Not Disney's Best, But Delightful All The Same
JLFM - wrote on 01/24/13
If one were to name Disney's best known films, The Lion King would certainly be mentioned. Often considered Disney's best film, The Lion King is one of Disney's biggest successes. Personally, I would find Beauty and the Beast or The Princess and the Frog to be more suited towards the coveted title, but that doesn't change the fact that The Lion King is still an entertaining and well made production worthy of the Disney label.
The Lion King is about a young lion named Simba whose the rightful heir to the throne. In a tragic turn of events, Simba's father, Mufasa, is murdered by Simba's treacherous uncle, Scar. Scar tricks Simba into thinking that himself is to blame, so Simba runs away, leaving the throne to Scar. Simba finds new friends in the form of a warthog named Pumba, and a meerkat named Timon and they live a care-free life together, away from the kingdom.
The Lion King is largely a disappointment, not because it's a poor film, but because of it's legacy. While The Lion King stands tall among Disney's most famous and successful offerings, I found it to be a bit weaker than some of Disney's better works. Once again, I emphasize the fact that The Lion King is still an excellent film, it's just not quite worthy of being known as Disney's best.
The story is a bit on the slight side compared to other Disney films. There is little emotional depth. That's not to say there isn't emotion here, but the poignancy evident in Disney's best films isn't quite all there. It feels sweet, and tragic when it needs to be, but I never felt terribly moved or affected.
The characters come off as a bit weaker as well, though they are still loveable and memorable. The main character, Simba fails to have any sort of unique personality, which is common for main characters in Disney films. His lady friend, Nala, has the cliched "spunky and strong" personality so commonly adopted by woman in Disney films. The villain, Scar, is amusing with some clever lines (and an all but forgotten musical number near the beginning-ish), but he's simply too similar to the likes of Jafar or Shere Khan.
As is typical of most of Disney's work, the most memorable and entertaining characters are the side characters. Timon and Pumba are boisterous and outrageous. They're funny in a way that will entertain kids and adults. Zazu, a dodo bird and Mufasa's "majordodo" as he calls himself, is quite funny. And Rafiki, an unexpectedly humorous mandill, has a small and memorable part as well.
The characters are brought effectively to life by a talented voice cast, including Matthew Broderick who's unrecognizable as Simba, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and Jeremy Irons as Scar. Supporting cast members, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Moira Kelly, Whoopi Goldberg, Rowan Atikson, and others perform memorably as well.
The songs are a large part of why The Lion King is so well remembered and while I wouldn't rank them among Disney's best, I would consider them some of Disney's better work. The opening song "Circle of Life," is pleasant and enjoyable, but forgettable, and includes dated sounding synthesizers that just don't belong. "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," represents more of what makes Disney songs so loveable. The song is upbeat and toe-tapping with clever lyrics and fantastic visuals. Still, while the namesake part of the song is catchy, little else sticks in the memory.
"Be Prepared," the often forgotten villain's song is delightfully creepy, and ranks among the better Disney villain songs. "Hakuna Matata" (one of the two most likely songs to get stuck in you head by the end of the film) is upbeat and catchy. The chorus is a cheery delight, though the verses are less clever. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" is the best of The Lion King's wonderful songs. The lyrics are beautiful and catchy, and the peaceful and beautiful visuals keep things dazzling. Along with Hakuna Matata, you could have this song stuck in your head for weeks.
The animation is stunning, as is expected of Disney. The African plains and landscape is just beautiful. Birds flying, animals running, all depicted with typical Disney flair. The visuals do not disappoint.
The score, by Hans Zimmer, is pleasant, but like many of the Disney scores, not particularly interesting. The score makes good use of the atmosphere and location, but one wonders if it would hold up well taken away from the film. My guess is is "no."
While not as funny, nor as poignant as Disney's best work, The Lion King is still a delightful film from the house of mouse. With catchy songs, memorable supporting characters, and dazzling animation, The Lion King is wonderfully old-fashioned and charming cinematic entertainment.