After all these years I have never actually watched The Lion King!! The only time I started to watch it something I can no longer recall cropped up and I never saw the end. But it has never worried me unduly because ever since 1994 this is one animated feature I genuinely avoided. Why?? Because when it was released I got absolutely sick beyond belief or words of hearing the two Elton John songs from the film thrashed incessantly on the radio. Honestly hearing the two same songs over and over and over and over, all day, everyday, drove me away from even contemplating seeing it.
Now I'm not anti Elton...far from it. I just hate newly released songs being played to overkill on the radio. Honestly at the moment the new Red Hot Chili Peppers song is being thrashed here and I'm sick of it beyond belief. It is the same every time they release an album and the sole reason why I have never brought any of their CDs. So back in 1994 I didn't bother with The Lion King. I just couldn't bare the thought of sitting through the film with those two bloody songs in it!! Even yesterday I had my reservations as to whether I would be able to tolerate them!
Fortunately they aren't the Elton John versions and I was able to tolerate them more than I expected. Suffice to say though that Circle of life and especially....especially Can you Feel the Love Tonight are two of my most absolutely hated songs of ALL time! It is the same with Celine Dion and My Heart Will Go On from Titanic. It to was thrashed to death on NZ radio and I cannot even contemplate hearing one note of that song EVER again! The funny thing is I went to see Titanic even with Dion's warbling!
Well from the world of motorbike racing on the Isle of Mann, in the exceptional documentary film TT3D : Closer to the Edge, I entered the same theatre to see The Lion King for the very first time. Expensive night with two 3-D films at $18 each!! Just Like TT3D I didn't see the need for 3-D in The Lion King. A reviewer in the local paper wrote the same thing. She said it was almost sacrilege to re-release a classic animated feature in 3-D. The unfortunate thing with the success of the re-release is that Disney/Pixer are considering re-releasing Finding Nemo, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Monsters, Inc. in 3-D as well. Nooooooooooo I say!! But I know I'm screaming against the wind there!
In September the film became the highest grossing weekend release in the US, the first to do so since Return of the Jedi in March 1997. In fact it went on to become the fourth highest grossing September released film in American history. It also became the highest grossing film of September alone. But these records aren't consigned to the US alone. In NZ the film shot to number one at the box office virtually overnight. It is unquestionably a popular decision world wide from Disney to re-release this feature.
But when you look at it's 1994 performance figures it isn't too difficult to understand why. It is regarded by many to be the greatest animated feature ever, if not one of the greatest films ever made. It was nominated for the AFI's Top 100 list so it is no slouch in the quality stakes. Here are a few facts and figures. It is the fourth highest grossing animated feature ever ( this will undoubtedly change with the revenue from the re-release ). It is the highest grossing hand drawn animated feature of all time. In 1994 it was the highest grossing film of the year world wide. And is the 23rd highest grossing feature film ever made. Finally, it is Disney's highest grossing animated feature ever. Whew!! Not bad for a film that was made for $45 million and of date has grossed almost $900 million!!
It held the record of highest grossing animated feature until 2003 and the release of Finding Nemo. Of date Toy Story 3 is the highest grosser of them all with just over $1 billion!! With these sorts of figures it still makes me laugh that they are still considered kids flicks. With that sort of money involved it is obvious it isn't just kids who are venturing off to cinemas to watch them. I mean most of the animated features I have seen in the last few years have had a predominantly adult audience. When you really analyse it animation out grosses many other films and genres hands down.
A behind the scenes look is interesting here just to see the sheer volume of work that goes into producing an animated film of only 99 minutes. For instance all told 600 artists, animators, technicians,etc, etc, contributed to the final product. Lets put that into perspective. The 'wildebeest stampede ' scene alone took five animators two whole years to create its 2 1/2 minute running time!! That is an incredible statistic isn't it? And when you look at something like that you start to understand how an animated feature can end up costing $45 million to make. There is just so of much of interest regarding the making of the film that I suggest you visit wikipedia's page. It is very informative and also details the controversies of the film. It is well worth a visit and read of.
But what do I as a first time viewer of it think of Disney's 32nd full length animated feature? First of all I wish it hadn't been released in 3-D. As you all know I'm not a 3-D fan AT ALL. It is highly over rated and in all my years I have only seen two films that utilised the technique in any interesting or awe inspiring way. I may be stupid though because the reviewer who wrote the piece in our local paper said she was amazed at the opening scene where Zazu the bird flew in over her head!! I was in the same theatre, in the same city, seeing the same film, and no bird flew in over my head at the start of the film!! For me 3-D is about objects and images projecting out of the screen. Instead the 3-D we get gives a feeling of depth. This isn't enough for me and why I so strenuously object to paying more at the ticket office.
So 3-D didn't enhance my appreciation or views of The Lion King. In fact I may be in a minority in saying The Lion King, whilst immensely popular and lucrative, will NOT be going down as one of my favourite animated features. I have been thinking quite hard about this over the last few days. I didn't dislike the film even though I despise two of its songs. But somehow it didn't....what? And that is the problem. I can't quite define what it is that failed to pique me. In the overall scheme of animated features I would fail to put The Lion King in the top 5 let alone top 10 of my favorite animated features. It is not bad or over rated but other features have just appealed to me more.
Again as a comparison after Wall-E I came home with a warm glowing feel! I saw it three times on the big screen. But the The Lion King didn't come close even though I knew of its reputation. The Jungle Book is still a firm favorite and one that engages me every time I watch it. But that is the thing with any medium whether film, literature or art. It all comes down to horses for courses. Whilst I can see the appeal of The Lion King I cannot say whether it is one of the best animated features ever made or not. I think there are many just as good, both in the hand drawn and computer generated eras. Certainly many that have personally appealed to me far more.
What did I like?? Well first of it is hand drawn. I still believe hand drawn animation is superior to computer animation. It took me many, many years before I started to watch and like computer animated films. I certainly now have many that I consider great animated features and personal favorites. But somehow hand drawn is and will always be king...so's to speak! I'm just not sure how far though the hand drawn description can be taken though with The Lion King. Apparently the animators who made the wildebeest stampede used a computer animation programme that replicated the look of hand drawn. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find anything more on this but maybe not all the film is genuinely hand drawn after all.
But there is enough there that I liked and appreciated. After this years Rio and Rango it was fantastic to revisit hand drawn animation on the big screen. Besides those two songs I hate so much I found my toes tapping to the other songs. This even though I found them somewhat disappointing compared to other Disney songs of the past. I did love the the scene where Zazu starts singing ' It's Small world After All'. God it made me laugh due its tongue in cheek poke at Disney and its own signature tune!! Scar's reaction had me in stitches!! ( ' Not that song! Especially not that song!!' ). And I really loved the use of the song ' In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle '!! The feature certainly had all the traditional Disney ingredients.
My only genuine criticism is of the warthog and meerkat characters Pumbaa and Timon. Not so much the characters themselves but the use of the song 'Hakuna Matata'. This had a feel of unoriginality for me. It feels too much like Balloo and his 'Bear Necessity's of Life ' song in The Jungle Book. Balloo, Pumbaa and Timon are too similar in being slackers, if not just straight out bums. Both of their songs mirror their philosophies and for me Pumbaa and Timon, whilst providing plenty of laughs, weren't genuinely original enough for my liking. But that aside the film has plenty of heart and laughs that over ride this hint of unoriginality.
One thing got me though. I didn't really take much notice before hand of who voiced the characters. As I watched it I tried to identify some of them and failed miserably. Once home I looked up the voices and was surprised by how I could fail so badly!! In many respects though I enjoyed this because as a character talked I wasn't envisioning a celebrity at the same time. I mean I loved Johnny Depp as Rango but I was forever seeing Depp whenever Rango spoke. ( And don't get started on Seth 'Bah' Rogen as the alien in Paul!!! ). In The Lion King I saw no Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, Rowan Atkinson or Whoopi Goldberg for instance.
Which characters did I like?? Well the three Hyenas were a laugh with their subservient ways to Scar and their dumb bullying ways. The Mandrill Rafiki is wonderful as a witch doctor. But I loved it when he sat down into his 'guru' pose at one stage. His eccentric ways were a real highlight for me. But to be honest I actually preferred this year's Tangled to The Lion King. Note that I said preferred and not better than!! The horse Maximus was awesome and his staunch nostril flaring had me in hysterics! Rapunzel was a neat character, and somehow Tangled had a charm that personally grabbed me more than The Lion King's.
I have really found this a hard one to gauge. I can't give it a mark out of 10 because I really don't know how I feel about it. Overall I enjoyed it, immensely, even though I despise for all eternity two of its songs. I had plenty of good laughs and the character are, as usual, wonderful Disney creations. But somehow something about it passed me by. I'm probably in a minority as not quite liking this as much as the majority do. I just prefer other animated features over this. It certainly isn't a quality issue ( I have even been telling myself that I should like it more considering it's reputation! ). Heart, laughs, a moral message, wonderful hand drawn animation. Yes. The Lion King has it all. Is it one of the greatest animated features ever though?? I think it comes down to personal opinion. I'll let the beholders make their own minds up on that question! For me it is not a personal favorite. But I do admire it as a animated feature, especially a Disney one.
Click here for wikipedia's excellent and informative page. It is worth taking the time to do so as it covers many points especially some of the stupid controversies: