A few months ago I took part in a blogathon/questionnaire type thing in which one of the questions was ‘Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen?’ Among my answers were the likes of Citizen Cane, Casablanca and North by Northwest (which I’ve since seen) but by far the biggest response to this question came from people who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen The Lion King. So when a friend at work (who was equally shocked) offered to lend me a shiny Blu-Ray copy I had to take it and give it a go.
Mixing a coming of age story, Hamlet, Bambi, parts of Genesis (the ridiculous stories, not band) and anthropomorphic animals, The Lion King is about a young Lion called Simba who was set to ascend the throne after the death of his father but was halted by his evil Uncle Scar. Wandering for years in the wilderness he learns about the world with the help of a Warthog named Pumbaa and a Meerkat called Timon before rising to the challenge of deposing his wicked Uncle.
I’m probably going to upset a lot of people with my next sentence but I have to be honest. I didn’t like The Lion King very much. It’s definitely not a bad film but if you bear with me and save your scorn for the end, I’ll explain why I wasn’t keen. Firstly although I’d never seen the film, it is so ingrained in popular culture that I knew half the songs and most of the characters if not by name then by trait and even without knowing the film the story is laid out early on and in large bold font. As such, nothing surprised me as I either knew or could work out what was coming. Sometimes this isn’t a problem as films can be as much about the journey as the destination but for me with this film the journey was a little bit like the drive home at rush hour; slow, dull and annoying.
I got a call from my girlfriend just as I finished the film and she asked me if I cried. Well I didn’t cry. I’m twenty-six years old. There are some films that make me want to cry but I didn’t even come close with this one. Perhaps if I was at the age of the target audience or had seen the film when I was a child then I’d be able to see the film through rose tinted glasses but it wasn’t new and certainly wasn’t upsetting. The death scene early on could have been made much more poignant but it felt a little rushed due to the nature of the scene’s ending. Aside from not being sad I actually found the second half of the film deeply annoying with the introduction of Timon and Pumbaa who I believe actually got a spin off sequel.
I think I’m probably coming off as too negative here and as I said this isn’t a bad film. For a start I really liked the traditional hand drawn animation which reminded me of some of my favourite Disney cartoons from the 1940s, 50s and 60s such as Fantasia, Dumbo and The Sword in the Stone. It was made at a time where the emphasis was on style and imagination rather than trying to make things look ultra realistic. I loved how the water lacked realism, being obviously hand drawn and also liked how you could tell what parts of the background were soon to be moving due to the obvious difference in colour and design. This in particular reminded me of the WB and Disney cartoons I used to watch with my Dad when I was very young. The animation is perhaps most similar to Pocahontas which was a favourite in my family during the mid-90s and perhaps why The Lion King never got a look in.
The voice cast is very good and I had fun trying to recognise the voices. It took me a while to realise that Rowan Atkinson was the bird and I was racking my brain for ages trying to place Mufasa’s voice. I knew there was some sort of Sci-Fi connection and was convinced it was someone Star Trek related until I had an epiphany and realised it was Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones. The whole cast including the likes of Matthew Broderick, Whoopie Goldberg, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella are fine but the stand out is Jeremy Irons who plays the archetypal Disney villain to perfection. His character design is also spot on for classic Disney baddie. One thing that really bugged me though was that yet again the bad guy was English. I’ve just re-watched Jurassic Park II where this was also the case. What was it with the 90s and English villains? I wouldn’t mind so much but the rest of Scar’s family is American so there’s no logical reason except that we sound evil to American children.
While the pun rich script is sometimes fun and it aids the somewhat predictable plot, I wasn’t a huge fan of the songs. They’ve usually been my least favourite part of a Disney Animation but I found a lot of them here grating. Perhaps it’s because they were all so familiar to me or maybe they’re just bad, I couldn’t say. I won’t be re-watching with the sing-a-long anyway. Even so I have ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ by The Tokens lodged in my brain like nail in a slowly deflating tyre.
I realise that I’m probably a marked man after this review but I didn’t think The Lion King was half as good as I’d been told it was. The circle of life stuff was interesting as a concept and it’s the sort of film which I’d be more than happy to sit my children in front of while I wanted 90 minutes of rest from their crying and pooping but it isn’t a film I’ll want to watch again myself. It is well animated and features some strong traditional Disney characters but I wasn’t impressed with the story overall and found the whole thing a bit boring. Sorry Richard.