51 Days of Disney (Day 32): The Lion King

“It is time.”

The Disney Renaissance was one of the best times in the history of the Walt Disney company. Just about everything the company touched started printing money, to steal a joke from the internets.

The Lion King follows the life of Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), son of Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and the hier to the throne of the Pride Lands. As a child, Simba is a rambunctious young lion who just can’t wait until he is able to become the king, but does not realize the responsibility that comes with the position despite Mufasa’s major domo’s, Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), attempt to teach the young cub. His uncle, Scar (Jeremy Irons), wants to steal the throne from Mufasa and Simba and teams up with some hyenas, Banzai (Cheech Marin), Shenzi (Whoopi Golberg), and Ed (Jim Cummings), to assist him. The hyenas try to kill Simba when he goes to the elephant graveyard, but fail at the job through Mufasa’s intervention.

Eventually, Scar succeeds in his plot by using a herd of wildebeest to trample Mufasa and convinces Simba that he is to blame and that he should run away and never return to the Pride Lands. This allows Scar to obtain the throne and brings upon a dark time for the savannah.

Simba is found by Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and they end up raising him until he grows into an adult lion (and is now voiced by Ferris Beuller himself, Matthew Broderick) and his life in the Pride Lands comes back to haunt him in the form of his childhood friend, Nala. The two, of course, fall in love and they all return to the Pride Lands to challenge Scar for the throne.

One aspect of this film that I absolutely love is the transitions. A lot of time passes over the course of the film, and the way that they show those passages are rather fantastic. They manage to show a number of years passing without resorting to a montage or just blatanly saying “3 YEARS LATER.”

What really sets the Lion King apart from other Disney films is the maturity of it’s messages. The film is all about accepting what has happened in your past and how it affects the growth of you as a person. the film also deals with accepting responsibility and how that responsibility can change the course of your surroundings. Both the complexity of the messages and the sheer number of messages really makes the Lion King feel different from the other films in the Disney animated canon.

The voice acting in this movie is some of the best in the Disney canon. James Earl Jones brings the needed power and grandeur required to voice a king to the voice of Mufasa and Jeremy Irons is slimy enough (but still oddly regal) in his manner of speaking that he really sells the evilness of Scar. This film also shows off the vocal talents of Jim Cummings as he actually stepped in to re-record some of Jeremy Iron’s recordings of “Be Prepared” when the audio was unusable. JIm Cummings actually sings the very end of the song when the random mountain starts rising from the ground unti the end, but most people would not even notice. Nathan Lane is, well, Nathan Lane. He’s always fantastic in whatever he does, even if the movie he’s in is terrible.

Of course, no performance in an animated film would be good without fantastic animation to go along with it. Andreas Deja, fresh off his success of animating Jafar, was the supervising animator for Scar and it really shows. The two are very stylistically similar and finding out that the two of them were animated by the same person makes sense. Some of the best animation in the movie is in the stampede scene. Most of the wildebeests were CG, but they really don’t look like it. Part of this stems from the fact that each wildebeest had a random path that they followed and it made them look real. Something to note about this film is that Glen Keane is no where to be found in this film. It turns out that a large number of the animators at Walt Disney Feature Animation did not want to work on the Lion King. They all wanted to work on the upcoming Pocahontas because they felt like it would be a more prestigious film to devote their time to and that it would ultimately be more successful. Oh how wrong they are, but that is a topic for the next installment.

The songs were written by Elton John and Tim Rice and the score was written by Hans Zimmer. The music is fantastic, and because the songs were partially written by Elton John, they sound different from other Disney films. All of the songs are fantastic, even the song added to the film in the extended edition. “The Morning Report” is a very funny song, and it’s great in both the show and the film, but I still have a problem with it. Zazu was not voiced by Rowan Atkinson in this added scene, and you can really tell that it is not him. If you are someone who is bothered by the changing of voices, this might really take you out of the scene. I would have rather them put “Endless Night” into the film, but “The Morning Report” is a good enough song that it being in the film doesn’t really bother me.

One problem this movie has faced over the years since it’s release is the connection to Kimba the White Lion. For those of you not in the know, Kimba was a comic created by the god of manga, Osamu Tezuka, and was about a white lion named Kimba. There are numerous shots in the film that have parallels in Kimba and that led many people who are familiar with the anime to believe that Disney “ripped-off” Kimba and sold it as their own idea. Some people even cite the similarity of the names as evidence for this, but those people must not know that Simba is Swahili for lion. Personally, I don’t think that there is any actual evidence of wrong-doing here. Tezuka Productions did not file any sort of lawsuit against Disney, so no harm no foul.

Beauty and the Beast is the best film of the Disney Renaissance, but the Lion King is right on it’s heels at number 2. It also became the peak of the Disney Renaissance, as it was the highest grossing animated film until 2003’s Finding Nemo.

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