There’s just something about The Lion King, isn’t there? Disney’s re-release of the film has broken through everyone’s wildest expectations, adding to the already massive box office totals that it earned in its initial release. The Bluray is selling like crazy, and as we approach 20 years since The Lion King came out, it’s characters are still all around us, in the parks and elsewhere.
Why does The Lion King last? What is its appeal? I think it has to do with the characters and their struggles. The film does an unbelievable job of setting up the world of Pride Rock, especially in the epic opening sequence. As a viewer, you feel the depth of this world and the emotion of Mufasa as he unveils his new son to his loyal subjects. Then, we are immediately introduced to Scar, his jealous brother. The dynamic between these two is so well done that we instantly know the story.
Where the film gets its core, though, is the relationship between Mufasa and the young Simba. Every father and son watching this movie can relate to them. The disappointment and anger that mixes inside Mufasa when Simba goes to the elephant graveyard is a feeling I’ve had myself, when my son does something wrong when we both know he could do better. But the tender moments between the two contrasted with that sequence make this one of the most realistic father-son dynamics ever put down on film.
The investment in the characters makes the tragedy of Mufasa’s death even more powerful, especially the moment when Simba crawls under his arm. The filmmakers do an amazing job of juxtaposing that moment with the comic relief of Timon and Pumbaa showing up in the very next scene. The movie has just the right mix of comedy, drama, pathos and romance.
I think characters are the thing that make The Lion King so particularly strong, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the music. Hans Zimmer’s score, featuring the vocals of Lebo M., is among the best ever produced for a Disney animated feature. Perhaps only his Pirates of the Caribbean score has been as good as this. Pair that with Elton John’s work on the musical numbers and you have a potent combination.
Now, what about the 3D conversion made to re-release The Lion King? Well, to be honest, it didn’t really make much difference as far as I could see. Sure, there was great added depth in some scenes, but overall, it didn’t add anything to the film. However, I won’t complain, if it takes 3D to get this film back into theatres.
Back in 1994, I watched this movie as a jaded college student, unaware of the films that had come before it in Disney’s Second Golden Age of Animation. I saw it with my future wife, my best friend and many other people. Once I had seen it, it was the beginning of a long road back to Disney. I devoured the other animated features, and started longing to go back to the parks. The rest, as they say, is history.