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The Lion King

"Simba, you have forgotten me."

When writer Irene Mecchi joined the production of The Lion King (originally titled King of the Jungle until someone realised that lions don't live in the jungle), she was told that the story pitch was "Bambi in Africa meets Hamlet". She later termed it "Bamlet".

Disney themselves were keen to stress that the film was more inspired by Bill's play, rather than a direct adaptation of it. This is their way of saying that the film has roughly the same plot, but they’ve changed enough of it so that they wouldn’t have to credit the Bard and thus avoid alienating everyone who instinctively associates Shakespeare with school work. Even with all the changes that have been made, this is still recognisably the Danish play, or at least the bare bones of it: a king, the majestically majestic Mufasa, is murdered by his jealous brother, the delightfully sardonic Scar, who then drives his nephew, the slightly annoying Simba, into exile and assumes the throne. Well, there isn't really a throne, these are lions after all, more a pointed rock with a great view that is ideal for standing on and looking all majestic. Anyway, years later, Simba now a dead ringer for Sam Winchester with the voice of Ferris Bueller) is living happily in exile with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Timon and Pumbaa when he encounters his father's spirit and decides to return home to challenge his uncle for the throne rock with a view. So far, so Bambi. I think. Honestly, I've never seen it. I only know that someone died after giving their son a stripper's name.

I can’t think of a single thing not to love about The Lion King. It has it all: great story, likeable characters, memorable songs, and as a work of animation alone it is simply spectacular. That opening scene, where the various animals gather at Pride Rock for Simba’s presentation, is simply breath-taking, probably the greatest work of animation in film history. It is so good that Disney used it to promote the film rather than a traditional trailer. Watching the film again only highlights how much of a tragedy it is that traditional hand drawn animation has now been almost completely abandoned in favour of computer animation. I mean just look at these stunning screencaps:

Not to say that there is anything wrong with computer animation. Without it we wouldn't have the only scene in the film that rivals the opening - the wildebeest stampede, which I still haven’t fully recovered from. I doubt I ever will. It is just too painful. Even though I know how it will end, I'm always on the edge of my seat, clutching a pillow every time I watch that scene, preparing myself for the inevitable emotional breakdown that will take place when it comes to its devastating end.

Be prepared...to be seriously traumatized.
The film is blessed with one of the best cast ever assembled for an animated movie with James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons the clear standouts. Jones, who has really cornered the market in voicing famous film fathers, brings just the right mixture of warmth and gravitas to Mufasa. You'd want this guy to be your king and your dad. And if you aren’t crying lakes full of tears when he dies you have no soul. NO SOUL, I SAY! Meanwhile, Irons is an utter joy as Scar, the Loki to Mufasa’s Thor and my all-time favourite Disney villain. He’s so good that I keep finding myself rooting for him to win. Also, 'Be Prepared' is the best villain song.

While the film's songs were written by Tim Rice and Elton John (and I am not ashamed to admit that I can probably recite them all), the score was composed by Hans Zimmer rather than Alan Menken, who was busy with other projects at the time. I’m a massive fan of Zimmer’s work (I’ve listen to the Man of Steel score more times than is mentally healthy) and his score for this film is one of my favourites. I always get goosebumps when Simba starts to climb Pride Rock and the music goes into overdrive.

Notes and Quotes

--Irons blew his voice while recording ‘Be Prepared’ and the rest of the song was sung by Jim Cummings (who also voiced Ed).

--First Disney film to make reference to the Nuremberg Rallies:

Guys, call me crazy, but I think Scar might be up to no good
--The studio wanted to cut 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' from the finished film. Tim Rice and Elton John had to push for it to be included. The song went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song, which has got to be one of the best ways to say "I told you so".

--Until Frozen came along, The Lion King was the most successful animated movie of all time at the box office.

--Pumbaa is the first character in a Disney film to fart.

--What exactly did Scar do to cause such devastation to the Pride Lands?

--Disney have never released Zimmer’s full score so obsessive soundtrack collectors like me have had to rely on bootleg recordings.

Simba: "Hey Uncle Scar, when I'm King, what'll that make you?"
Scar: "A monkey's uncle."

Pumbaa: "Kid, what's eatin' ya?"
Timon: "Nothing, he's at the top of the food chain!"

Zazu: "Well, as slippery as your mind is, as the King's brother you should've been first in line."
Scar: "Well, I was first in line, until the little hairball was born."
Mufasa: "That hairball is my son. And your future king."
Scar: "Oh, I shall have to practice my curtsy."

Pumbaa: "It's our motto."
Simba: "What's a motto?"
Timon: "Nothing. What's a motto with you?"

Scar: "Oh, Zazu, do lighten up. Sing something with a little bounce in it."
Zazu: "It's a small world after all..."
Scar: "NO! No. Anything but that!"

Sarabi: "You're son is awake."
Mufasa: "Before sunrise he is your son."

Four out of four circles of life, that move us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place, on the path unwinding, in the circle, the circle of life.


  1. Scar definitely has the best Disney villain song of all time. Just reading about it got it stuck in my head. Definitely one of Disney's most beautiful films. I'm always surprised at its intrinsic beauty when I rewatch it. The skies are just amazing.

    Saw the Lion King musical twice when it was in LA and I highly recommend it to everyone. Even if you didn't love the movie, the musical is definitely an experience.

  2. I've never seen it, but I seriously loved your review, Mark.

  3. ... and I have now looked at that Simba/Sam Winchester photo three times. :)

  4. My daughter was just over 2 when this movie came out and was the first one she really loved and could watch all the way through. She got quick sick and had to be hospitalized (after the movie came out on VHS). To keep her happy and content in the hospital, we must have played that movie at least 20 times. I do not like animation nor Disney, but I can recite and sing along with Lion King from start to finish, and I must say, I adore it. Scar is amazing. And when Simba roars at the end, it always gets me.

  5. My first movie crush was on Scar (mainly because of Jeremy Irons), I think I was about four or five and just fell in love with Scar.

    I may also have a lot of Lion King soft toys that still sit above my cupboard. But it has taken me YEARS to realise that what I thought was a Mufasa toy was really an adult Simba. YEARS.

    Be Prepared is by far my favourite song in the movie.

  6. I love this movie. I sometimes get sad that I never saw it in theaters. I would've loved to experience that. Be Prepared is definitely one of my favorite Disney villain songs. I think what Scar did was break the Circle of Life; him and the hyenas were were just eating whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, and it was causing food shortages and whatnot. Or at least that's what Ive always thought happened.

    Unfortunately The Lion King shares more than a few similarities with a manga/anime called Kimba The White Lion. When I was younger I always thought Kimba was the "rip-off" but it turns out Kimba predates The Lion King by quite a few years. Apparently he similarities are so distinct that Matthew Broderick used to mistakenly tell people he was starring in a remake of the Kimba series. Granted, the Lion King is a great film, but learning stuff like this leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  7. The favourite movie of my childhood.I must have watched this on VHS about 500 times. My parents were probably sick of listening to me sing the songs all the time (specially Hakuna Matata).

    But as I grew older and (allegedly) wiser, I found the movie to be... still an incredible piece of filmmaking. It's incredible how well it has aged, like a fine wine. Whereas as a kid I could only think how much I loved the songs and the characters, as I grew up I realized this is a movie with sheer amounts of talent and dedication poured into it, the kind that's rare nowadays. There's the technical skill of the animation (the way it just plunges you into the African Savanah and just makes you feel like you're there)... there's how much edge-of-your-seat tension they can get away with putting in the several scenes(the Hyena chases,the atampede)... Elton John's unforgettable songs are sublime, of course, but Hans Zimmers deserves so much credit as well (listen to this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_U4in8WeS0 , and tell me it does not give you goosebumps). Honestly, this movie it's a success from every angle you want to play it.

  8. What a wonderful review, Mark. I've been waiting for this one. :)

    I saw this in the theatre when I was about 11 and afterwards became quite obsessed with it. I had loved Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but living in South Africa, this was the first movie I saw that felt completely familiar.

    The sky and the landscapes, the sounds and just the way the lions moved - they felt real and a recognizable part of my world to me.

    The music was simply amazing. I love Hans Zimmer's score (most of his scores, actually), but I think the fact that he got Lebo M to help with the African vocal arrangements that really gave it an authentic edge. (His is actually the first voice you hear in Circle of Life)

    And the songs. I could probably still sing them in their entirety. Be Prepared was definitely a favourite. The way he just spits out the words with such malicious glee. Incredible.

    The fact that Mufasa actually died also made a huge impression on me. Up to that point, nothing as irredeemably bad had ever happened to the good characters in movies, so I was heartbroken for days afterwards.

    I also saw the stage musical twice when it came here. Who knew a story featuring only animals could translate so well onto stage? As much as I love the movie, the puppetry, dancing and visuals in this version was just as incredible. I also appreciated Nala's slightly bigger storyline and the way they used the musical themes from the original score for the new songs.

    The Simba/Sam Winchester photo is awesome :)

  9. I saw this at the Castro Theater in SF with the whole audience singing along with the songs. It was a wonderful experience. "Circle of Life" always gets to me and Jeremy Irons..well, what can I say? I have always had a soft spot for movie bad guys.

  10. I've been waiting to respond to this post because I absolutely HATE this movie. Hate it. Hate.

    This film tells you that the bad guys are:

    1) darker than the good guys (the lions are lighter then everybody else in the film)

    2) foreign (the hyenas have Latino or other accents. If you don't speak "normal English" you are evil)

    or 3) disfigured (if you have scars, you are evil)

    When I watched this movie in the theater, I could not believe the racism that I was watching. And when the leaves went up and formed the word SEX (and it was SEX, not FXS, puhlease (roll eyes)), I was totally flabbergasted. I have only seen this film once and I was disgusted. I will never, ever, watch this film again.

    Yes, I feel strongly about it. Sorry about that.


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