Directed by: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Written by: Linda Woolverton, Jonathan Roberts, Irene Mecchi
Starring: Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson, Robert Guillaume, Madge Sinclair, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings
Runtime: 87 min
One of the most popular Disney animated musicals, The Lion King presents the story of a lion cub's journey to adulthood and acceptance of his royal destiny. Simba (voiced first by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, then by Matthew Broderick) begins life as an honored prince, the son of the powerful King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones). The cub's happy childhood turns tragic when his evil uncle, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons), usurps the throne and drives Simba away from the kingdom.
In exile, the young lion befriends the comically bumbling pair of Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella) and Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane), living a carefree jungle life. As he approaches adulthood, however, he is influenced to go back and reclaim his rightful throne.
First of all, this is (obviously) a SPOILER review. I mean, who hasn’t seen this movie yet? If by some extraordinary circumstances you’re one of those unlucky souls, stop. Spend the next hour and a half watching this animated masterpiece and come back here. I will still avoid mentioning key details because I’m just used to it, and The Lion King has so many things to compliment that I don’t really need to get in-depth on spoilers. So, in case you haven’t notice it through my Twitter or occasional mentions in other reviews, The Lion King is one of my favorite films of all-time (animated or not)!
I rewatched it for the 312358th time this last weekend, and I cried more than when I was just a child. That’s how much this movie means to me. The sense of nostalgia plus the overwhelming emotions throughout the runtime are tear-inducing aspects that I can’t simply avoid. I literally cried (waterfalls) in four (!) different scenes. The opening sequence (Circle of Life) filled my eyes with nostalgia’s tears. Mufasa’s tragic moment obviously wrecked me (one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the history of cinema). Simba receiving the whole “remember who you are” speech from Mufasa in the clouds is incredibly inspirational and therefore worthy of some sobbing. Finally, one of the last scenes, Simba climbing his way to the top of Pride Rock with Hans Zimmer‘s score, leaving me absolutely destroyed.
And I want to pick up on that last aspect: the score. It’s one of the most crucial technical features of a film, in my opinion. It can transform an “okay” scene into something magical or something pretty terrible, depending on what kind of score it is. Consequently, it can make a “good” movie turn into a “great” one. Hans Zimmer is one of my favorite composers ever. His soundtracks are always filled with such an epic vibe. Even if the film itself isn’t that good, his scores are still able to elevate it in some way. The Lion King is one of his most memorable scores due to how emotionally compelling it is, even in the subtlest moments.
During the stampede sequence, the score doesn’t lend you time to breathe. Its high rhythm and continuously growing music keep any viewer at the edge of the seat, waiting for it to be over. Then, when Simba descends and approaches his dad, the score is so subtle. Completely opposite to the previous sumptuous and grand sound. It’s that nuance plus the impact of the scene itself that make me cry. In the last scene that I mentioned above, it’s solely the score that brings in the chill-inducing tears. If Simba climbed Pride Rock with no soundtrack, it would just be a good ending. However, from the exact moment that the score fades in, it instantly turns that sequence into an epic finale. The slow-motion walk to the top, the immersive score, Simba’s roar … Damn it, I’m crying again!
The animation is some of Disney’s best. It’s not by chance that the Disney Renaissance Era (1989-1999), which was the return to form by Disney, has the best animation quality of its history, and a lot of the memorable movies that marked everyone’s childhood. Its expressiveness and ease to make animals emote elevates the story and its characters. There’s no need for any kind of dialogue when you can see how the characters are reacting and understand what they’re feeling. The wide shots are beautiful to look at and worthy of being anyone’s wallpaper even today.
The songs are remarkable and they influenced an entire generation. Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Circle of Life, Be Prepared, Hakuna Matata, … Every single song is someone’s favorite. The voice work is perfect. James Earl Jones gives such an outstanding vocal performance that even when discussing his career’s biggest role, Darth Vader isn’t the obvious choice. Jeremy Irons and his raspy voice elevate Scar as the villainous character. If you close your eyes and only hear every character’s voice, without having watched the film previously, you can easily identify who’s the “bad guy”, and that’s unbelievably good. Everyone else is amazing, but these two gentlemen are astonishing, and they deserve to be remembered forever as the voices of these iconic roles.
Nevertheless, in the end, the two pillars of every movie always matter the most: story and characters. The Lion King has an especially compelling screenplay, one that teaches its viewers how to handle loss, but also how to grow up and overcome our worst fears. It’s true that most people cry watching this film, but those same people are filled with joy by the end because they accompanied Simba’s journey. From being a reckless and innocent cub to becoming the king that everyone needed, while also making his father extremely proud. Even though it’s a very tragic movie, Timon and Pumbaa are two hilarious characters that keep bringing some sense of happiness by delivering some well-needed laughs. Their laid-back lifestyle is something that everyone desires, but when you have responsibilities, you can’t just hide from them. You must learn how to be what everyone needs you to be, without losing the essence of who you are.
It’s a masterpiece! It doesn’t matter if it’s an animated film. It doesn’t matter if it was “made for kids”. People need to stop looking at animated flicks as something juvenile that only children can watch while parents can do something else. If parents watched this kind of inspirational animated movies as well, maybe the world would be a better place. The Lion King is one of my favorite films of all-time, and it’s undeniably one of Disney’s best original movies. From the gorgeous animation to the beautiful score, from the emotionally compelling story to the life journey Simba goes through, from the chill-inducing tearful moments to the loud laughs … The Lion King is just perfect. Hopefully, its “live-action” remake will keep its essence and deliver these feelings once again.