The 1994 installment in a series of animated musical blockbusters from Disney, THE LION KING boasts animation as spectacular as any the studio has ever produced, and earned an extraordinary $300 million-plus at the box office. However, this tale of a lion cub's coming of age in the
African veldt offers a less memorable song score than did the previous hits, and a hasty, unsatisfying dramatic resolution.
As son and heir of the Lion King Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones), young Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) expects to inherit dominion over the jungle kingdom called Prideland. But the machinations of Mufasa's jealous brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons), result in Simba's banishment. Near death from
exhaustion in the desert, Simba is rescued by Timon (Nathan Lane), a meerkat, and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), a warthog, who take him to a jungle paradise, where they sing the praises of "Hakuna Matata" (a carefree life). With their advice and assistance, Simba grows to maturity and prepares to
confront Scar and reclaim his throne.
An "original" story--reportedly devised by then-production head Jeffrey Katzenberg--THE LION KING obviously draws on several previous Disney hits. The real inspiration for the film's oddly anachronistic story line, however, seems to lie in Shakespeare's histories; in particular, the extended
meditation on the nature and responsibilities of kingship found in Henry V and the two parts of Henry IV. Like many recent Hollywood epics of fatherhood (FIELD OF DREAMS, LEGENDS OF THE FALL), THE LION KING makes the most sense as an attempted redemption of patriarchy--a call upon contemporary
males to resume their "natural" role as all-wise, all-powerful guarantors of the social order.
The film has some of Disney's most spectacular animation yet--particularly in the wildebeest stampede--and strong vocal performances, especially by skilled Broadway comedian Nathan Lane. However, it suffers from a curiously undeveloped story line: the climactic confrontation with Scar has few
surprises and is disposed of rather quickly in the final minutes of the film. The events leading up to it, however, are well-told, exciting, and suspenseful, set against a series of exquisitely detailed background tapestries.
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