Wednesday 21 August 2013

Munir's Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #32: The Lion King (1994)

Last week's: Munir's Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #31: Aladdin (1992)

After a string of big successes, beginning with The Little Mermaid in 1989, it seemed that Disney Animation could do no wrong and yet, The Lion King was once viewed as a B project to the 'more ambitious' Pocahontas, which was in production at the same time. Called King of the Jungle earlier on in production, nobody could foresee the impact and success that the film ultimately achieved in 1994. Jeffrey Katzenberg was more focused on Pocahontas and, on the whole, The Lion King seemed like a minor film, something that would be cute but not very memorable. As you likely already know, in the end, The Lion King not only was a resounding success on every front but it also became the peak of the Disney Renaissance, and one of Disney's most recognizable and lucrative films. The coming-of-age story of a lion cub who has to take his place in life and be part of the "Circle of Life" could be seen as nothing new or even original - similarities range from Bambi to Hamlet - and yet there is something very powerful about this film that sets it apart from the rest, making it an instant classic. Just take a look at the film's epic beginning, where just music and beautiful images take centre stage. No dialogue is needed and yet you know that you're in for something big. One of the many highlights of the film is the powerful score composed by Hans Zimmer; the music, built from African melodies, gives the film a sense of grandeur and amplifies the scope of the story. Characters are wonderfully constructed and every single one of them leaves an impression of you. Whether it's our hero Simba or the deliciously villainous Scar, every character is a perfect coupling of animation and voice acting that just makes the audience want to spend time with them. Like its predecessors, The Lion King also employs a Broadway-esque style and the songs composed by Elton John and Tim Rice are a rich amalgam of rhythms. From the earth shattering "Circle of Life" to the laid back "Hakuna Matata", each song contributes to the story and helps the plot advance with a nice, balanced flow. The animation again is top-notch with many memorable scenes from the epic prologue to the wildebeest stampede to Mufasa's appearance in the clouds to the big final battle, there are tons of scenes where you can see all the care and love that the crew put into the film. Moreover, the film's themes of death, responsibility and redemption - among others - makes this one of the most heartfelt, touching and profound motion pictures in the history of cinema. The Lion King repeated its predecessors' success in terms of accolades, and was a bombastic hit at the box office too, cementing its status as the peak of the Renaissance and of all the Disney canon. No single Disney feature before or after has repeated the success and relevancy of The Lion King; it's a testament to how good the picture is that still, all these years later, the film enchants new generations, while being fondly remembered by the older ones. Hakuna Matata indeed. Rating: 5/5.

Next Week - Animated Classic #33 Review: Pocahontas (1995)

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