Lion King, The (1994)

5 stars

One of the greatest of all animated films, “The Lion King” retains its power to compel, and packs an emotional wallop so strong it brings both sad and happy tears to one’s eyes.

Dir. Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
1994 | USA | Animation/Adventure/Drama | 88 mins | 1.66:1 | English
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones
Plot: A lion cub crown prince is tricked by a treacherous uncle into thinking he caused his father’s death and flees into exile in despair.
Awards: Won 2 Oscars – Best Original Score & Best Original Song. Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Original Song (x2)
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Family
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Fast/Tight
Audience Type: Mainstream


Review #703

(Reviewed on DVD – first published 6 Feb 2012)

Spoilers: Yes

It really is a scary thought. The Lion King, a modern Disney classic, is almost two decades old. How we have aged all these years, while the tale of a young lion cub named Simba in his journey to reclaim his place as King of Pride Rock remains ageless.

It’s a very unflattering contrast, but one we take with a pinch of salt as it goes to show how great The Lion King is. One of the best animated features to grace the silver screen, this Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff-directed film is a must-see for everyone, regardless of their year of birth.

It would be utterly foolish to dismiss this great film as “something only kids watch in their spare time”. It is a simple but classic story: Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Matthew Broderick) has to overcome the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and challenge his evil uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) whose reign at Pride Rock has caused hunger and suffering.

The film is clearly defined by its three-act structure: The glorious birth, the guilt-ridden fall, and the redemptive rise of a future king. All these are told vividly and engagingly in a briskly-paced 89 minutes.

“Hey, Timon, ever wonder what those sparkly dots are up there?”

The Lion King features great voice performances, with special mention to Irons who creates a truly vile villain in Scar, whose character is as haunting a memory for kids as it is the sight of Mufasa’s soulless body in the aftermath of the stampede sequence.

The five original songs in this Disney classic are integrated well into the film, with “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” being the most memorable. In the prologue, which is as beautifully conceived as any other opening sequence in animation, we hear “Circle of Life”, and indeed the film does aurally turn full circle as the soundtrack builds up and ends with the rousing chorus from the same song.

Yes, I’d better mention the original score, composed by the brilliant Hans Zimmer, who apparently won his only Oscar to date with his stunning work here. The themes evoke the epic nature of the story, while at the same time responsible for building up the relationship between Simba and Mufasa, and underscoring the guilt and sadness after the former loses the latter.

The film does not lose its power to compel no matter how many times one revisits it. In fact, you can even “watch” the film with your eyes closed, and the impact remains. The Lion King is an emotional journey unmatched, a symbiotic melding of image and sound. It is without a doubt one of the great films of the 1990s.

Grade: A+




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