One of Disney's greatest achievements, this is to my knowledge the only animated film to be turned into a Broadway musical. (Beauty and the Beast doesn't count, since that film had prior life outside the Disneyverse.)
The Lion King is primarily memorable because it's not based on a fairy tale or a children's story, and thus avoids the cliches that saddle so many Disney flicks. There's no "love conquers all" message, no moral about how trying hard will make everything come out OK. In fact, for much of its running time, The Lion King says the exact opposite: Hakuna Matata means "no worries," right? It's in the past, so let it go. But The Lion King also tells us that we can learn from the past, that tyrants should be overthrown, and that we should own up to our mistakes in the end.
This also makes The Lion King one of Disney's most adult movies. Though it's rated G, it features numerous scenes of peril and death -- with lion cub Simba orphaned after his uncle kills off his dad to usurp the throne and title of king of the jungle. But that too is part of the famed Circle of Life. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Simba runs off to live in the jungle -- gettin' real, ya know -- stricken with guilt that he (thinks he) killed his father. Eventually he returns home to showdown with evil uncle Scar, who has been ruling the jungle with an iron fist, disrupting the Circle of Life.
The Lion King is one of Disney's last great 2-D creations, with computers aiding in some truly stellar moments such as the wildebeest stampede. Lots of perspective shots and moving cameras make this one of the genre's most film-like movies.
If there's anything annoying about the film, it's the singing, young Simba sounds like a young Michael Jackson. On the new song added to the just-out DVD release of the movie, the atrociously vapid "Morning Report," he sounds like a castrato Michael Jackson. You almost don't want him to succeed, but thankfully, Simba eventually grows up and is replaced, voice-wise, by Matthew Broderick. By way of other extras, there's a whole second disc of goodies, including an extensive selection of making-of footage, a deleted scene or two, an alternate first verse of "Hakuna Matata," a special home theater audio mix (sounds good), and about a bazillion kid-friendly features like games and singalongs.
The Lion King has rightfully spawned one of the most enduring industrial complexes ever to come from an animated cat. Way to go, Disney.
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