Arguably the most popular animated feature of the 20th century, Disneys 1994 classic The Lion King is a heartwarming story about lions, hyenas, and warthogs in the African savannah. Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, the film follows Simba the young lion cub as he grows and encounters more than his fair share of obstacles along the way. A star studded cast including the award-winning voice talents of James Earl Jones, Whoopie Goldberg, and Matthew Broderick brings a distinguishable flair to each individual character and the story as a whole. The subject matter within this film is varied, and attempts to create a balance between lighter moods, utilizing cheerful music and humorous characters, and much darker themes such as death, betrayal, and lust. With a budget of $45 million and total box office sales hitting a record breaking $968 million, Disneys The Lion King offers a surprisingly sophisticated coming of age tale which addresses challenging adult-oriented topics while still being mild enough of a film for its younger audience.
Drawing much of its plot from Shakespeares Hamlet, The Lion King centers its story on the young prince Simba, his father Mufasa, and his evil Uncle Scar. With envy in his heart and a pack of howling hyenas at his side, Scar plots to kill King Mufasa and Simba who is the next in line for the throne, in order to become King himself. Scar succeeds in the murder of Mufasa by pushing him from a cliff into a valley of stampeding wildebeests, however Simba escapes from his Uncles clutches and flees from the kingdom in fear. Wandering around, lost and hopeless, he meets Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog, who take him in and care for him throughout his adolescence. The three live happily together, lounging around day after day with no worries to speak of. However, many years later, the now adult Simba is reunited with an old friend, who brings unfortunate news from his former kingdom. For following the death of King Mufasa, in Simbas absence, Scar has taken over the pride lands and destroyed them, forcing the remaining lions into starvation. It is at this point that Simba must choose whether to remain in the jungle with his best friends Timon and Pumba, or to go back to his home and confront Scar and take his rightful place as king. The plot, although interesting enough on its own, is accentuated by a beautiful score and about a dozen sing-along songs, including the famed Circle of Life number which opens the film. The songs and score incorporate Zulu lyrics and tribal instruments into many of the songs, which transports the viewers into the heart of the African desert. In addition to the unique music, the actors that lend their voices to each character offer such a convincing performance that the story becomes real to its audience. Most notably, perhaps, is Jeremy Irons, the raspy voice behind evil uncle Scar, whose tone in both speech and song is chilling enough to give you goosebumps. Contrariwise, Nathan Lane, who speaks as the humorous and sarcastic Timon, lightens the darker themes within the film by offering much needed comedic relief. In addition to Lane and Irons, dozens of other notable actors in the film bring an immense sense of authenticity to the story, which is one of the reasons for The Lion Kings great success. However, music and voice talents aside, the real beauty of the film is found in the way that it addresses adult themes while expertly counterbalancing these themes with lighter situations which appeal to young children. An example of one of these somber and dark occurrences within the film is Mufasas death. Although it is not graphic or gory, the scene is intense on an emotional level as we watch in horror as Simba interacts with his fathers lifeless body and eventually breaks down into tears. It is a harrowing scene that exposes its young audience to the sad reality of death, a scene that may even be too upsetting for very young children. However, the despair is short-lived, and in the scene following his fathers death, we see Simba happy, dancing and singing Hakuna Matata with Timon and Pumba. Although the film includes darker themes, it expertly counterbalances any negativity with jubilation, bringing its viewers on a roller coaster of emotions which aids in keeping them engrossed in the story. Due mainly to its unique score, superb voice talents, and variance of themes, The Lion King proves itself to be one of the greatest animated features of all time.
Walt Disneys animated feature The Lion King is truly a staple in any DVD collection. Children and adults alike enjoy this complex tale of Simba which chronicles his life from his birth to the day he becomes the new King. Rated an 8.5 out of 10 on IMDB, its a film that has been praised for its ingenuity and style since its debut over 20 years ago. Movie critics around the globe have offered endless praise for this film, resulting in 2 sequels, a Broadway musical, and more recently a spinoff television show which airs on the Disney Channel. One of the most popular films of the 1990s, The Lion King owes its success to its voice talents, score, and varied themes, each of which ensures that this film will still be relevant for years to come.
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