THE LION KING (U): Re-released Friday 7th October
Four films were released in the late 80s and early 90s which helped re-establish Disney as a powerful animation studio. Later known as the Disney Renaissance, they’re still regarded as some of Disney’s finest ever work. Beginning in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast (still the jewel in Disney’s crown 20 years later) and Aladdin followed. The last was The Lion King in 1994 an ambitious Shakespearian tale set on the plains of Africa.
The benevolent Lion King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) reigns over the animal kingdom with the aid of his hornbill advisor Zazu (Rowan Atkinson). Under his rule, the Pride Lands flourish and the hyenas are kept at bay. He has a son, Simba, which angers his brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) who until that point was next in line to the throne.
Scar, in league with a trio of Hyenas – Banzai, Shenzi and Ed (Cheech Marin, Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Cummings), contrives a plot to kill Mufasa and Simba by causing a stampede in the valley. Mufasa is killed trying to rescue his son but Simba escapes to exile in the jungle where he meets meerkat Timon and stinky warthog Pumbaa, who teach him their philosophy of Hakuna Matata – no worries – which is in sharp antithesis to the lesson of responsibility taught to him by his dad.
The animation is superb and is still impressive 17 years on. While the 3D does help enhance a few scenes, it’s largely unnecessary – the wildebeest stampede is still just as magnificent and exhilarating, the musical montages beautifully colourful. The characters are also perfectly expressive – the young Simba’s O of terror as the shadows creep over him, older Simba’s bristling mane (as it’s the 90s, he has a floppy centre parting) and Scar’s coldly glowing eyes are just some of the delightful little touches that make The Lion King special.
It’s also really funny. Timon and Pumbaa make a memorable and hilarious double act – the hula distraction scene is one of the funniest things in the Disney canon. It’s also very strong musically (although there’s nothing as outstanding as some of Alan Meken’s work around the same era). Tim Rice and Elton John have crafted some memorable songs that you’ll be humming for days afterwards – The Circle Of Life, Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel The Love Tonight are some of Disney’s best known songs (although Rowan Atkinson singing I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts is the musical highlight).
It’s vocally outstanding too – James Earl Jones’ rich booming lends Mufasa an unrivalled authority, Rowan Atkinson gives Zazu exactly the right kind of reedy officiousness and Nathan Lane’s wheedling gives Timon a whole new comedy dimension. But it’s Jeremy Irons’ Scar which is memorably outstanding – a rich mellifluous tone which sounds like it could belong to a sardonic dragon. When it shifts to nasty, it’s like finding a razorblade in some candyfloss, a performance which makes Scar one of the best ever Disney villains.
In some ways it’s a shame that it’s in 3D as it means that it’s theatrical re-release will have an inflated ticket price. But if you’ve never seen The Lion King or you have children that haven’t basked in some of Disney’s best work, then it’s well worth the trip to the big screen.