#373) The Lion King (1994)
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton. Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice.
Class of 2016
The Plot: Lion cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is born to Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the king of Pride Rock in the African savannah. Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) is jealous of losing his place in the succession, and plots to kill Simba and Mufasa. When Mufasa dies in a wildebeest stampede, Simba runs away and is taken in by meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa (Nathan Lane & Ernie Sabella). Simba grows up (now Matthew Broderick), and encounters childhood friend Nala (Moira Kelly), who presumes he was dead. Learning that Scar has taken over Pride Rock, Simba must take responsibility and reclaim his place in the ciiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiife! And it mooooooves us aaaaaaallllllll!
Why It Matters: Man, someone really likes “The Lion King” over at the Library of Congress. According to their write-up, “The Lion King” is nothing less than “a triumph” with “innovative animation”, “excellent voice-actors”, “catchy, now classic songs”, and “funny, innovative, suspenseful” storytelling.
But Does It Really?: While I’m not as superlative-happy as the NFR, I can whole-heartedly endorse “The Lion King” as a classic. In a quarter of a century “The Lion King” has became more than just another movie; it is a cultural phenomenon. Part of that is Disney’s perpetual synergy machine, but a lot of it is a touching, entertaining, timeless coming-of-age story aided by top-notch animation and catchy songs. Before I hypocritically throw out any more superlatives, I’ll give “The Lion King” my “untouchable” designation for NFR inclusion.
Everybody Gets One: Cast members Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Cheech Marin, Rowan Atkinson, Robert Guillaume, and songwriters Tim Rice and Elton John.
Wow, That’s Dated: The only giveaway is Elton John’s very ‘90s rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” during the end credits.
Seriously, Oscars?: The biggest hit of 1994, “The Lion King” received four Oscar nominations in two categories. Hans Zimmer won for the film’s score, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” took home Best Song over “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata”. Despite a win at the Golden Globes, “The Lion King” wasn’t able to break into the Oscar’s Best Picture category.
- “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba/Sithi uhm ingonyama” “Ingonyama nengw enamabala” There, that’s the Zulu lyrics at the start of “Circle of Life”. Now you know what you’ve been singing your whole life.
- “Circle of Life” got me crying almost instantly. I found myself moved by the grandeur and scope of the sequence. I’m gonna be a wreck in about a half hour.
- So let me get this straight: Jonathan Taylor Thomas – who will grow up to be Matthew Broderick – is the son of James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair, and the nephew of Jeremy Irons. And Jones and Irons are brothers? Only in animation!
- This is the rare film with an all-animal cast that is fully aware of its food chain. But not even the rich tone of James Earl Jones can justify that our protagonists hunt and eat every other species in this movie.
- You know what kids love? A “Reversal of Fortune” reference.
- Great, now I have “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” stuck in my head. Great, now I have “River of Dreams” stuck in my head.
- I’m amazed that this is the only NFR entry for Oscar winners Jeremy Irons and Whoopi Goldberg. And Cheech Marin too! Where’s “Up in Smoke”?
- Jeremy Irons sings! Well, until he blows out his vocal chords and is replaced by Jim Cummings. Speaking of “Be Prepared”, you know what else kids love? “Triumph of the Will” allusions.
- Aaaaaand I’m crying again. Welcome to my generation’s “Bambi”.
- “Hakuna Matata” gets my vote for best song in the movie. It brightens up a movie that was getting dangerously dark. How do they do it? Fart jokes a-plenty!
- Fun Fact: Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella were both appearing on Broadway in “Guys & Dolls” while recording “The Lion King”.
- When Simba lies down on the cliff, the dust floating in the wind spells “SFX”, a shoutout to the film’s special effects team. Nothing else.
- I suspect most of Robert Guillaume’s recording sessions were simply grunts and shouting. But at least this movie gave him something other than “Benson” for his obituary.
- “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is another inner monologue song! Speaking of, if someone tells you they are attracted to Nala in this scene, don’t invite them into your home.
- So Rafiki is Yoda without his meds? Makes sense: both characters mentored Darth Vader.
- I know most lion roars sound the same, but I’m convinced I heard the MGM Leo roar a few times during the climactic fight between Simba and Scar.
- “The Lion King” is dedicated to Frank Wells, the president of the Walt Disney Company who, along with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, was responsible for the Disney renaissance of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.
- While “The Lion King” was the most successful animated film at the time, it was also the apex of the Disney Renaissance. The aforementioned passing of Frank Wells, as well as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s subsequent departure to form DreamWorks, led to Michael Eisner taking more control over Disney’s animation. While such later Disney fare as “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Mulan” have their fans, “The Lion King” was their last true classic of the era.
- This is one of those movies that’s iconic from beginning to end. Everyone quotes “The Lion King”, everyone knows the songs by heart, and every parent has haphazardly hoisted their newborn child above their heads with “Circle of Life” playing in the background.
- Disney knows a cash cow when they see one, and “The Lion King” has flourished in every possible media outlet. Immediate follow-ups included a direct-to-video sequel, a direct-to-video prequel, and a Saturday morning cartoon series with Timon & Pumbaa.
- The only offshoot to rival the success of the film, Disney Theatricals and Julie Taymor successfully translated “The Lion King” into a Broadway musical. Premiering in late 1997, the stage version is still going strong after 9000 performances!
- I’ll be honest: I’m not excited about this “live-action” remake. I think I’ll sit out the theatrical run and wait for it to end up on Disney+.