movie film review | chris tookey

Lion King

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  Lion King Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
7.71 /10
Voices: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones
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Directed by: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Written by: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton. Songs by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Released: 1994
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 87


A lion cub grows up in a dangerous world.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Despite accusations of Political Incorrectness, this roaring success managed to recover its costs of 40 million dollars in its first weekend, and broke the 100 million dollar barrier in under a fortnight. So it's easy to forget that it started as an underdog - Disney's first film to come up from nothing. Unlike every other feature-length success by the studio, it is not based on an established fairy tale, fable or children's book. Instead, the Disney team has tried to produce a late 20th century myth of its own.
By far the most important contributor to the screenplay, which was worked on by at least 20 American writers, is an uncredited Englishman - William Shakespeare. For a start, there's an indecisive, Hamlet-style hero exhorted by the ghost of his murdered father to take revenge on the wicked uncle who has usurped the throne. The villain bears a striking resemblance to Iago in Othello , as he skilfully exploits the fears of the hero. And the young lion king makes unsuitable friends but learns his royal duty in much the same way as Prince Hal does in Shakespeare's History Plays. It may seem far-fetched or even pretentious to draw such parallels; but, like all the great Disney cartoons it teaches eternal truths about life and adult responsibility.
It is also very funny. The script is the wittiest ever written for a Disney cartoon, full of wisecracks and quick-fire gags. There may be no single figure as entertaining as Robin Williams's genie in Aladdin . Instead, the jokes are shared out liberally among a terrific cast. Best of all are the two British actors. Jeremy Irons, who voices wicked Uncle Scar, hams it up royally and comes across as sly, smarmy and oddly likeable in his despicability. "Are you weird?" our young hero asks him at one point. "You have... no idea," drawls Irons, in a deliberate echo of his Oscar-winning performance as Claus von Bulow. The Disney animators have wittily used Irons's own facial expressions to add visual nuances to a sensational voice-over tour de force; here's the outstanding Disney villain since Cruella De Vil, way back in 101 Dalmatians . Also excellent is Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, the Lion King's hornbill major domo.
The film has all that late 20th century sophistication which made Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin so enjoyable. The ecological message is cleverly balanced; it does not disguise the fact that lions eat antelopes and zebra, but points out that there is a balance to nature, a circle of life, that is disrupted at every creature's peril. The animals are as anthropomorphic as in any Disney cartoon, but more knowingly so.
Artistically, the animators have departed from the Disney norm and gone primitive. Bambi used more delicate, Oriental-style backgrounds; The Lion King goes for strong shapes and lurid colours, which are exactly right for the African subject-matter. There is marvellous detail in the half-human, half-animal mannerisms of as lively a collection of characters as ever graced a cartoon. The wildebeest stampede and the Nuremberg-rally march past Uncle Scar by the hyenas are great set-pieces of modern cinema.
The film predictably came under fire in America from the Politically Correct lobby. Gay pressure groups objected that Uncle Scar was obviously homosexual - which seems a shade fanciful, since his sexuality is left unclear (if anything, one suspects it might involve doing things too kinky to mention with his goose-stepping hyena friends). Ethnic groups objected that the three hyena muggers (led by Whoopi Goldberg) were racial stereotypes - but ignore the fact that two of the most sympathetic characters are played by black actors James Earl Jones and Robert Guillaume.
More damagingly, a few American parents objected that some passages (notably the first hyena attack and the wildebeest stampede) were too frightening for young children. In fact, the scenes are rather less upsetting than the Wicked Queen's death in Snow White, or the shooting of Bambi's mother. Even small children enjoy being pleasurably scared - as long as there is a reassuring grown-up voice to explain things, and an unscary life to return to, afterwards.
The Lion King won Oscars for Best Original Score and Song (Can You Feel The Love Tonight ), and two other songs (Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata ) were also nominated for best Song. It spawned a massively successful stage musical.

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