In 1994, this film hit the big screen bigger than anyway the company had anticipated. They expected a modest success at best working on this film as more of a side project next to Pocahontas, yet this film broke the box office record of highest grossing animated film at the time and set the bar high for the animated films to even come close to reaching that milestone. Now, it’s been broken countless of times, but it was still ridiculous for a film such as itself to be that massive of a hit. It was the Frozen of the 90’s and is actually the first Disney film my mom took me to see at age 2, so my memory is vague on that front. IT was a smashing success and it’s not surprising why because it is another risk the company took.
Following a plot based upon William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Simba (young version voiced by Johnathan Taylor Thomas) is the heir to the throne of Mufasa (James Earl Jones) ready to show him what it takes to be king and the grand circle of life he is part of. Simba longs to be like his father and rule the Pride Lands, but his uncle Scar (Jeremy irons) does not like that one bit. After setting a trap for his father with Simba stuck in a stampede with he help of his hyenas Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin) and Ed (Jim Cummings), Mufasa saves Simba, but is killed when Scar pushes him off the cliff he climbed to his death. Simba cries over his father’s body as Scar tells him he must blame himself and Scar overtakes the throne saying that Mufasa and Simba are dead. He runs away and never returns, bumping into Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) who introduce him to the phase “hakuna matata” that means “no worries.” Yet, the Pride Land is suffering under the tyrannical rule of Scar without food or water that an old friend of Simba’s (adult version voiced by Matthew Brodrick) named Nala (Moira Kelly) stumbles upon him in search of food. Simba refuses until Rafiki (Rebert Guillaume) tries to convince him otherwise. It’s up to Simba to combat his fears and see if he can find his path in the path unwinding.
First off, this movie reputation has changed over the year from animation marvel to overblown garbage, yet I feel that it is far from it. It’s shares the same backlash Frozen had with countless comparisons from its style of animation and its story being similar to Kimba the White Lion which, to be fair, is quite similar to. Taking away from the modern internet backlash and the cynics, it is a beautiful and charming movie to look at and be wrapped in. The opening sequence of “Circle of Life” shows the beauty and wonder of the world by giving the audience these gorgeous moments of animals racing to Pride Rock and the scope the movie is about to be presented in. I saw this film when it was released in 3D and, by god, it was gorgeous to see the layout and designs on the big screen and be in the moment. Not a frame is wasted and Disney knew what they were doing with this film.
The music and score is simple bombastic and marvelous. The score from Hans Zimmer adds to the layers and size the film gives the audience and creates an air of frights, thrills, tension and hope throughout. Elton John and Tim Rice delivered with the infectious “Hakuna Matata,” the sheer power of “Circle of Life” and the ultimate villain song with “Be Prepared.” They paid close attention to Disney’s previous efforts and exceeded them with sticking to a style. The humor of the film balances out the dark undertones lying throughout. It’s a strong tale of redemption, maturity and what it means to be a leader. It also shows what happens if one constantly runs away from their problems and the ramifications of what can happen when one does. It is a powerful and strong message to get across even in animation without coming off too strong and cheap about it. This is Disney at their pique and pinnacle box office wise, reigning supreme over the competition then and still reigning now.
Critic’s Quote: “A certain blockbuster and a future classic, The Lion King is a scrumptiously delightful moviegoing experience.” – Daune Bryce, The Hollywood Reporter, June 15, 1994
Signature Moment: The entire “Circle of Life” sequence. ‘Nuff said.