One of Disney’s most popular films of the past five decades, The Lion King is (near-as-makes-no-difference) 20 years old now. It makes me feel very old to think that it has been that long since we were first mesmerized by that spectacular ‘Circle of Life’ opening sequence. But at the same time it feels as if it should have been much older. I doubt very much that I am the only person who finds it odd that at one stage when you thought of Disney you did not think of this film. Today it is probably more heavily associated with the company than any other animated film.
You find that nearly everyone who has seen this film remembers one part of it, whether it be the songs, the characters or the stunning animation, there is one part of this film that everyone can call to their memory. Whatever that part is for you, I want to try and remind you of the film as a whole. Today it is set as a standard that any Disney film should appeal to both children and adults, in many ways the Lion King cemented that standard after Disney perfected it with Beauty and the Beast, and then doing the very same with this film. Not only does it explore themes such as death, guilt, revenge and responsibility that until that point Disney had rarely tread around. It also seamlessly blends it with the humour and the visuals to create something that is entertaining to everyone.
The big emotional moments of this film are not left out either. The characters all react in a very human way to these events around them. They dispatch with the usual Disney cliché of heroes and villains simply being born that way. It is shown perfectly by Scar, driven mad by jealousy over his brother, and Simba trying to hide from his own fate and needing enough courage to step up and confront his own demons. This formula has proven to be highly successful, not only does it show a flare of more mature filmmaking that adults will admire, but it makes it more believable and more relatable for children. These characters are not just pictures on a screen any more, they feel like real personalities.
It is also impossible not to admire the scope of the animation. Every shot seems beautifully crafted and set perfectly to the mood and atmosphere. I can give you one example of this, I have already remarked about the opening sequence of the film, the stunning imagery and the symbolism that is worked into every frame. One can only imagine how difficult it would be to animate such a sequence. Not only do Disney do this once they do it again at the end purely to demonstrate the theme shown in the song that resonates over the picture, ‘The Circle of Life’.
There are limitless things to write about this film in terms of its influence and what it meant or the Disney company, the themes and elements as well as the fact that it draws several inspirations from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But all of these things have been said countless times. Instead I shall simply close by saying this, The Lion King proved to be a glorious triumph, and still is today. It deserves its heritage and to be repeatedly referenced in popular culture. It set the bar for all Disney films to follow and expertly presents emotional struggles. It is a film that Disney can take pride in.
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