Arguably one of the most influential Disney animated films of all time released at the tail-end of the most creatively successful period for the production house is The Lion King. Since its original release in 1994 it has been adapted to a successful stage musical, released numerous times in cinemas and received an almost record-breaking run on DVD and Blu-ray.
Like many of Disney’s animated classics, The Lion King follows a standard ˜heroes journey’ with Simba (Matthew Broderick) forced into a position to lose everything he holds dear. After some advice from his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) he is forced to become the man (or lion) that he needs to be. Because this is Disney he is accompanied at all times by a host of funny supporting characters like eccentric Rafiki, the loyal if stuffy Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) or the charismatic duo Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella). Each of these feels like a classic Disney character in the making and each brings their own elements of humour and pathos to proceedings.
The music, as high a standard as any animated film from the era is provided by Elton John and Tim Rice Zimmer, whose standout song The Circle of Life dominates proceedings providing an immediate classic film moment. Panning shots of this Disneyfied Africa are sumptuously animated and suitably epic in scope and delivery. Add to this the well-known narrative dressed in African finery and peppered with nuanced beauty and hilarious comedy and The Lion King really rises above even Disney’s spectacular back catalogue.
The cast are excellent, but it’s in the moments of raw emotional potency that The Lion King transcends other films. Confronting their young target audience with the themes of loss both psychological and actual, Disney manage to match Bambi‘s tragedy with one equally as heart-breaking, only this time they go a step further and use this moment to establish the villain of the narrative and in Jeremy Irons the imposing Scar is given an even more imposing threat than his scary visage initially creates. Alongside this King of villainy are his 3 hysterical lackeys, the Hyiennas (including the voice of Whoopi Goldberg), who may be stooge-like but have a scary edge to them that makes them every bit as threatening to a young Simba as anything else.
All of these elements combine to create one of the most impressive feeling films Disney has ever produced. It’s one of those rare occasions where every element combines to create something very, very special. It would perhaps be a little unfair to deem it ˜perfect,’ but it’s certainly as close to a perfect Disney film as it’s possible to get.