The Lion King
1994, G, 89 min. Directed by Roger Allers, Rob Minkhoff. Voices by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Robert Guillaume.
REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., June 24, 1994
Something old, something new, lots that's borrowed, more that's true. Disney's 32nd animated feature is a hodgepodge of myth, comedy, and recycled parts of previous cartoon successes, but despite its seeming more obviously cobbled together than the Mouse Factory's other films, The Lion King succeeds in delivering an affecting tale of growing up and assuming the mantle of responsibility. The film's “something old” is its story, the ancient but still potent tale of feuding brothers, one of whom murders the other, and the victim's son who avenges his father. Though the writers fail to credit Mr. Shakespeare, they draw more than a little inspiration from Hamlet, down to a scene of the murdered king's ghost gravely urging his son, “Remember!” It's a direct lift, but hey, it still works and works well. The well-worn drama keeps this tale compelling, and it's neatly complemented by “something new,” the milieu of Africa. Disney has set stories in atmospheric locales before but has never luxuriated in them as it does here. From the opening shot of a ruby sunrise and the exultant call of an African singer, we know we're someplace we haven't been before. Hans Zimmer bathes his score in Africa's sounds and rhythms, and the animators revel in recreating its savannahs and jungles. At first, it appears that the artists tried to create a new look for the cartoon -- sleeker, bolder -- but the longer you look, the more it resembles recycled Fifties stylization. It's part of the “lots that's borrowed” that gets a tad disturbing. Bits, characters, whole songs seem to be swiped from other Disney cartoons, such as the comical meerkat Timon, an amalgam of the wisecracking Genie of Aladdin and the freewheeling Baloo of The Jungle Book. His song “Hakuna Marata” is a thinly reworked “Bare Necessities.” And the Busby Berkeley choreography… sure it was fun in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but do we need it in every cartoon? It's like Disney feels it has to redo bits from its hits or folks won't come see this one. Give me a break. Of course, it isn't as if these things will bother the young audience for whom The Lion King is intended. And ultimately, it didn't keep me from enjoying the film. Allers and Minkhoff's direction is solid, with impressive visuals -- including a stunning wildebeest stampede -- the score sings (though the Elton John/Tim Rice songs sounded rather generic on first listen), and the characters all are “true.” They're cunningly acted by a distinguished cast, with exceptional work from the comic foils -- Nathan Lane's meerkat is a scrappy little woise-guy and Rowan Atkinson's Zazu a bright blowhard -- and Irons, who, reliably, is a chilling villain. In the end, it's a thumping good adventure in a far-away land, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.