always the risk it’s simply not as good as you remember. Thankfully, The Lion King isn’t one of these films. Based very loosely on Hamlet, the story is suitably epic enough to match with the truly gorgeous animation. The villainous Scar (a louche, evil Jeremy Irons) kills his brother Mufasa (James Earl Jones, aka Darth Vader) and pins the blame on Mufasa’s son, the future king, Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a baby and Mr SJP Matthew Broderick as a grown up). Simba runs away and makes friends with a smelly warthog and wisecracking meerkat, before he is rediscovered by Nala the lioness (Moira Kelly) and a wise old ape, Rafiki (Robert Guilluame). A showdown with Scar and his cretinous hyena sidekicks ensues. It’s no spoiler to tell you that the ending diverges significantly from Hamlet.
While I may not have tried to revive Mufasa this time around, there was a tear or two in my eye when Simba desperately called for his dead father. The soundtrack and performances are note-perfect, and the ‘Circle of Life’ message is one of Disney’s nicer ones. There is romance but it is not the main focus of the story like it is with the Princess films. The Lion King is not just a great children’s film, it’s a great film full stop.
Worth spending a small fortune on 3D for? It’s up to you, but Disney’s devious ways have snared me. I’ll be first in line on October 7.