On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames

JLawrence Kenny

Friday Night Retro: The Lion King

on October 22, 2011

Disney certainly has quite a relationship with animals, in many different ways. Sometimes, they can talk. Sometimes, they help the protagonist clean a house. Other times, animals will take center stage. When they do, Disney will be pushing the message of the wonders of nature, while wooing us with wonderful art and scenery. They give us equal amounts of laughter, awe, and sadness, as we learn the tough reality of life. No movie better exemplifies this than Disney’s The Lion King.

And not a single worry was given that day.

For those of you with no childhood, The Lion King was the tale of a young lion cub by the name of Simba, son of the king of a pride of lions, named Mufasa. Mufasa is teaching young Simba about the Circle of Life in the Savannah grasslands, preparing him to eventually become king when he passes. Soon, we learn of a plot by Mufasa’s brother, Scar, to kill both King and son so that he may take over as the king of the lions. Thanks to a little help from his hyena subordinates, Scar successfully traps Simba in a gorge, and kills Mufasa in a stampede of wildebeest. Simba manages to escape, stumbling across Timon and Pumbaa, a fun-loving meerkat and warthog who live their lives without worries, Hakuna Matata their catchphrase. It is with them that Simba grows up, safe from the troubles that begin to plague Pride Rock. It isn’t until his childhood friend, Nala, finds him one day that he decides to return to reclaim his rightful throne from the oppressive rule of Scar. Scar attempts to frame Simba for the death of his father, but Simba retaliates, throwing Scar to be devoured by his own hyena subordinates, and Simba becomes king, a happy ending for everyone except Scar and Mufasa.

Seriously, if you didn't cry at this, you have no soul, and that's coming from a ginger.

Besides it being one of the first films I ever remember seeing in a movie theatre, this film incorporates star-quality voice acting from actors like Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, and Nathan Lane, stellar music written by Hans Zimmer, as well as basing its story heavily on many classical stories, including Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” The Epic of Sundiata, and even elements of the stories of Joseph and Moses in the Old Testament. However, despite the gigantic names that were used, The Lion King didn’t count on their stardom to carry the film’s success. Unlike many modern movies, the primary focus of the film was always on the message of the battle between good and evil, how nature effects the world and the people in it, and vice-versa, and the amazing story; the big names were there because they were the best choices for the roles, not because Disney was looking to make a quick dollar off of the publicity they would bring. It’s hard to forget some of the more powerful scenes. The final showdown between Simba and Scar is certainly action-packed, and the final revelations of the truth to the assembled lionesses thrilling. Everyone remembers the saddest moment of the film, when Simba cuddles up to his father’s lifeless body, unable to fully comprehend his death until Scar comes out of the mist. It was truly a memorable film in every aspect, a product of Disney’s Renaissance, and of a quality which is hardly seen anymore.

Sorry, Mufasa, but the music says it's time for you to die.

Speaking of quality, the music for this movie is some of the best around. If you don’t believe me, note that the soundtrack for The Lion King is the only album for an animated movie to ever be Diamond certified, the highest possible certification for a music album to receive. With music by Hans Zimmer, and lyrics and music from Elton John and Tim Rice, it isn’t hard to see why. Each musical piece contributes significantly to the movie in some way, whether a vocal song, or merely background music. While we all remember the timeless classic songs like “The Circle of Life,” and “Hakuna Matata,” all of which help us gain a deeper understanding of the character singing it, it is the ambient sound that truly makes the movie shine. The huge score for the wildebeest stampede contributes so heavily to the atmosphere of the piece; it’s hard to imagine the scene without it. I always hear the suspenseful section of the music whenever I recall the desperate look on Simba’s face as he searches and waits for Mufasa to escape the clutches of the stampede, the tension amplified tenfold by the dissonant chords and modulating keys. The soundtrack also contains one of my favorite Disney villain songs of all time, Be Prepared, in which Scar reveals to the hyenas his intent to kill Mufasa and Simba so that he might rule as king in their stead. Aside from the truly terrifying landscape of the elephant graveyard, with geysers aplenty, the song itself is quite spectacular in its own creepy way. Jeremy Irons keeps such a cool and sophisticated demeanor in his singing voice as the song goes on, starting out softly, but gradually increasing in volume and number of parts as the ground that they stand on begins to fracture and rise into the air, as if Hell itself had decided to come out that day. And through it all, Scar shows little emotion other than arrogance and pride, with just the right touch of evil thrown in for good measure. I could go on, but I’ll save the majority of my commentary on him for another Maniacal Monday.

How I feel when looking back on this movie. Seriously.

It’s a shame that movies these days can never compare with such masterpieces such as this. An amazing original story from the Disney corporation that was a collaboration of epic proportions between some of the best talents of the day, so successful that it has even sparked a hit Broadway adaptation. (Which, incidentally, I have seen, and was amazed by) In a way, though, I am thankful that these movies were so successful during my childhood, and that more recent films don’t seem to carry the same weight. It adds another element of nostalgia to my youth, knowing that I was alive during a time when the world valued quality over quantity, and when people actually cared about making something that would be worth watching, that would have a wonderful story and message, rather than just making a movie in order to make a lot of money. So while Aladdin remains my favorite Disney movie of all time, The Lion King is still way up there in the top five.

Next week: Jet Force Gemini

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2 responses to “Friday Night Retro: The Lion King

  1. […] Friday Night Retro: The Lion King (jlawrencekenny.wordpress.com) […]

  2. My Bahrmasel says:

    I really like the movie lion king, i always watched it when i was younger. :

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