As the lights went dark in the theater last weekend, I watched my son’s face in anticipation. I’ll always remember how I felt at the start of The Lion King. The singing call and the sun rising startled and shook me inside. I remember being amazed, mystified and engrossed in the film, especially in that stunning beginning. I think The Lion King pushed me from a kid who liked movies to a young film fan. I was eight then, my son is only three now. As the opening number slammed shut with the title in red on the screen, my son asked in his movie-theater whisper, “Can I hold the drink?” I sighed with nostalgic tears in my eyes and handed over the drink. I hope one day he finds a movie the defines his childhood like The Lion King defined mine.
The Lion King is more grand than your average animated film. The story isn’t a fairy tale, but a story of power, family and destiny set within the animal kingdom on the African savanna. Simba (voiced by 90s teen star Jonathan Taylor Thomas and 80s teen star Matthew Broderick) is a young prince excited about his future as king. His wise father, Mufasa (voiced by the even more iconic James Earl Jones), tries to teach Simba what it means to be king while his uncle, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons), plots to worm his way onto the throne. After Scar murders Mufasa, in one of the most devastating scenes known to Disney, he convinces young Simba the death was his fault. Afraid, Simba leaves the Pride Lands and Scar rules with his band of hyenas. After years of Hakuna Matata, Simba learns that his kingdom is in ruins and he must face his uncle to reclaim it and fulfill his destiny. The story is basically Hamlet with animals, but most American 90s kids didn’t realize it.
Everyone loves the music from The Lion King. Many kids grow up knowing all the songs by heart. And rightfully so, even the bouncy I Just Can’t Wait to be King has aged wonderfully. Three of the songs, Circle of Life, Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Hakuna Matata were Oscar nominated, with Can You Feel the Love Tonight winning.
The score is also Oscar winning and perfectly reflects the movie. It’s heavy, yet whimsical, can be very serious and solemn and rooted in its African themes. I can easily listen to The Lion King’s score for hours. It’s such a beautiful soundtrack to envelop an equally visually beautiful film. The styles compliment each other perfectly and it feels like a beautiful celebration of life.
I personally believe The Lion King defines the height of the Disney Renaissance. Never before had Disney animation been so crisp, flawless and intense. And the level of storytelling was raised to a level that could fulfill the hearts and souls of all. I feel very lucky to have been at the perfect age to see this film in its original release and to grow up on its ideas of owning your past, fulfilling your destiny and stepping up to take charge of your own life. Now, sharing this film with my child is an amazing treat, and give the circle of life greater meaning.
“You see? He lives in you.”