Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Rob Minkoff

Stars: voices of Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings, Cheech Marin.

Can you feel the love tonight, indeed!

As with Aladdin before it, Disney’s 32nd full length animated feature film is a guilty pleasure which adults can enjoy as much as their children. The Lion King offers yet another variation on a timeless and often told story of a young king who has to learn courage and responsibility before he can fight to reclaim his rightful inheritance from an evil relative. The main difference here though is that all of the characters are animals, and the kingdom at stake is the mighty jungle. It’s essentially Hamlet, retold with animals.

Thus we get Simba, the lion cub and son of Mufasa, king of the jungle, who will one day rule all “that the sun touches.” Bust Simba’s evil uncle Scar has other plans, and in league with the hyenas he plots to usurp Simba’s inheritance. He succeeds in killing Mufasa and banishing Simba from the jungle, and then begins picking bare the lions’ homeland. Simba grows to adulthood carefree and unaware of Scar’s ruthless duplicity, until circumstances force him to acknowledge his rightful place in the circle of life. He returns to confront his uncle.

The story of The Lion King is simple and straight forward, and told with intelligence, wit and charm, thanks to the wonderful screenplay from veteran writer Irene Mecchi (whose credits include Hercules and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame for Disney), and Jonathan Roberts (who also collaborated on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame). Incredibly, some 27 writers are credited as having contributed to the story. Some of its darker passages may frighten younger children, though.

The animation is superb, full of glorious colours and characterisations, and this is an art at which the Disney organisation excels. Rob Minkoff’s direction is superb, and he pays attention to background detail as well as the characters.

However, the main strength of The Lion King lies in the casting of the voices behind the characters. This was an inspired stroke that worked marvelously with Robin Williams’ vocal gymnastics in Aladdin, and astute casting also adds to the dramatic depths of this film. Thus we get James Earl Jones, who brings his commanding presence and dignity to the role of Mufasa, while Jeremy Irons relishes every sinister syllable of the villainous Scar. Simba is voiced by two performers – Home Improvement’s Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays the young Simba as a cub, while the adult voice is provided by Matthew Broderick. Comic relief is provided by Rowan Atkinson as Musafa’s major domo; Nathan Lane as a meerkat named Timon; while Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and Cheech Marin play three of the hyenas.

As usual, Disney animations are replete with a soundtrack of pop songs, although here the songs from Elton John and Tim Rice (including the Oscar winning Circle Of Life) are a little stronger than usual. Hans Zimmer’s score is also quite evocative, and a real treat.

One of the more mature films in the Disney canon, The Lion King is a wonderfully entertaining moral tale ideal for the entire family. The Lion King is one of Disney’s most successful films, and every now and again it is re-released to introduce it to a whole new generation. Some eight years after its last release, the film has been digitally remastered for 3D, which adds a whole new dimension to this classic animated tale.




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