Simba: You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
With the trailer for the live-action version buzzing around the Disney fan base, I decided it was high time to go back and look at the animated version. This was the highest grossing movie of the year and is considered the peak of Disney Renaissance. And the movie’s strengths overall contribute very well to both of those aspects.
The story is that all the animals in an African jungle have gathered to celebrate the birth of the young cub Simba. Growing up Simba is shown by his father King Mufasa about how to be a good ruler. But Mufasa’s brother Scar is angry because he was first in line to be king prior to Simba’s birth. Scar tries to set traps to kill Simba with the hyenas but Mufasa is always there to save him. So they decide to kill Mufasa and Simba outright through a wildebeest stampede. Scar sees an opportunity to throw Mufasa off a cliff and blame Simba for his death and tells him to run away and never return. While in exile he comes across a duo named Timon and Pumba who convince him to put his past behind him. Over time he grows up and has a new life there until his childhood friend Nala finds him and convinces him to return home.
One of the greatest strengths in the movie’s storytelling is its moral. The way Rafiki teaches it so Simba not only works in a comedic sense but also proves to be very deep.
Mufasa’s death is hard not to talk about. Many kids who grew up on this movie remember the scene and even after all these years it still holds up as not only one of the saddest moments in Disney history but one of saddest childhood moments of all time. And it primarily comes from all that we see of Mufasa’s character prior. James Earl Jones gives a great deal of life to the character and we see in multiple scenes that he’s a stern but loving and brave father. And seeing him jump into the wildebeest stampede to save Simba and come so close to making it out safe only to meet his demise at his brother’s hands is devastating all the way through. On top of that, unlike Bambi, they actually show the body at the end of it all. And seeing Simba’s realization of what’s happened slowly set in really hits home. Even today there are some people out there who can’t sit through the entire scene.
The sheer size and scale of the animation are phenomenal in this movie. The opening scene at Pride Rock where all the animals gather for Simba’s presentation is breathtaking in its imagery, colors, angles, and the score provided by Hans Zimmer. The stampede scene is spectacularly well animated and for those who are watching the movie for the first time really gives an intense feeling as Mufasa and Simba are struggling to outrun the herd.
Simba is a very likable protagonist. Like most kids, he’s very adventurous and not fully aware of his own limitations in an attempt to prove that he can be a brave king. As an adult during the second half of the film, he’s also likable. He’s much more fearful but does take the time to listen to those around him.
Scar, is an impressive villain and one of the only ones to succeed in his goal for a long time. Jeremy Irons voice acting does an impressive job of making him sound and feel like the jealous younger brother. The main problem is once he does become king he becomes a lot less interesting. It’s shown he’s a terrible ruler to the point that even the hyenas hate him far more than Mufasa and the Pride Lands became completely desolated. He’s mostly just shown to be quite whiny as a king. It makes you wonder what he thought he’d gain by being king in the first place.
The side characters also work well. The hyenas are very comical, Zazu the bird gets many puns, and Timon and Pumba are easy to stomach. Rafiki is so crazy yet so full of wisdom that you can’t help but admire him.
The songs are very well done. Be Prepared is an excellent villain song both in its lyrics and visuals. Hakuna Matata is a very catchy tune. Can you feel the Love tonight is a nice romantic song. The Circle of Life really helps establish the film’s magnitude. I Just Can’t Wait to be King is very upbeat and energetic.
Lion King truly is deserving of being the highest grossing film of the year. It has great characters, amazing animation, and too many memorable scenes to count. The only problem is that it was the peak of the Disney Renaissance and you can’t go anywhere from the peak but down.