by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, December 10, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: 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)"

A Little History: Roy E. Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Peter Schneider brainstormed ideas for The Lion King in 1988, while promoting Oliver & Company in Europe. Titled King Of The Kalahari, and centered on a battle between lions and baboons in the jungles of Africa, the story was re-tooled by screenwriters Linda Woolverton, Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts, producer Don Hahn, and directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff to incorporate coming-of-age themes and story elements from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Most of Disney's staff had abandoned the project to work on Pocahontas instead, which was in pre-production at the same time and deemed the more prestigious of the two pictures. The "B Team" then took their animation duties to heart, travelling to Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya to study animals in their natural habitat. Elton John was actually Tim Rice's second choice to co-write the film's songs, after Benny Andersson (from ABBA) declined the offer. As written, "Circle Of Life" was intended as a dialogue-heavy sequence, until composer Hans Zimmer re-orchestrated the song with African rhythms and percussion. Zimmer's version impressed the filmmakers so much, it set the tone for the rest of the movie. The wildebeest stampede took nearly three years to complete – a complex blending-together of CGI, cel shading, and the CAPS process. Voice actors James Earl Jones (Mufasa) and Madge Sinclair (Serabi) were previously cast as king and queen in Coming To America (1988); both Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella (Timon and Pumbaa) were initially cast as hyenas; and Jeremy Irons (Scar) threw out his voice while singing "Be Prepared," and had to be replaced by Jim Cummings. The Lion King opened in U.S. theaters on June 24th, 1994, and grossed over $772 million worldwide (the biggest moneymaker of its year). It won two Academy Awards, for Best Song ("Can You Feel The Love Tonight") and Best Score (Hans Zimmer). Later adapted as a Broadway musical.

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.

Grade: A-


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 UnderBeauty And The Beast, and Aladdin. Please comment!

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