Only in America, huh?
As far as my knowledge goes the answer is, sadly, yes. But I'll leave my thoughts on the future of exhibition and cinemas for another post. For now, we'll return to that far-away land of the early-mid 90's. I was at Hutt Intermediate*, with the strangeness of puberty yet to rear it's hairy, angsty head. I was into comic-books and drawing, and I had no idea who Kurt Cobain was until some time after he shot himself in 1994. And the Mouse House was coming off a return to critical praise and commercial rewards with the recent Academy award nominated Beauty and the Beast and the Robin Williams starring Aladdin. For those who may not have been around at the time, The Lion King was huge. HUGE. The songs, by Elton John and Tim Rice, were everywhere. It is the highest grossing cel animated film ever. It has been referenced, parodied, direct-to-video sequelled, spawned a spin-off cartoon show and turned into a successful Broadway stage musical. It is, essentially, Hamlet with lions.
In fact, watching the film again after all these years and with my broader range of knowledge to draw on the parallels to be found in The Lion King and more adult fare, such as the Bard's tale of a Danish prince dealing with a murderous uncle and the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, are numerous and far more obvious. Of course Simba doesn't mope about the place, Nala doesn't go insane and not everyone winds up dead. Comparisons with Shakespeare andd Nazi propaganda aside, it was just a delight to return to the savannah with Simba, Mufasa, Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa and, my own personal favourite, Scar. I experienced the same emotions now as I did upon first viewing: the inescapable sadness of Mufasa's death, the jaunty enjoyment to be had with Timon and Pumbaa and the satisfaction of the final showdown.
Watcing it again it wasn't hard to see why The Lion King became such a phenomenon: the story is simple, yet rife with complexity. The narrative never slows down and really works on your emotions, while the songs are enjoyable and never really become over-bearing or too sappy; they're full of life and colour. The voice casting is nigh-flawless, with Jeremy Irons' fantastically camp and scenery devouring Scar being the highlight. The Lion King is a film that works; that had a lot of work put into it to make it look effortless. From that opening frame of the sun rising, and the opening call of the Circle of Life, the film grabs you and sweeps you up. This is a film firing on all cylinders and deserving of its classic status.
|Timon, on stage and "Hakuna Matata"ing for all|
*In New Zealand our schooling system has primary school (ages 5-10), intermediate (11-12/13) and high school (13-18).