Simba the lion cub isn’t the only one who “just can’t wait to be king” in Walt Disney animation’s Hamlet inspired epic of lion-sized family dysfunction, tragedy of Greek proportions and biblical complexity (oh my!) as shortly into the film, Simba’s nefarious green-eyed Uncle Scar gives into the green-eyed monster that is jealousy to murderous effect.
Pulling a Cain and Abel in a kiddie movie takes Disney villainy to a whole new level in what is arguably Disney’s darkest turn since Bambi’s mother was assassinated by an unseen human hunter so many decades ago.
Is it any wonder then that Bambi was recently restored to cinematographic splendor for its high definition debut mere months before Lion King shared the same fate as the ultimate anthropomorphic coming-of-age in the wild amidst tragedy double feature?
And in fact, Bambi was a direct source of inspiration on the more than six hundred illustrators, technicians, camera operators and Disney professionals who lent a hand on what would become the highest grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all-time.
Taking a cue from Bambi in using nature as its muse to base its iconic animal characters on the real-life animals found in the wild as opposed to convenient fictionalized versions of lions and tigers found in their imagination, Lion King’s commitment to authenticity is apparent right from the start in the film’s “Circle of Life” prologue sequence, which may very well be one of the studio’s crowning achievements.
A pitch-perfect opener that celebrates life, love, creativity, music, art, education and friendship – all of which together simultaneously represent the studio’s reason for being as well –The Lion King effectively references the “Circle” once again in the closing moments of the film, harking back to Bambi’s cyclical structure while adhering to the circular pattern of nature that doubles as the film’s overall theme.
While it’s doubtful that younger viewers will get the same “reading” of the picture and indeed, Lion King will inevitably play differently to those of various ages – in spite of its rather alarmingly Shakespearean subplot involving murderous greed, envy and malice in the pursuit of power – it’s an ultimately life-affirming odyssey incorporating the usual trials and tribulations of the Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey.
Although it’s best known for its sing-along friendly Oscar-winning music from Elton John and Tim Rice, the powerful speaker shaking symphonic score from Hans Zimmer really stands out in this Blu-ray upgrade, balancing out the aforementioned duo’s radio-friendly pop songs and setting the stage for the African adventure.
Multigenerational in its appeal in addition to involving audience members of both genders, The Lion King is as far from Disney’s world of princesses, magic spells, poisoned apples and glass slippers as one could possibly get, even if admittedly it still uses the old studio standby of talking animals, silly sidekicks and royal birthrights being robbed right out from underneath the hero by relatives and/or someone they know.
While the movie’s hyena villains still annoy me on a Jar-Jar Binks in the new Star Wars borderline-racist-depiction level, going a tad overboard in their characterization to the extent that it’s sure to make some viewers uncomfortable, overall it’s easy to overlook as overwhelmed as we are by the power of the contemporary classic.
Though not on par with the masterful Beauty and the Beast, it’s a brilliant achievement of the highest artistic craftsmanship as further proof of the studio’s late ‘80s, early ‘90s renaissance that included such films as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin in addition to Beauty and Lion.
Painstakingly transferred to pitch-perfect Blu-ray complete with the option of 3D with a Diamond Edition set made exclusively for those that have the requisite technology set-ups and prefer to relive the recent theatrical experience by screening it in 3D in their living rooms, The Lion King arrives with a bevy of bonus features.
While the 2D version is dazzling enough for this reviewer, there’s a whole lot of studio treasure to explore including Disney’s informative second-screen option enabling you to get a closer look at the film with an additional screen (laptop, cell phone etc.) of behind-the-scenes information that’s fit for The Lion King.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.