The Lion King (1994)

(On DVD, April 2017) Let’s clarify one thing: Thanks to more than twenty years of cultural osmosis and a pre-schooler, I have watched bits and snippets and segments of The Lion King dozens of times. But this is the first time I’m watching it from start to finish in the original English, so I’ll count it as a first watch. From the first few minutes, which introduce the African savannah in a series of top-notch animated snippets, it’s obvious that its reputation as one of the highlights of the Disney Renaissance is well deserved: 2D cell animation has never been more spectacular, and there is a firm control over the way the story is presented. The inspiration from Shakespearian dramatic plotting works well, and the character work is effective. I don’t quite like the turn from second to third act, though: If we’re to believe the film at face value, the hero does nothing but loaf like a stoner (to the tune of Hakkuna Matata) for a few years and re-emerges a hero, instantly able to take down a corrupt leader. Um … wouldn’t it have been better for him to actually develop during this time? Never mind … bring in the funny animal sidekicks instead. Oh well. Otherwise, though, The Lion King holds up well even today—many of the film’s songs have escaped into the wild to become part of pop culture, and so have a number of references to other moments in the film. Its darker tone (compared to other Disney films/musicals of the period) make it a better fit for older kids … and for adults as well.

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