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Wayback Wednesday – “The Lion King”

Posted: March 3, 2010 at 11:59 pm   /   by   /   comments (1)

Wayback might be a bit of a misnomer in this case. I mean only to refer to films that I loved when I was child, which to be honest wasn’t all that long ago. I watch certain films these days, and wonder how kids could like them. Then I look back on my past, and I remember some pretty awful films that I loved, and will always love due to nostalgia. So, in these Wayback Wednesday’s I will be reviewing films I loved as a child, and I will see how they hold up these days. These won’t be like our normal reviews, since most of these films I loved for one reason or another, no matter how bad they are when I watch them again as an adult.

I’m convinced that there is no greater hand drawn animation film than 1994’s The Lion King. When I was younger I might have related a bit more to 1992’s Aladdin, with its over the top genie performed by Robin Williams. Although, when I come back and watch The Lion King, I realize just how perfect the film was. Everything from the animation, to the voice performances, and most of all the music make this a film that I’m sure I’ll show to my kids one day.

The Lion King came out at the height of the Disney Renaissance, and it was probably the climax of the period in the 90s where Disney could do no wrong. I remember reading once, that Pocahontas was being worked on at the same time as The Lion King, and most animators wanted to be Pocahontas as they felt it was the more prestigious project, and more likely to win acclaim.  I doubt anyone looking back would be able to agree with their lack of foresight. Pocahontas is a solid animated film, and it’s soundtrack still went triple platinum. The Lion King however still remains the highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time, coming in at a whopping $783 million worldwide. Its $328 million domestic gross would translate into an adjusted $588 million dollar gross in 2010. That places it above recent blockbusters such as Transformers 2 and The Dark Knight.

The Lion King tells the story similar to that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (Read our article about Classic Re imagining) A young lion prince, Simba, is born to a powerful King, Mufasa, who rules over the land of Pride Rock. The regal leader oversees everything the light touches, and explains to his son the ways of life, and what it will be like when he is king. Unfortunately, there is trouble brewing in the scenes behind him. His brother, Scar, secretly plots Mufasa’s death with “stupid poachers”, the hyenas. When Scar frames Simba for the murder of his own father, he goes on the run only to be taken into the care of Timon and Pumba, an unlikely pairing of meerkat and wild boar. The two teach him the meaning of “hakuna matata”, but Simba must find his own destiny and rise to his place as the true king of Pride Rock, before Scar destroys it.

All in all the story is much darker than I remember it. I can remember at the tender age of ten years old, sitting enthralled in the theater. I didn’t think the themes of murder were too intense. It doesn’t seem like it has been that long, but everyone seems so uptight to showing children anything with violence, and I’m unsure if filmmakers and animators could make a film like this again.  Not to say that The Lion King wasn’t without it’s detractors. One quick look at Wikipedia tells you that people sued Disney for defamation of character, on behalf of their portrayal of hyenas! No, I’m not kidding, someone thought it must have set back human and hyena relations twenty years. People are so willing to get riled up about anything, even though it might be a little bit of harmless entertainment. The violence in this film actually acts as a morality tale, and luckily most people realize. The people who don’t are what worry me.

Real life Timon and Pumba

This was probably my last true Disney experience in the theater. When Pocahontas came out a year later I found myself too old, and the film was marketed a little to heavily towards girls, so I skipped it. I only recently watched the film, because even back when it was on VHS I thought it would somehow contaminate my budding masculinity.  So, The Lion King made me a bit sad. I almost viewed it as a loss of my innocence. It wasn’t my favorite Disney film at the time, but I did love it. In fact I remember getting it on VHS and watching it on the family room floor in front of the old 25″ console TV.  It is sad to think that only a year later that I considered the Disney brand childish, and I moved on to new things like listening to harder rock (I think I might have been the only kid with both a Tool CD and an Ace of Base CD). How can you not look back on something like this and try to remember how it made you feel as a kid? That sorrowful bite of nostalgia that courses through you. Wouldn’t it feel great for your greatest worry to be about the fate of the animated Mufasa?

Viewing this film as an adult I caught more references that I might not have noticed before. I would have never caught on to the goose-stepping of the hyenas as the march before Scar on “Be Prepared”. I still remember the look of it being a bit eerie to me as a child, but I had no idea that it was modeled after Nazi propaganda.  I also noticed this time around that many of Rafiki’s sounds were taken right from kung-fu films. All I thought when I was younger was that he was a cool monkey who knew “karate”.

There is no doubt that the music that Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice, and Elton John created for the film is among the best in the Disney collection. Every single song resonates with a certain zest every time I hear it. “Can You The Love Tonight” won the Oscar for best Original Song that year, and not to mention the fact that “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” were both nominated as well. The film also won Best Original Score, that night as well. So, it is with no surprise that the film also spawned one of the greatest Broadway shows of all time where it is the ninth longest running show of all time.

I still have to mention some of the great voice performances from actors like Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, and James Earl Jones. This was one of the first Disney animated films that had an all-star cast. The tradition started with Robin Williams in Aladdin, but continued and broke the mold even more with The Lion King.

I can’t think that there is another traditionally animated film that I love more these days than The Lion King. Everything in it is done superbly. When it first came out, it came out to almost unanimous praise, but many felt it wasn’t Disney’s best. Over time is has become one of Disney’s most beloved products. I’m about ready for Disney to release it from the vault again, this time for a Blu-Ray release.

Grade as a Kid: A-
Grade as an Adult: A+

The Lion King Trivia

  • The first Disney cartoon to be dubbed into Zulu for its African release.
  • The Disney animators went to Africa to study animal movement up close.
  • There have been rumors that when Simba collapses on the cliff after talking with Timon and Pumbaa about stars, the dust that flies off the cliff forms the letters SEX. In fact it forms the letters SFX, the abbreviation of the special-effects team that worked on that portion of the film.
  • The original opening to the film was supposed to have been a quiet dialogue-heavy sequence. When composer Hans Zimmer prepared his interpretation of Circle of Life, he made an extended version so he would have some flexibility as to what to cut for the film. The animators were so impressed with the work that they decided to change the beginning into the currently seen sequence so they could use the entire work that Zimmer prepared.
  • Disney’s 32nd animated feature.
  • Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella were originally cast as the hyenas Banzai and Shenzi (played by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin in the film). The crew loved their performance and thought the duo would be even better as Timon and Pumbaa.
  • Pumbaa the Warthog was the first character in Disney films to exhibit flatulence.
  • Unlike the other lions, Scar’s claws are always displayed throughout the movie.
  • The song that Rafiki sings, ‘Asante sana Squash banana, Wewe nugu mimi hapana’ is Swahili for “Thank you very much, Squash banana, You’re a baboon and I’m not.” Simba asks, “What does that mean?” and Rafiki says, “It means you’re a baboon and I’m not.” This is a popular children’s song similar to “Cinderella, dressed in yella” for example.
  • A few weeks before the film opened, Elton John was given a special screening. Noticing that the film’s love song had been left out, he lobbied to put the song back in. Later, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” won him an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • The lyric for the opening chant of “The Circle of Life” is: “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba / Sithi uhm ingonyama / Nants ingonyama bagithi baba / Sithi uhhmm ingonyama / Ingonyama Siyo Nqoba / Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw enamabala”. This translates as: “Here comes a lion, Father / Oh yes, it’s a lion / Here comes a lion, Father / Oh yes, it’s a lion / A lion We’re going to conquer / A lion A lion and a leopard come to this open place”.
  • The animators were so impressed with Jeremy Irons‘s performance that they worked Irons’ features into Scar’s face.
  • This animated movie was Gregory Peck‘s favorite animated film, he also ranked it in his top five all time favorite movies.
  • Nearly twenty minutes of the film were animated at the Disney-MGM Studios. Ultimately, more than 600 artists, animators and technicians contributed to The Lion King over its lengthy production schedule. More than one million drawings were created for the film, including 1,197 hand-painted backgrounds and 119,058 individually colored frames of film.
  • The Broadway production of “The Lion King” opened at the New Amsterdam Theater on October 15, 1997, has run for 4755 performances and is currently the ninth longest-running show on Broadway (as of April 2009). “The Lion King” won the 1998 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Musical and received nominations for Best Score and Best Book.

The Real Life Lion King - Mufasa and Simba