Cinematic Flashback: The Lion King (1994) Review
Simba, you have forgotten me. You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of life. Remember who you are. You are my son and the one true king. Remember who you are and now it is time to “remember” Disney’s 1994 animated masterpiece The Lion King in this week’s “cinematic flashback” ……
THE LION KING
“The King has Returned”
Director: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Writer: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton
Starring: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, and James Earl Jones
Run Time: 88 minutes
Release Date: June 24th, 1994
After being anointed as the heir apparent as the next in-line to rule the Pride Lands, the young Simba is every bit as eager to take his proud father Mufasa’s place as the king. However, this makes Simba’s villainous uncle Scar jealous of him. But when Mufasa is suddenly murdered by Scar, Simba feels responsible for his death and runs away from home. Meeting up with two outcasts (a meerkat named Timon and warthog named Pumbaa, Simba embraces their ways of ‘Hakuna Matata’ and grows up in a carefree existence. Years later, approached by his childhood friend Nala and the wise baboon Rafiki, Simba must return home to stop Scar’s evil reign and fulfill his destiny as the rightful king.
With the upcoming release of Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of The Lion King, I thought it would be appropriate (and quite fun) to go back and revisit the beloved 1994 original animated feature that has been widely considered “the jewel” of Disney’s animated movies. Growing up with a lot of the 90s culture, I (as many of you would’ve guessed) grew up watching Disney’s animated movies, especially with all the “Disney Renaissance” and mainly the “big four” movies (i.e. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King). Admittedly, The Lion King has always my personal favorite of mine and (to me) has been the pinnacle of what Disney animation can do with its cartoon feature films as well in the best in children’s entertainment. So, here’s my thoughts on 1994’s The Lion King.
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, The Lion King is 32nd animated feature film and continued the trend of its motion picture predecessor (1992’s Aladdin) by somewhat breaking the more traditional manner of European setting / topography of its background (and by its extension of storytelling) in bringing an African influences within its characters, its settings, and within collaboration nuances (something that no other Disney animated movie had done before). The result is something that works and feels genuine and sincere its overtones and thematically African influences, creating something that honors the land of Africa (its nature and animals) as well as bringing something new (and almost iconic) to the film’s proceedings. Allers and Minkoff also demonstrate a well-balanced feature within The Lion King’s presentation, keeping the film’s 88-minute runtime, which by today’s standard is quite short, packs enough aspects (story, comical, drama, and musical songs) that it never fells crammed or underwhelming, shaping movie in a incredible evenly keel way that’s almost perfect.
What also makes The Lion King so memorable is in its story, which is grounded in a Shakespearean influence of a royal family that caught up in love, betrayal, honor, and duty. Of course, the film’s derivate much of the Shakespearean nuance to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet of which the parallels between can be clearly seeing (as well as another one, but I’ll mention that one below). Suffice to say that the themes and story of The Lion King are profoundly rooted in classic narratives and are perfectly represented in the film; resulting in such a memorable of good and evil, laughter and romance, and simply confronting yourself in doing what is right.
Animation-wise, the movie looked spectacular. Even by today’s standard of animation, The Lion King truly stands out with its rich 2D animation being vividly colorful and intricately detailed, which were highlight of its 1994 releases and (like I said) still holds up against today’s current 3D CGI animated layered movie endeavors. Even the cinematography efforts made in the film is something breathtaking. I mean…. the whole opening sequence of Simba’s presentation on Pride Rock, the Stampede sequence, Mufasa in the sky, and Simba’s ascension on Pride Rock are all prime examples of cinematic presentation done beautiful right (finding all to quite memorable / iconic with the movie).
Plus, let’s not forget about the film’s songs as The Lion King features several musical songs, which each of them iconic and musically remembered for their pronounce placement in the movie. The powerful “Circle of Life” song (to kick start the movie), the playful “Can’t Wait to be King”, the villainous fun “Be Prepared”, the catchy jubilee of “Hakuna Matata”, and the romantically theme “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” are all terrifically represented in the movie and lyrically great (thanks to Elton John and Tim Rice). Also, speaking of Elton John, his version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is one of personal favorite Disney songs. Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by Hans Zimmer, is absolutely incredible. From start to finish, Zimmer’s score is bold, beautiful, and mesmerizing; truly one of my favorite movie score of both his collection and of cinematic films altogether.
There were very little problems that I had personally had with 1994’s The Lion King as it really did embody the nearly perfect ideology of a true Disney masterpiece. Some did argue over the fact that the movie several controversies, particularly for its similarities to Osamu Tzeuka’s 1960s anime series Kimba the White Lion (there’s a lot of similarities between the two…look it up). Then, of course, there was the famous sequences in the film that revealed the word “SEX” in the movie as a somewhat subliminal messaging, which was found sometime after its home video release. However, Lion King animator Tom Sito has stated the letters spelled “SFX” (short for special effects). Again, both of these things were minor complaints to me….acting as small blemishes on a otherwise perfectly well-rounded animated motion picture.
The voice talents in The Lion King are also top-notch by selecting a cast of fine actors and actresses to bring the film’s animated characters to life. Naturally, the seasoned acting talents of James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons highlight the movie as the wizened King (father to Simba) Mufasa and his powers hungry brother Scar; finding both to bring a sense of theatrical gravitas to the film. Even the character of Simba, who acts as the film’s main protagonist, gets two very distinct voice talents as the then popular child actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas voiced the youthful younger iteration of Simba, while actor Mathew Broderick gives a relatable / likeable voice as the adult iteration of Simba. Even the comic relief characters of Timon and Pumbaa are voiced by a fine selection of actors Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, which definitely become the definite memorable characters of the entire film. Additional voiceover work, including Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Robert Guillaume (Rafiki), Moira Kelly (Adult Nala), Madge Sinclair (Sarabi), Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Martin (Banzai), and Jim Cummings (Ed) give excellent performances in their respective character; adding the strong vocals cast as well as the solid foundation for these characters. Personally, I think that every character in the movie is quite memorable because of the voice talents behind them.
Over the years, the legacy of The Lion King has endured and continues to be celebrated for its timeless tale of an animation feature film. During its initial theatrical release, it was met with positive reviews / reactions from both critics and moviegoers with praise coming from the story, animation, and music. It has received numerous high-ranking scores, including the highest-grossing release of 1994 as well as garnered several awards, including two Academy Awards (Best Original Score and Best Original Song – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”) and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture in a Musical or Comedy. Additionally, The Lion King’s legacy continued into other media facets such as two DTV (direct-to-video) follow-ups features, with 1998 sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, and the 2004 prequel / parallel side story, The Lion King 1 ½ as well as a Broadway adaptation, two television cartoon series (Timon and Pumbaa and The Lion Guard), and a limited engagement 3D release of the original film in 2011.
In the end, Disney’s 1994 The Lion King has stood the test of time and still many viewers out there (including mine) to be the best example of the “Disney Renaissance” era of animated feature films as well as one of the best animated movies of all time. It’s all there…. the story, the narrative overtones, the animation, the pacing / progression, the musical songs, the film score, and the voice talents are all harmoniously working together in culminating in such a wonderful and truly timeless movie. To me, this was when Disney was truly at its absolute best, reaching a zenith plateau that it has come close too reach in recent years (i.e. Frozen and Moana), but has never surpassed that pinnacle achievement that it did back in 1994. Thus, to sum it all up, The Lion King stands as one of finest animated endeavors of all time. Just like Mufasa’s echoing words to his son in the movie “Remember….”
Cinematic Flashback: 5.0 out of 5
Fun Fact: Nearly 20 minutes of the film were animated at the Disney-MGM Studios. Ultimately, more than 600 artists, animators and technicians contributed to The Lion King over its lengthy production schedule. More than one million drawings were created for the film, including 1,197 hand-painted backgrounds and 119,058 individually colored frames of film. Additionally, the wildebeest stampede took Disney’s CG department approximately three years to animate. A new computer program had to be written for the CG wildebeest stampede that allowed hundreds of computer-generated animals to run but without colliding into each other.