Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#814. The Lion King (1994)

Directed By: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones

Tag line: "Life's greatest adventure is finding your place in the Circle of Life"

Trivia: One of the bugs that Timon pulls out of a knothole during Hakuna Matata is wearing Mickey Mouse ears

If I were to compose a list of my favorite Disney animated films, it would include such titles as 1967’s The Jungle Book (I love all the musical numbers in this movie, especially Louis Prima’s “I Wanna Be Like You”), 1977’s The Rescuers (the first Disney picture I saw in the theater), and 1991’s Beauty and the Beast (perhaps the greatest film the studio ever produced). 

I might even toss a few of my “guilty pleasures” into the mix, like 1997’s Hercules (what can I say? I’m a sucker for Greek mythology, and James Woods was hilarious as Hades) and 2000’s Tarzan (thanks mostly to Phil Collins’ music). 

Topping the list, however, would be The Lion King. This one has it all: a great story, cool as hell characters, and some truly inspired tunes. It also boasts what I consider to be the best opening sequence in any animated movie... ever!

Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) is the king of Pride Rock, and his newborn son Simba (voiced as a child by Jonathan Taylor-Thomas) is next in line to the throne. This doesn’t sit well with Mufasa’s shifty brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons), who had been the heir apparent prior to Simba’s arrival. 

To rid himself of the “competition”, Scar tries to steer the ever-curious Simba into harm’s way, at one point tricking the young cub into visiting a dangerous elephant graveyard. Fortunately for Simba, his father happened along to save him, but Simba’s luck runs out when a stampede, initiated by Scar, results in Mufasa’s untimely death. 

Blaming himself for the tragedy, Simba leaves Pride Rock, and as a result, Scar is crowned king. 

Years later, a grown Simba (now voiced by Matthew Broderick) is living the good life with his new pals, Timon the meekrat (Nathan Lane) and Pumba the warthog (Ernie Sabella), a pair of dropouts who adhere to the credo “Hakuna Matada” (which means “no worries”). 

But a chance encounter with his childhood friend Nala (Moira Kelly), followed by a run-in with a wise old mandrill named Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), might just convince Simba to return to Pride Rock and claim the throne that is rightfully his.

I adore everything about The Lion King, from its music ("Circle of Life", "Hakuna Matada", "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?") to the characters that inhabit its fascinating world. James Earl Jones brings a solemn dignity to Mufasa, a bearing worthy of a king, while Jeremy Irons is at his slimy best as the evil Scar. For laughs, there’s Timon and Pumba, Simba's two mismatched buddies who, despite their difference in species, are the best of friends. Yet my favorite comedic character is Zazu the hornbill, voiced by Rowan Atkinson, who I’ve been a fan of ever since the television series Blackadder. When ordered to watch over Simba and Nala during their visit to the water hole, Zazu, flying overhead, shouts down to the youngsters, “Step lively! The sooner we get to the water hole, the sooner we can leave”. 

Yet the most impressive moment in The Lion King is undoubtedly the opening, pre-title scene, a beautifully animated sequence in which the creatures of the land pay their respects to the newborn Simba as the excellent tune "Circle of Life" fills the soundtrack. It is the perfect introduction to the world of this film, establishing an air of somberness as well as a sense of wonder, and I loved every second of it!

If I expanded my “favorites” to include all animated films, and not just Disney’s, it’s quite possible that some of those I mentioned above would fall off the list. But not The Lion King. This 1994 classic is there to stay!

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