(Return of) The Lion King 3D Review/Recap

The Lion King 3D Review/Recap
By Bret Dorman

(Note: This review also functions as a ‘recap’ so it goes through the movie from opening to ending. Spoilers! for those who haven’t seen it, which is hard to believe anyone hasn’t…)

There are some things I watch from my childhood where if I watch it again now I think “how could I have ever liked that?” (i.e. Super Mario Bros. The Movie, which is terrible, with or without nostalgia factored in.)

I remember going to see The Lion King as part of a field trip for school. School! Taking us to see The Lion King. That’s how good this movie was. Good enough to take kids out of school.

So the question is… Is it good enough to call in sick to work and go see now? (Which is sort of like the adult equivalent of ‘missing’ school to see it.) The answer is yes. It’s still awesome. And now in 3D!

The Story: Simba was supposed to be the next Lion King (That’s the name of the movie!) of Pride Rock until something terrible happened and he had to run away to the jungle. Also, grubs taste like chicken!

There are a lot of great movies. Some are considered classics by all. Others I have to fight to convince people not to call me crazy for liking. A lot of these great movies have a cool opening scene. Some even have a fantastic opening shot. But I can think of no other opening second in a movie more powerful and instantly captivating than the red and yellow African Sunrise and the “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh” (stretenyaaaaa eetsabee dibaba mmmmm baba (which I realize aren’t the words but that’s how I sing it in the shower)). They waste no time at all. It’s a pretty bold move. If you open with what may be the best first second of a movie ever you better freaking deliver. Luckily this isn’t just ‘any movie’. This is The freaking Lion King. In 3D!

The first scene after the opening title is actually some really well done family drama straight out of Shakespeare and features clever word play. And of course James Earl Jones’ booming off screen entrance instantly introduces us to the power of Mufasa as he shouts out for Scar to let go of Zazu (Rowen Atkinson, what?). Jeremy Irons is perfectly cast as the plotting Uncle of Simba who’s greatest weapon isn’t his lion-y might but his coniving wordplay.

There’s a moment where Young Simba, as voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas (commonly abbreviated as simply ‘JTT’ on many of my girl classmates’ notebooks at the time) is in trouble with his dad. Mufasa, with his bold voice and fierce (but fair) reputation that we instantly grasp on to, causes not only Simba to slink into the grass, but I actually felt like my dad was yelling at me and I was in trouble. I slunk into my chair as well.

Scar may be the main villain, but the presence of the 3 Hyenas, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Bonzai (Cheech Marin), and Ed (Jim Cummings) is a villainous comedic delight. They instantly come off as evil but their ineptitude to actually follow through on their threats dilutes their actually scariness. Plus they have such silly moments as Ed getting into a fight and (happily) chewing his own leg and of course the great exchange of “Mufasa” [shivers] “Ohhhhhh… do it again!” “Mufasa!” [shivers] “OHHHHHHHHH!”

A lot of Disney animal movies have sad parts. Most of the time it is from killing off a parent. Here is no different. The Lion King though doesn’t just kill off any parent, but THE Lion King, Mufasa. I mean, never before has a Disney animal parent been so… invincible. And yet he even warned his son of this day. The saddest part is after the death when Young Simba curls up under his dad’s paw and just lays next to him. Even in death Mufasa is still a source of protection and guidance (foreshadow!).

As Simba seeks refuge with his two comedic high energy pals Timon the Meerkat & Pumbaa the Warthog (Nathan Lane & Ernie Sabella) we get a nice series of fades that bring Simba into the adult world. Cut off from his past, Simba is now “livin’ the carefree life” in the jungle with his two buddies. T&P play off in size and rhythms like an animal cartoon version of Abbott and Costello. It’s nice to have their comedic up beat energy carry the audience through Simba’s darkest (emotional) hours.

The women (lionesses) of The Lion King are minor characters at best. It’s not until Adult Nala (Moira Kelly) accidentally finds Adult Simba (now voiced by Matthew Broderick) that she has anything to do. And what’s her role? Make him fall in love with her. Love. It does crazy things to lions…

Rafiki is an odd addition that hits well with kids because of his silliness, but he helps Simba get back his mojo. Sometimes all it takes for you to realize your responsibilities and get courage that’s always been hiding in you is just an awesome astronomical/celestial visit from your dead father, am I right? Mufasa was meant to be a giant cloud-vision from the day he hit puberty. In fact, I’m pretty sure his first lion roar was deeper than any lion roar ever roared by a lion.

The final confrontation comes fast but its short and sweet. There’s even some nice comedy moments (“They call me MISTER Pig!!!”) and a cool slow motion slugfest between Simba and Scar (I wonder if one of them is a south paw? Hey-O!). Like always, the good guy spares the bad guy, who is then undone by what he used to cause the hero pain and suffering (in Scar’s case his words). Almost instantly everything is back to normal. There is a new lion cub… and we close on the opening title that kicked it all off…

Ah… The Circle Of Life.

I’m not a huge fan of musicals but all the songs here are great. My favorite as a kid but especially now is Scar’s Be Prepared. Scary/Creepy visuals and a catchy tune and some clever word play? Count me in!

The animation is stil impressive for its time. Not as grand as something like, let’s say, Akira, The Lion King is vast in scope, sharp in detail, but most importantly able to use the animal attributes to instantly convey reputation and emotion (which is nice for a “kid’s movie”).

In Conclusion, The Lion King was great as a kid. It reminds me of my happy childhood and a time when my biggest responsibility was probably getting a permission slip signed so I could go see The Lion King in theaters on a field trip.

Disney has done us right by giving us another opportunity to see it in theaters and let other kids experience it on the big screen. In 3D!!!

Final Grade: A

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