The Lion King (1994)
The Plot: A lion cub is exiled by his evil uncle, but grows up to reclaim his rightful place as king.
The Songs: "Circle Of Life," "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," "Be Prepared," "Hakuna Matata," "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," "Can You Feel The Love Tonight (End Title)"
How It Broke New Ground: The most successful hand-drawn feature of all time: as of this writing (following its 3D re-issue on September 16, 2011), TLK's final worldwide tally stands at $942,824,912. Though touted as Disney's first Animated Classic not based on existing source material (its Hamlet connection notwithstanding), purists have noted that the film's plot and even specific shots are copied from a 1960s Japanese anime titled Kimba The White Lion, created by Osamu Tezuka. (See comparison frames here.) Disney claims this is purely a coincidence, though to be fair, The Lion King also has roots in Ancient Egyptian mythology (as well as Malinke/West African history).
How It Holds Up Today: Or, Hamlet Bambi Of Africa. To fully appreciate the hype that surrounded The Lion King, you have to consider its timing: After the studio-revitalizing success of Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid, the exhilarating pop Genie-us of Aladdin, plus the "Circle Of Life"- centric teaser trailer that opened months before its release, audiences were primed for something great, and The Lion King delivered. That opening number sets the stage beautifully (although, when you actually think about it, the entire Serengeti is basically there to worship a creature who will one day grow up and eat them), and the rest of the movie follows suit, with moments so mythic and powerful, I'm surprised they let it squeak by with a G rating. The hip comic relief takes some of the edge off, of course, as do the anthropomorphized animals who act a lot like humans, and the second string behind-the-scenes team really steps up to the plate and shines. Only the standard-action climax disappoints, which resorts to ridiculous slow-motion footage of two characters pawing at each other in the face. Like the swordfight at the end of Hamlet, it isn't enough to sustain all the drama that preceded it.
Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty And The Beast, and Aladdin. Please comment!