30 May 2010

Review: "The Lion King"

As I have mentioned, I have been watching some Disney films on VHS lately. The Lion King was my latest trek back to my childhood. Maybe I have overdone it with animation or The Lion King just pales in comparison to my two previous Disney experiences. It just seems that it was not as good as I remembered. The 1994 film was the fifth in the Disney Renaissance period, in between Aladdin and Pocahontas. It features a great number of well-known actors in voice roles, such as Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg. The soundtrack, one of Disney's most celebrated, features five original songs written by Elton John and Tim Rice and a musical score by Hans Zimmer (who has, to date, been nominated eight times for an Academy Award, winning once for The Lion King). The film's best moments are the musical numbers. The story, a coming-of-age film about a lion cub destined to be king, did not resonate as much with me as an adult. Is it possible that Disney over promoted the film with the stage adaptation, two direct-to-video sequels and the three season run of the animated television series The Lion King's Timon & Pumbaa? The Lion King is a good film with great music, but I found that the conclusion felt rushed and that it was not as easy to empathize with the characters.

The Lion King takes place in the Pride Lands where the king of the lions rules over all the other animals. The king, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), his wife Sarabi (Madge Sinclair), and their young cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a cub, Matthew Broderick as a teenager). Mufasa teaches Simba about the Circle of Life and the balance that affects all living things. Simba's uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) wants the throne for himself and uses Simba's innocence to manipulate him. Scar tells Simba about an elephant graveyard and Simba goes there with his friend Nala (Niketa Calame, Moira Kelly) where they are threatened by a group of hyenas who want to kill them. Scar has promised the hyenas that if he becomes king they will never go hungry. Later, Scar lures Simba to a gorge while the hyenas create a wildebeest stampede, where he is again saved by Mufasa. Mufasa finds himself in danger and Scar throws him into the stampede, where he is killed. Simba, believing that he killed his father, runs away. Scar tells the hyenas to run after him and ensure that he does not survive. It is at this point that Scar takes the throne, creating chaos in the Pride Lands. Simba, however, is found by Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), a meerkat and a warthog, that introduce him to their way of life. Simba is eventually found by Nala and is told of the problems in the Pride Lands, but he is afraid to return because he believes he killed his father. He does not believe that he is capable of dethroning his uncle.

I feel that The Lion King uses Mufasa's death to force Simba to run away and then fails to show the affect of his guilty conscience afterward. It almost seems that the grief is only used as a plot point and to give the character Rafiki a role in the film. Is it really necessary for Disney films to feature some form of magic? The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin all featured some magical element. A lot of reviews of the film praised the animation, but in the past decade since the film was released there have been some amazing achievements in animated films and it seems ridiculous to constantly praise film studios for advancing technology. There is a time when story must trump the animation. I would have preferred to have seen Simba discover his father's presence in his life without the use of magic. I think that that maturity would have aided the film and made the conclusion more satisfying. I might be picky and we all have our favourite Disney film, but The Lion King seemed too superficial this time around.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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