The Lion King (1994)

Directed by: Roger Allers/Rob Minkoff

Written by: Irene Mecchi/Jonathan Roberts/Linda Woolverton/Jim Capobianco/Lorna Cook/Thom Enriquez/Andy Gaskill/Francis Glebas/Ed Gombert/Kevin Harkey/Barry Johnson/Mark T/Jorgen Klubien/Larry Leker/Rick Maki/Burny Mattinson/Joe Ranft/Chris Sanders/Tom Sito/Gary Trousdale

Based on play by: William Shakespeare (Seriously. Why lie?)

What’s really weird about this one is that, even though it’s the highest grossing ┬átraditionally animated film of all time, I remember people hating it. I worked at Blockbuster when it came out and we were forced to pre-sell the VHS tape. Every single parent I tried to sell it to told me how it was the worst movie and far too dark for their kids.

Of course, “Darkness” is my middle name.

Well, it’s got a couple of the same letters, anyway.

Apparently, many of the animators felt the same as those moms. They had no idea that this “little” movie would be so big. Pocahantas was being made at the same time and most of the animators chose to work on that one. They just thought that it would be the more prestigious film.

Little did they know…

They had started work on the story in 1988, making it the first Disney film based on an original idea…although we all know that it was really HEAVILY inspired by Hamlet.

And then there’s the matter of Kimba, The White Lion. Had the writers seen it before? Had they even heard of it? Maybe, or maybe not. But there are similarities.

When Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) is born, he’s born into a long legacy of kings. His father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is a benevolant and fair king. He just wants to raise his boy to be the same. Unfortunately, Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons) has different plans. Plans that include the murder of Mufasa and Simba so that he can take over the pride.

He manages to kill Mufasa, but fails to kill Simba, only banishing him from the jungle by making him think that he was responsible for his father’s death.

Scar’s a piece of shit, basically. He’s so awful.

While in exile, Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella), who try really hard to reach Robin Williams level of funny. (They’re great, but they’re no Robin.) He also grows into Matthew Broderick.

His old friend Nala (Moira Kelly) shows up trying to kill Pumbaa, but instead tries to convince Simba to come back to the pride to challenge Scar because, as I said, he’s a piece of shit. She doesn’t convince him, but the shamanistic baboon, Rifiki (Robert Guillaume) is finally able to.

A fight ensues, of course. And a REALLY dark ending!

I can absolutely understand why some moms were all against buying this movie for their toddlers. Not only does it introduce the concept of death by actually SHOWING a dead body (and instantly forming tears by having Simba curl up in his dead father’s arms), but those hyenas (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin) are incredibly frightening at the end when they…well…it’s just too horrible for words.

It’s a great film, but it’s definitely not for all kids. Although, I think the controversies have calmed down a LOT since 1994. No one ever talks about this movie with anything but a warm glow in their eyes, at this point.

And there were so many controversies. Not just the giant “SEX” in the sky (that was really “SFX” meaning “special effects”), but Disney was sued for defamation of character of HYENAS!! Really?! Just…no.

The movie was also accused of being anti-immigrant and fascist. So, you know…there you go. I mean, Scar is only shown to be a fascist, so OBVIOUSLY, this movie is pro-fascist.

The Lion King is probably the last absolute classic of the Renaissance. (Mulan is close, but we’ll get to that.) It might be problematic in retrospect to have a mostly white cast voice African animals (except for most of the singing voices, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Madge Sinclair, Robert Guillaume and Niketa Calame), but that’s actually being remedied in the inevitible CGI remake directed by Jon Favreau. No, really. It’s coming soon. Donald Glover is Simba. They’re hoping to get Jones to reprise Mufasa, if they haven’t already gotten him.

Oh, yeah. I guess the music is pretty good, too.

Of course it’s great music. Tim Rice and Elton John’s songs are fun and Hans Zimmer’s score is epic and amazing. It’s one of the best and most memorable soundtracks of a Disney movie since the Golden Age.

See it. See it often. Join the Circle Of Life.