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Wayback Wednesday: The Lion King (1994)

If you don’t worship this movie, you must be lion.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen The Lion King (1994). Like, it’s been about maybe 10 years since I’ve watched it from beginning to end? Weirdly enough, I think I’ve seen the sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998) more recently. Oh my God, remember that hella dramatic “One of Us” number? Still gives me chills. So last night I watched the original again for the first time in forever, and my God, I can’t believe I’ve gone without this masterpiece for so long! 25 years since its release and this movie still has me laughing, crying and singing along to every song. All I can say is that the upcoming live-action remake has a A LOT to live up to.

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Credit: / Buena Vista Pictures

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion cub who is destined to one day become King of the African Pride Lands. After the murder of his father Mufasa at the hands of his treacherous uncle Scar forces Simba to flee Pride Rock, he lives in exile with the kindly Timon and Pumbaa. But when Simba’s childhood friend Nala reminds him of who he truly is, Simba realizes he must return to save the kingdom from Scar.

The Lion King was a major crowd-pleaser in our house. How could it not be? Like many films in the Disney Renaissance (the decade from 1989 – 1999 when the studio released some of its most iconic animated movies), it’s a movie that manages to appeal to both children and adults. Whether it’s the gorgeous animation, timeless music or memorable characters, there’s enough excellence here for audiences of all ages to enjoy. No scene proves that better than the movie’s ICONIC opening. From the minute the opening lyrics to “Circle of Life” are belted out and the herd of animals make their way to Pride Rock, you can tell that this is more than just a cartoon. This is a truly stunning and real piece of art. I know it sounds silly because this is a Disney cartoon, but this movie, especially “Circle of Life,” really capture the majesty of the animal kingdom and the harmony they live in. As the music builds and Simba is presented to the world, the movie quickly establishes it’s characters, story and tone. Then BOOM! The title card that segues into Scar’s “life’s not fair” monologue? Talk about great filmmaking!

Disney was not messing around when they assembled the cast for this movie. Hello, James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons! As Mufasa and Scar respectively, it’s incredible what kind of performances this pair of Oscar-winners are able to give with just their glorious voices. I think what helps sell their roles as the movie’s hero and villain is that Jones’ voice is the embodiment of courage and nobility while Irons personifies delicious wickedness. I could listen to Jones’ velvety baritone recite iconic lines like “everything the light touches is our kingdom” for DAYS. Jones’ prophetic voice is music to the ears.

Irons nails that dry delivery that makes Scar the most chilling of villains: One that never has to raise their voice to invoke fear or uneasiness. It’s that voice, dripping with dread and treachery, coupled with Scar’s cunning wit and brains that make him an entertaining and formidable villain. He’s right up there as one of my favourites alongside Jafar, Ursula and Hades. Also, “Be Prepared” is decidedly one of the best villain songs ever written right?

Speaking of, like all of the movies in the Renaissance, every song in The Lion King absolutely SLAPS. From animation to choreography to performance to lyrics, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is a heartwarming delight, as is the equally enjoyable “Hakuna Matata.” What makes the former so much fun is the unbridled joy of young Simba’s excitement of becoming king, as well as Rowan Atkinson’s impeccable comedic delivery as the disgruntled Zazu. The latter, the inspiration for many a Disney-themed tattoo, owes its success to the dynamic chemistry between Nathan Lane’s Timon and Ernie Sabella’s Pumbaa. I can’t express to you how much I love Nathan Lane. His and Sabella’s back and forth is reminiscent of classic comedy duos like Abbott and Costello and make for one of the most enjoyable aspects of this timeless movie. How could you not love Timon and Pumbaa? Sassy, hilarious and ready to adopt a stray cub at a moment’s notice, these two belong in the Disney Sidekick Hall of Fame.

Just when you think The Lion King can’t produce a more flawless soundtrack, enter “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Oh my God. This is perhaps one of the most gorgeous and emotionally moving love ballads in all of Disney’s celebrated catalogue. The Lion King is  one of Disney’s most mature movies and it shows in the way it handles complex themes like betrayal, responsibility, life and death (we’ll get there). The way this song expresses the beauty of two characters falling in love proves that The Lion King is just as capable of handling deep emotion as it is hyena hilarity and animal adventures. Serious question though, is there a reason Disney felt the need to animate those “come fuck me” eyes?

Image result for lion king nala gif
Credit: / Buena Vista Pictures

Are you guys ready to talk about it? Okay, I’m going to try and get through this part of the review without crying. Even 25 years later, and I must have seen this movie at least that many times, Mufasa’s death still shakes me like no other. Seriously, as recently as this viewing, I was still holding out hope that somehow Mufasa would make it out of the stampede alive! This entire sequence is one of Disney’s darkest and most heart-wrenching scenes, but you have to must admit that it’s also one of their best. There’s a genuine sense of peril and fear as Mufasa desperately tries to rescue Simba, and you’re left broken and speechless when Scar ultimately murders his own brother. Sidenote, I never realized before just how much death and talk about death are actually in this movie.

Ugh, hearing Simba’s desperate pleas as Mufasa lies motionless on the ground….no lie, I teared up. 23 years old and the death of a cartoon lion is still able to get to me. You guys, I can’t believe I forgot just how great The Lion King is. The acting, the music, the writing, the emotions…every aspect of this movie is of the highest quality. Don’t let the cartoon animals fool you. This movie is just as good as anything accomplished in live-action. Honestly, it’s maybe even better. Oh another quick sidenote, I always loved how the movie ended with an epic battle infused with comedy. Probably because it reminds me of the ending of my all-time favourite Disney movie, Aladdin (1992). By the way, you can check out my review for Aladdin here.

Easily one of my top 10 favourite Disney movies, it’s no wonder why The Lion King is one of the studio’s most acclaimed and beloved releases of all time. Breathtaking, brimming with Disney magic and not soon to be forgotten, there’s only one king of animation and it’s name is The Lion King.

Do you love The Lion King? What’s your favourite Disney movie?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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