Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why Haven't I Seen That?: THE LION KING

Welcome to a new installment of WHY HAVEN'T I SEEN THAT?, where we talk about a must-see or iconic movie that we have never seen...until now. This week we take a look at the 1994 beloved animated classic THE LION KING!  Enjoy.

The Disney Animated Canon played a fairly limited role in my formative years. Unlike most people, I don’t have fond memories of crowding in front of the VCR and diving under the sea or sailing just around the riverbend. However, over the last few months, as a new slate of Disney live-action remakes have been announced, I have begun the magical process of experiencing these animated classics for the first time. This weekend, high off of the emotional rollercoaster that was Beauty and the Beast, I finally watched one of the most beloved animated movies of all time, The Lion King. I could not be happier that it more than lived up to the hype.

You already know this tale of betrayal, love, and family. Every scene of this movie is burned into our modern mythos. Watching The Lion King for the first time after years of hearing references, singing songs, and sending GIFs was a surreal experience. Like most classics of cinema that I haven’t seen, I had created a strange storyboard in my mind of how I thought the story would play out onscreen. Finally experiencing scenes like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” for myself assembled the fragmented images in my mind into an amazing final picture.

The Lion King contains some of the best music to ever grace the screen in a Disney movie. There have been few musical teams ever assembled that can compare to the brilliance of Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Tim Rice, and the other phenomenal composers, lyricists, and performers who joined forces to craft these unforgettable songs. The aforementioned “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is a deeply emotional earworm that stands as a beautiful song even outside of the context of the 88-minute runtime of the film. “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” and “Hakuna Matata” are perfect representations of how to use music to advance a plot in a graceful, unbroken way. Beyond that, the actors chosen for their roles all turn in amazing musical performances, compounding the beauty with their vocal performances.

As for the voice acting of The Lion King, Disney truly cast a dream team of classical talent. Jeremy Irons’ Scar is an unstoppable force of villainy, propelled by his deep, gravelly, gruff voice. The only voice actor who could hold his own against the power of Irons is James Earl Jones. Two of history’s most iconic villain voices go head-to-head in a deep, Shakespearean struggle, counterbalanced by the lunacy and hilarity of Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa. There is a little bit of everything to appreciate in The Lion King, masterfully directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.

There are few weaknesses to be found in The Lion King. I take moderate issue with the strength of Matthew Broderick’s Simba as compared to Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ Young Simba. Young Simba is brash, stubborn, and unavoidably lovable. Broderick turns in a performance that is, without a doubt, excellent, but mildly disappointing in comparison to his youthful counterpart. A handful of comedic moments land slightly sourly as well. However, amidst an endless stream of perfectly-crafted jokes and one-liners, a few missteps are completely excusable. In the end, I can’t join the chorus of fans calling this movie “perfect,” however, I can say with relative certainty that it is the most enjoyable, best made animated movie I have ever seen.

There is so much to be said for experiencing classics late. That, in the end, is why this weekly series exists. Nostalgia can cloud judgment. Hype can overemphasize the greatness of a movie. Sometimes, movies are as good as expected. Sometimes, they fall short. The Lion King, without a doubt, more than exceeds all expectations. If you are, somehow, in that tiny group of people with me who have yet to watch this amazing film, take ninety minutes this week to enjoy a masterpiece.

Now, as someone who does not hold deep emotional connection to this movie, I have a few quick thoughts on the upcoming Jon Favreau-directed remake. With Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book already released, Disney already has a fairly strong track record established of creating serviceable remakes of classic films. Of these three strongest entries in the new series of Disney remakes (we can all agree to not discuss Alice Through the Looking Glass and Maleficent, for example), The Jungle Book is fairly universally considered the best. Therefore, bringing back its creative team is a very solid strategic choice. However, in my opinion, the greatest danger present in remaking The Lion King lies in following that Jungle Book strategy.

The brilliance of The Lion King lies in its artful balancing act of comedic heart and chilling darkness. The tonal shift that worked so well within The Jungle Book, which was based on an almost purely-gleeful animated movie, must be more moderated in Favreau’s next project. As long as the creative team behind this remake do not veer too hard in the direction of grit, this new creation could easily stand up strongly alongside its 2D-animated predecessor. The most important thing for film lovers to keep in mind is . . . well . . . an open one. Nostalgia and emotional connection to art can cloud judgment and can create an immediate feeling of negativity that a film with as much potential as the remade Lion King does not deserve. Now is the perfect time to watch The Lion King and remember its brilliance. Step into the theater upon its follow-up’s release and let the beauty of creativity and artistic rebirth speak for itself.

Part of me is sad that I went so long without seeing so many Disney classics. Part of me is excited to bring an out-of-the-ordinary perspective to so many foundational films. With this film, my opinion follows the mainstream: The Lion King is amazing. Look forward to my upcoming reviews of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and The Little Mermaid!

Jonathan's Score: 9.5/10

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  1. Well written! And thank the Lord you finally saw this!!

  2. Great read, Jonathan! And glad you liked the film. =)