With Disney’s photo-realistic remake of The Lion King releasing this weekend, here’s a quick look back at the magical and beloved original. For a lot of people – myself included – 1994’s The Lion King is ones of their favourite animated movies of all time. It’s altogether epic, emotional, and fun, all while boasting incredibly memorable characters and music. The movie tells a simple story in such a moving and spectacle-filled way. Upon re-watching the film, I had a newfound appreciation for the wittiness of the script and stylized direction. There’s a strong artistic vision felt throughout that makes The Lion King incredibly enduring.
The opening scene alone is a sight to behold. As the “Circle of Life” starts to play, we’re introduced to the breathtaking vistas of the African savanna and its various animal inhabitants. The lush colours and beautiful animation accompanied by the stirring music make for a phenomenal sequence that gets viewers hooked immediately. With such a powerful start, it’s even more impressive that the remainder of the film delivers equally.
The rest of the film plays out like a simple, yet rich, royal family drama. Mufasa is the beloved king of Pride Rock, and his newborn son, Simba, has become the heir. Meanwhile, Mufasa’s younger brother, Scar, feels entitled to the throne and schemes his way towards his goals. The story has a lot of recognizable tropes – the jealous brother, death of a parent, and the journey of self-discovery – that never feel formulaic because of the dynamic characters and storytelling.
The Lion King embraces its melodramatic premise, making a vibrant and entertaining spectacle out of it. Visually, it’s sublime. From the beautiful Pride Lands under Mufasa’s rule and the jungle paradise where Timon and Pumba reside, to the dark and dreary lands which Scar inhabits, each location has a distinct and heightened appearance that informs the story. The film also often employs slow-motion and dramatic (hand-drawn) camera movements to intensify the emotion. Whether it’s love, joy, or grief, every feeling is amplified and treated with the utmost sincerity. There’s a lot of pathos as movie does not shy away from dark and sad moments. Consequently, Mufasa’s death will never not be devastating.
Meanwhile, the character’s are brought to life by some inspired animation. The movie makes the most the animation form by exaggerating the characters’ features and mannerisms to give them personality and flare. The more human-like character movements and expressions just adds to the playful nature of the film. And just like the setting, the visual distinction between the good and bad guys is made very apparent – this is a kids movie after all. Scar’s menacing appearance is a lot more interesting than if he looked like his noble brother. The Lion Kings uses its visual medium to elevate reality into something more whimsical and exciting.
Moreover, each actor inhabits their character splendidly, especially James Earl Jones as Mufasa and Jeremy Irons as Scar. Jones brings the gravitas, while Irons is wickedly intimidating. Scar has some of the best dialogue in the film – everything he says is amusingly smug. The script is incredibly charming as well. It’s filled with fun banter, puns and sharp humour that still holds up. Of course, there are the physical gags and silly jokes aimed for kids. But, the dialogue is also packed with incredibly witty and clever lines, providing adults with laughs too.
And obviously, it’s hard to talk about The Lion King without bringing up its iconic music. The film’s stylized musical numbers add bombastic energy and visual appeal. Each one of Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs are unforgettable. And the music sequences are wonderfully over the top and fantastical, passionately conveying the characters’ sentiments. They are an integral part of the movie’s story and enjoyment. Also, Scar’s delightfully evil “Be Prepared” might be the best villain song ever. But, what’s even better than the already great songs, is Hans Zimmer’s brilliant musical score that perfectly enhances every scene. The wildebeest stampede or Simba ascending Pride Rock would not be as epic without Zimmer’s pulsating music.
A lot can be said about what makes The Lion King so special. It pretty much as everything you’d want in a kids animated film. Even over a decade later, the creative visuals, music and humour remain fresh and entertaining. You can feel the passion and artistry of the filmmakers in each frame, as their creativity has elevated The Lion King to its timeless status.