The Lion King is a 1994 American animated musical film directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff and is the 32nd Disney film of its nature. The plot centres on Simba (Matthew Broderick), a lion who alongside his long-time friends in Timon, Pumba, Rafiki and Nala is on a quest to assume his throne as king of the African Pride lands after the death of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the hands of his uncle Scar.
Acting & Character performances.
Disney almost never misses a beat when it comes to casting choices for animated films and this 1994 movie is no exception. Apparently, the voice actors on here were chosen based on how well they could fit into the characters they were playing and I am sure anyone who has seen this movie can agree that they knocked it off the park in every way.
James Earl Jones is a shining example of this; he projected his deep commanding voice to his character and it ended up fleshing out Mufasa even more to the ordinary audience member watching the film. Mufasa is the king of the Pride lands and it’s evident in the way he carries out himself and the way his subjects respect and pay allegiance to him even though he is an apex predator who could wipe them all out of existence if he wanted to. That said, he is not just about establishing his presence everywhere he goes; he is a wise king as well. This is mostly shown through his interactions with his son Simba most notably after the cub disobeys his orders by running past the territory of the Pridelands and putting his life in jeopardy. By the time Mufasa was killed off at the climax in the most tragic and heartbreaking way, I was already aware of what his purpose in the narrative was and it’s a purpose that he fulfils with nobility considering how he went out.
Matthew Broderick was equally excellent as Simba; the main protagonist of the movie and son to Mufasa. Nonetheless, if I was to pick between the Mufasa and Simba as my best I’d probably go with Simba because he has more purpose in the story and he is a character who has a more enticing and riveting arc. In his early years, he shows huge interest in the kingdom that would soon be his as is explained by his father in the 1st Act nonetheless, he is no saint.
Simba is rebellious and arrogant; qualities that end up being the bane of his existence when his uncle uses them to eventually bring about the death of his brother Mufasa via a wildebeest stampede. From then on, you feel for the character particularly during that emotional moment when Simba is trying to call out to his dead father and lies under his paws crying. Fast forward to when he eventually becomes king, you can see how significantly his life has changed and they are changes brought about by his compassion for the oppressed animals in the Pridelands and his resilience to fulfil his destiny that his father set out for him.
Timon and Pumba voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella respectively were not only exciting and entertaining characters but also characters that were crucial at the time they are introduced given how tragic the events of Mufasa’s death were. All that was needed from them was to produce that much needed comic relief and they do it to perfection. As far as Scar is concerned, voiced by the brilliant Jeremy Irons, I understood where he was coming from and why he’d want to take his brother’s life so as to reign supreme in the Pride lands; sort of like the ‘Cain and Abel’ story. He is one of those characters who needs little to no characterization because his actions speak volumes about who he is and what his ideals are.
The Plot, Merits and Demerits.
The Disney Renaissance period that spanned 10 years between 1989 and 1999 saw the associated company reap tonnes of money from the Box Office if the successes of ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Aladdin’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and more relevantly ‘The Lion King’ are anything to go by. Though the latter movie contributed immensely to Disney’s financial success during the said period, it should be noted that the story adapted for it wasn’t based off an already existing property. The company greenlighting the film was a financial risk but judging by how well it was received eventually, it’s safe to say the company’s executives at the time can look back now and say that it was indeed a price worth paying.
I don’t know about you but I love coming-of-age stories; reason being that I want to be invested in the main character as much as possible and I feel like these kinds of stories satisfy me more than most in that respect. I want to be invested in the character beginning, middle and end; in his or her flaws and how he or she overcomes them as the movie progresses. Simba’s story is pretty much a coming-of-age story and it’s done exceptionally well; there’s not much to it really.
If there was an award for Best Opening sequence in a movie in the 1995 Oscars then ‘The Lion King’ would have won it without question. Within the first 10 minutes or so of the film, the movie has already given you a holistic feel of the African Pridelands i.e. what kinds of animals are in the kingdom and the beautiful landscapes that they live in leading up to the presentation of a young Simba to the whole kingdom. It’s a sequence that has more life breathed into it through the soothing and captivating ‘Circle of Life’ song that accompanies it.
Speaking of music, my joint favourite movie score composer of all time Hans Zimmer was responsible for most of the melodies that you get to hear in the flick and it’s no surprise why he won an Oscar for it in the year after this movie’s release. Whether a scene had either a happy or somber mood, there was appropriate music to go along with it and I liked that.
Where this film had me the most was in its themes; whichever ones you can think of, ‘The Lion King’ had them and they are done to perfection. There’s redemption i.e Simba returning home to right the wrongs that he thought he orchestrated in the first place. There’s the theme of transformation i.e Simba becoming the king that his subjects needed him to be. Last but not least there’s the theme of sacrifice i.e Mufasa putting his life on the line and paying the ultimate price so that he could not only save his son but also preserve the Circle of Life.
My only issues with this film lean more along the lines of how and why certain characters and events were written the way they were. For example how Simba ages to maturity whereas everyone around him hasn’t, or how the shift in the top position of a monarchy can affect the weather so immensely i.e. the Pridelands are drought-stricken during Scar’s reign but once Simba assumes power, the weather is restored and everything back to normal. Additionally, there’s the final battle which was over-dramatized even for an animation film.
I’ve probably watched The Lion King more than ten times now but surprisingly enough every time feels like the first time. I just love a motion-picture with a timeless feel to it that you can not only watch numerous times and not feel bored with it, but also a motion-picture that your forthcoming generations can watch and connect with. I’m glad Disney is releasing a live action adaptation of this film next year and I am really looking forward to it; aren’t we all?