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The Lion King (1994)


It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

The Lion King is a Disney animated feature film, the 32nd film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics. It features music by Elton John and Tim Rice, with an original score by Hans Zimmer. It stars the voices of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, a Whoopi Goldberg.

The birth of Simba, the son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, is a momentous occasion at Pride Rock. All the animals have gathered to ceberate the presentation of the newborn lion cub – all except one. Mufasa’s brother Scar knows that Simba’s birth means he will never be king of Pride Rock, a fact of royal succession that chafes at him. As Simba grows, Mufasa and his hornbill majordomo Zazu attempt to teach him what it is to be king, but Simba would rather play with his friend Nala than listen to his lessons. When Scar executes a plan to assassinate both Mufasa and young Simba by wildebeest stampede, he is nearly successful, but Mufasa sacrifices his life to save Simba. Scar convinces the distraught cub that Mufasa’s death was Simba’s fault, and Simba runs away from the Pridelands in shame, narrowly escaping the hyenas that Scar sent to finish him off. As Simba grows to adulthood in the care of a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa, he turns his back on what he sees as his own mistake, but his past will soon return to haunt him. Simba will be forced to make a decision once and for all: continue running and leave the ruined Pridelands under the rule of his cruel uncle, or return to claim his heritage as the Lion King.

The Lion King is a richly layered animated tale, with beautiful visuals from Simba’s birth and presentation to the animals of Pride Rock, through the terror of a meticulously rendered windebeest stampede, through the despair of Simba’s exile to his epiphany and triumphant return. The characters are distinctive, even the extras in crowd shots, and the animation is fluid and graceful, like a traditional Disney animated film should be. Even though the cast are all animals, you see elements of humanity in them: the rough-and-tumble exuberance of young Simba simultaneously reminds us of a kitten and a preadolescent human. The quiet strength of Mufasa instantly invokes the reaction, “This is a king.” It helps that the characters are designed to bear a passing resemblance to their voice actors, seen most vividly in Scar, who is basically Jeremy Irons in lion shape.

The story is also deep and engaging, reminding one of such stories as Hamlet or any number of biblical tales regarding future prophets abandoned and found in strange circumstances. It is a universal story, one of tragedy and redemption that cuts across all cultures and is helped, not hindered, by the comic relief antics of the happy-go-lucky Timon and Pumbaa. Every character fits a classic archetype: the exiled prince, the scheming uncle, the wise but quirky mentor, the well-meaning but initially annoying advisor, the childhood friend turned love interest. And far from being two-dimensional stereotypes, each character feels well-rounded, as though they have a lifetime of development behind them. Everyone has had a father figure like Mufasa, a teacher like Zazu, a best friend like Timon or Pumbaa. The hyenas (though ill-served here as a species) embody the sense of greed and consumption that fuels Scar’s plans, and even Pride Rock itself is a character, a Fisher Kingdom that reflects its ruler: lush and fertile under Mufasa, but desolate under Scar. Everything works together organically, providing stories wrapped in metaphors embodied in characters so that you feel like you are a part of the world that has been created here.

While Disney’s traditional animated features became a bit hot-or-miss towards the end, The Lion King remains as one of their best feature films. Produced during the height of the animation department’s operation, this film remains as a family classic that will endure for years to come.

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