Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, Disney’s 1994 film is a coming of age story that manages to balance the hardships of the wild, with the brutality of life experience. The Lion King is Disney’s first film not to be based on a preexisting story (although it is heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet). After a troubled production, The Lion King debuted as an instant classic that stands its own among the likes of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
It tells the story of a young lion cub, Simba (voiced by a young Johnathan Taylor Thomas, and later by Matthew Broderick), who wants nothing more than to be king. However, his uncle, Scar (voiced masterfully by Jeremy Irons), also longs for the throne, and orchestrates an evil plan to murder both Simba and his father, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones).
Jeremy Irons is perfectly cast as Scar, who is arguably Disney’s greatest villain of all time. Scar is sly and manipulative, who leads an army of hyenas that parallel Hitler and his storm troopers. Scar’s cunning and deceit manages to not only bring the death of the king, but convinces Simba that he is responsible.
This deceit prompts Simba to run from home and live not as a king, but a jungle bum who has no worries. Joining Simba in his exile are comic reliefs Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), a meerkat and warthog duo who raise Simba into adulthood. Along his journey, Simba must learn that one cannot simply run from his past, but that he must learn from it and take his rightful place as king.
In a time that hand-drawn animation is slowly disappearing, The Lion King serves a wonderful reminder that you don’t have to be CG to look beautiful. Even though the characters are animals, they seamlessly use human expressions and gestures that never feel unauthentic. Gorgeous locations and backgrounds are drawn that spout vibrant colors that induces euphoric feelings.
One of the most powerful elements in the film is the music. Music composed by Hans Zimmer beautifully accents the night skies of the savannah while random, colorful explosions of songs written by Time Rice and Elton John will embed themselves in your head for a lifetime (and that’s a good thing). The songs are not just filler, but are able to enhance the plot with beautiful animation and unique sounds.
Perhaps the only drawback is that the hero is no where near as interesting as the villain. For all of their efforts, neither Johnathan Taylor Thomas or Matthew Broderick are able to match the charisma of Jeremy Irons. This isn’t to say that their performances are inadequate, but it’s easy to find oneself rooting for Scar over the young prince Simba.
The Lion King is not standard animated fair, it’s much deeper than that. It’s a film about learning from mistakes and taking responsibility. Never before has a talking animal film featured as much depth and as many opportunities to use as a learning experience in preparation for life’s hardships. The Lion King is the rare animated feature that will not only entertain, but teach both young and old that with perseverance, we can all find our way in “The Circle of Life.”