Updated: Apr 24, 2022
Greetings everybody, I am the Media Man and I'm here with my first review for this blog!
It feels appropriate that I start off with this one for this isn't just any movie I'm starting off with. This here is my all-time favourite movie. Why not start off on the highest note a blog could start with? And I know I'm not the only one who loves this film. This film was a big pop culture phenomenon back in the 90's and is still widely beloved to this day. That film is Disney's 1994 animated masterpiece...The Lion King.
Everyone knows this movie and everyone loves it from its great story to its memorable characters to its gorgeous animation full of iconic imagery and the fun songs that we're all singing to this day. But what is it about The Lion King that makes it so great? Is it truly the king of animation that we all view it as? Or should it be thrown to the hyenas? Let's find out. I'm the Media Man and this is my review on Disney's The Lion King...
As this is my first blog post, I feel it necessary to break down how my blog posts work. Each review will contain sections devoted to the necessary parts of the media I'm reviewing. The amount of sections and what each section is will vary depending on the review of course. This'll make my reviews easy for me to break down my thoughts as neatly and as organized as I can and I hope it makes it easy for all of you to read and digest. Without further ado, let's get started:
Section 1: The Story
I don't feel it necessary to explain the story of this movie since, let's face it, you ALL know it by now. Everyone knows the story of Simba and how he's next in line to be King of the Pride Lands but his claim to the throne is threatened by the scheming and conniving Scar, his wicked uncle who wants nothing more than to seize power for himself.
As many people point out, this film is essentially "Hamlet with lions" in terms of plot, and yet it manages to provide us with a story that is so memorable that we can recite it in our sleep. The story is not only very well paced with no moments that feel too long or too short, but it's also the kind of story that plays so well with your emotions and makes it engaging for people of all ages. This is a movie that will make you laugh, cry, feel happy, feel scared and feel triumphant at all the right moments and it hits the emotional moments so beautifully. People to this day still cry at Mufasa's death for example...
Another thing that the story excels in is scope. Even if the plot may seem mostly simple and not that original, it makes this film seem HUGE and epic with how all the scenes play out. We start off with this giant musical number that shows off the size and scope of the Pride Lands with all the animals coming to see the newborn prince along with a grand musical number that really hypes the viewer up for the movie they're watching. This is a movie that knows how to draw its audiences in and make them feel like they're in for something big. Combine all this with all sorts of iconic imagery, flashy musical numbers and intense action scenes and you have yourself a movie that makes this simple talking animals cartoon feel like the biggest movie event you've ever seen.
The story is also notable for taking quite a few risks that few Disney movies before and after are willing to take. This for example is one of the few cases where a Disney villain commits an on-screen murder. Back when this movie came out, that was seriously unexpected and throws the entire audience for a loop as the story takes this surprisingly sombre turn that changes the rest of the movie and where it goes from there. And what also made this movie surprisingly adult for an animated movie of its time was that not only did Scar kill Mufasa, but the death stuck. There was no fake out, no contrived moment that lets Mufasa come back alive, nothing. He stayed dead, which in turn made this movie more mature than what we expect from Disney. I know for me that The Lion King was my introduction to the concept of death as this was the first time I ever really witnessed anything like that in film or TV at the time. It still gets me to this day too...
If there are any criticisms I have with the story, it's that there's a few nagging plot holes that can't be ignored.
First of all, Scar doesn't kill Simba when he has the chance after the wildebeest stampede is over. Of course the movie couldn't ever kill him off but I'm just saying, in-universe, what reason did Scar possibly have for not just biting him on the head and killing him right there? Simba's dead, problem solved, Scar wins and the Pride Lands are his! They could've at least given us a reason for why he didn't other than because Simba has Plot Armour.
Also, I really didn't feel like the argument with Simba and Nala was that necessary. It's one of those forced "Third Act Break Up" moments that a lot of movies use. It's pretty tiresome when movies do this and it didn't really amount to anything as the argument's pretty much forgotten about.
But the main problem for me is the climax. It's disappointingly brief. I can even sum it up like so: Scar distracts Simba by throwing burning debris in his face, then he pounces on Simba, they have a slow-motion slap fight for a few seconds, then Scar pounces on Simba and he throws Scar off the cliff. For a movie like this, it would've benefitted from a more intense battle between Simba and Scar to live up to the build-up throughout the movie. Disney can and has done better climaxes both before and after this movie so it's a shame they didn't live up with this one.
But these feel more like nit-picks honestly. The story is so good that I have to resort to nit-picking just to find anything wrong with it! The movie has one of those stories that feels timeless and always manages to hit all the right notes. It's a story one can catch a hundred times and still enjoy it again and again...
Section 2: The characters
A good story is made greater by the characters telling said story and this movie is no exception. This is a movie in where the cast is perfectly handled from top to bottom.
Simba, our main lead, is the character I hail as the quintessential example of a perfect character arc. He starts off as a naïve, wide-eyed, playful young cub who is relatable in how he sees his future role as something that sounds awesome and after tragic events that change his life forever, he comes to learn about the responsibilities of life and how being king is more than he expected. He's written as a very believable kid in how he has a more childish idea on being king and can be full of himself. And then when Mufasa dies, the audience grows to sympathize with him as he falls into depression following said death. I bet anyone who's lost a parent or loving relative can sympathize with Simba at that point. And then after spending a carefree life with Timon and Pumbaa, he comes to enjoy a life free of responsibilities but once fate catches up to him again, he eventually makes the right decision to go back and take his place as the true king. It's a sound lesson in the importance of responsibility and brings Simba's character full circle by the end. Truly one of Disney's finest protagonists.
The supporting cast all play solid roles in Simba's story too. We have Nala, his best friend from childhood who later becomes his love interest. Yeah, that might feel a bit rushed for some viewers but personally, I liked it. I thought they were cute together and thought it made sense for them to fall in love.
There's Timon and Pumbaa who are great comic reliefs and are the ones who bring Simba out of his depressed state by bringing him in and giving him a new direction in life. Once they learn of Simba's true origins, they still stick by him and help out during the climax, thus showing they're not just plucky comic reliefs. It also helps they have some of the funniest scenes in the movie, ESPECIALLY the hula dance. It still cracks me up every time!
We have Mufasa, the wise and loving father of Simba who knows when to be firm. The movie does such a good job on establishing him as a likeable character and a wonderful father to Simba that we all just feel like crying for him when he ends up dead. There's a reason his death was the most memorable moment in the movie for us...
We also have Zazu, the king's major-domo and another comic relief for the movie. He's mostly a bit of a butt-monkey and he becomes irrelevant in the second half of the movie, which is a pity because I can think of a moment he could've played in the climax. Say, after he's freed from his prison, he helps Simba fight against Scar by flying in his face or distracting him so Simba can get the drop on him. That at least would've given him a way to gain justice for how he was treated and given him a moment to be badass. Ah well, I still appreciate what we got with him.
While we're still talking about comic reliefs, we also have Rafiki. He's by far one of the best characters in the movie despite his limited screen time. He's not only hilarious but he's also wise and a bit of a mischievous mentor who ends up providing Simba with the motivation he heavily needed in the end. And he also proves to be surprisingly badass too.
And of course, we have our main villain, Scar. He often ranks highly among the Disney villains, and for good reason! He's dripping with charisma and oozing with so much evil charm that he's just irresistible whenever he's onscreen. He also proves to be an intelligent schemer, slyly manipulating Simba into whatever he needs him to do and even successfully managing to kill his own brother and take the throne for himself. Sadly, he does become a bit of a whiny little child in the third act but when you think about it, that makes sense. Scar has basically become a dark reflection of Simba in how Simba had a childish view on being king but grew to learn about the responsibilities of being king while Scar wanted to be king but didn't want the responsibility that came with claiming the title. If Simba hadn't undergone character development, he could well have ended up like Scar...
Scar also has his minions, the hyena trio consisting of Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. They're pretty bumbling but they prove to be surprisingly competent minions too for they help Scar carry out his plan to kill Mufasa. They're also pretty funny but can also be menacing when they have to be too, especially when they were chasing Simba and Nala or at the end when they turn on Scar.
All the characters are well-written and well-handled, as well as brought to life by fantastic voice-acting. Everyone is perfectly cast in the movie with Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Kid Simba, Matthew Broderick as Adult Simba, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Jeremy Irons as Scar, Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, Nathan Lane as Timon, Ernie Sabella as Pumbaa, Moira Kelly as Adult Nala, Robert Guillaume as Rafiki and the trio of Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings as the hyena trio. These are performances that we still love to this day and for good reason, they're all spot-on and match their characters so well!
The stand outs for me personally are James as Mufasa and Jeremy as Scar. James has that warm, fatherly tone to his voice that makes Mufasa pleasant to be around but he also manages to make him pretty intimidating when he's scolding Simba. He really sounds like a dad that's telling his son off at that point! As for Jeremy, he oozes evil with every line and it's brilliant! He can make Scar sound sly and sinister or threatening and ready to kill and he somehow makes a line as silly as "I AM TEN TIMES THE KING MUFASA WAS!" work. I still get the shivers every time he says "Long live the king" before he kills Mufasa...
All in all, this is one of those movies that has a rare example of a perfect cast of characters. They're well-written, well handled, memorable and brilliantly performed by their voice actors. Definitely one of Disney's finest casts for a movie.
Section 3: The Animation
Do I really need to waste everyone's time telling you that the animation is great? Well that's the point of this post, to review The Lion King so I'll tell you anyway: the animation is great!
The Disney Renaissance consistently gave us film after film after film that had some beautiful visuals and well-crafted animation and The Lion King is one of the shining examples of just how good the animation of these movies could be at the time. The visuals are a sight to behold thanks to some very fluid and smooth character animation, lush and vibrant colours and great use of cinematography to make some of the scenes feel gigantic and epic to watch.
One thing this movie really succeeds at is capturing the beauty and majesty of Africa. It's presented as this wildlife utopia with vast nature and not even a trace of mankind in sight with all sorts of animals living here from the crawling ants to the leaping antelope. Yes that was deliberate. =P
We also get a variety of different environments that the movies uses to its advantage from the beautiful plains of the Pride Lands to a steep and imposing gorge to the hellish elephant graveyard and the lush tropical jungle where Timon and Pumbaa live. All this shows that there's more to Africa than just plains and deserts to see and it all looks great to explore. I especially like how the environments can be used as part of the story, like how the gorge could symbolize the towering threat that looms above Simba before the stampede happens, or how the ravaged and dried up Pride Lands serve as a metaphorical depiction of Scar's reign: a king who only takes and takes until there's nothing left.
And then we get the action scenes. They always manage to feel intense and keep you on the edge of your seat with how the animation presents them. The best example is my personal favourite scene in the movie: the wildebeest stampede. That scene is just pulse-pounding from beginning to end with the slow build-up that leads into a truly chaotic scene where hundreds and hundreds of wildebeest are storming through the gorge with Simba caught up in the middle of it all. While the wildebeest are pretty obvious fake CGI, the sequence is nothing short of incredible to watch with how the animators really made the stampede feel huge and like it's this unstoppable force that nothing can stand up to.
And of course, we get the musical numbers. The animators really let it all out during these moments in where the character animation can get more playful and wild and the colours really pop. "Circle of Life" manages to feel like this grand opening sequence that sets up the movie and makes it feel like we're in for something special, "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" gets very lively and colourful which makes it fun to watch and "Be Prepared" makes a great use of the environment and the colours as Scar sings about how he's gonna kill Mufasa. The use of greens and reds especially look great throughout.
I also give the animators credit on the character animation. The characters all resemble their respective animal and are animated in a way that's mostly anatomically correct while allowing some creative liberties to make the characters more expressive. It's easy to tell how each character is feeling with how beautifully expressive every one is. The character animation is also very smooth with nobody going off-model at any point and also brings out their personality from the playful movements of Simba as a lion cub to Scar's more slinky and moody personality and the comedic antics of Timon, Pumbaa or Rafiki.
Just what can I say that hasn't been said already? The animation is amazing and an example of some of Disney's finest work. This is animation that is the shining example of how animation is a form of art and this is nothing short of amazing art on display.
Section 4: The Songs and Score
If there's ever a score that serves as an example of someone's finest work, this should be hailed as one of Hans Zimmer's. The man has had a very versatile career in life scoring movies such as The Dark Knight and this one and has won many awards for his work.
The Lion King is highly remembered for the songs and its score and it's easy to see why. The songs are all insanely catchy, memorable and easily quotable to the point we're STILL singing them to this day!
We have "Circle of Life" to open up which is accompanied by some African chanting that gives the song that bit of extra authenticity to spice up the music and lyrics. It's a great opening song that is about how big life is and how there's so much to see and so much to do. Accompanied by some amazing visuals, it's the perfect tune to set up the movie's themes and to open the feature up.
Next it's "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" in where Simba sings about how...well, the title says. I know people like to joke about him singing how he can't wait until his dad dies but I see it as Simba just buying into his own childish fantasies and hype about how awesome being king will be for him. It has an irresistibly bouncy rhythm that will never leave your head and some of the movie's most colourful visuals.
Then we have "Be Prepared", one of the most beloved villain songs in movie history. It's all about Scar singing about how the hyenas should, ahem, be prepared for the coup of the century. The lyrics just ooze that evil charm Scar has to him and just gets louder, more bombastic and threatening as we reach the climax of the song. I do have to wonder how he got down from that spire at the end though. (chuckles)
Then we have the most popular and most people's favourite song in the movie, "Hakuna Matata". The song is another one that is very catchy and fun with an easy-to-remember chorus and a fun beat that makes the song fun to sing along to. If you ever need a song to put you in a good mood and to put your troubles to rest, this is the song for you.
And finally, we have "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", in which we have two versions. We have the movie version that has different lyrics and a different singer and then we have the end credits and internationally released version by famed rock star and piano man himself, Elton John. Both versions are great with the soothing vocals of the movie version to the powerful performance of the Elton John version. It's a song that feels very romantic and puts you at ease with its calming vocals and pleasant lyrics.
All the songs are great individually or in the context of the movie, but Hans Zimmer's musical score also deserves major credit too. The score has that African flavour to it that adds to the setting of the movie and also makes these grandiose tunes sound even greater. His absolute best music pieces are the stampede scene and the ending when Simba takes his place as king. The stampede score increases the intensity of the scene thanks to some frantic chanting and instrumentals that give off that perilous feeling that Simba is feeling as the wildebeest chase him. The ending just feels very triumphant and gives off that feeling that we've reached the end and that Simba has truly found his place at last. It gets me pumped up every time and I could never tire of listening to it.
The songs and the score are some of the finest music ever composed thanks to the combined efforts of Hans Zimmer, Tim Rice and Elton John. There will be at least once song that you'll love from this movie.
What else needs to be said here? It's The Lion King! Everyone knows it's great and you didn't need ME to tell you that! The Lion King is an amazing movie that still holds up in recent years thanks to a brilliantly told story, some lovable characters, sensational animation and a beautiful soundtrack.
This is my favourite movie of all time and for good reason. It does everything a good movie should do and more and I never tire of watching it. Just...IT'S THE LION KING! I can't say anything else other than go watch it! Even if you've seen it already, watch it again! You deserve to treat yourself!
The Lion King is the king of Disney Animation and is a kingdom I am always happy to visit. I give the movie a 10/10. Predictable, I know, but it really is that good...
And that's it for my review of The Lion King. I hope you enjoyed it and I encourage you to share your thoughts on the movie in the comments below. Stay tuned for my next blog post and I'll see you all next time.
The Lion King and all associated images belong to Walt Disney Animation Studios.