Ever so often you revisit a film that you haven't seen in yonks, realizing that you've forgotten how good (or bad) that film actually is. One such film is the absolute classic The Lion King. Now this was a film that was a major part of my childhood. I remember watching it countless times, loving it every time. I even had The Lion King audiobook tape that I would listen to on repeat, so I pretty much knew the whole film line by line. But I haven't seen it God knows how long. Thankfully, Disney have unlocked the vault to released yet another one of their beloved classics, but this time, they not only released it on DVD (and now Blu-Ray), but they converted it to 3D to
make more money give audiences the opportunity experience this classic film on the big screen once more. Although I didn't catch it in the cinema, I decided to buy the film on glorious Blu-Ray, and let me tell you, its one of the best purchases I've made, for watching The Lion King again was an experience to be cherished. By the end of the film, I was in tears due to all these nostalgic memories that it brought up. Even writing this right now is making me jerk back tears. It's simply a testament to the film's power and impact that, years later, it can still make a 17 year-old weep at the sight of a bunch of African animals standing at the perch of a massive rock. It's the rare sort of film that has that crossover appeal to different age groups and generations, and will continue to have that appeal for years to come.
The plot is one that is quite familiar and can seem quite cliched at times. I put that down to the fact that the film is so popular and influential (its still, 17 years later, one of the highest grossing films of all time) that so many other films have tried to mimic it. Granted, no one has ever match it since, although Pixar have come damn close. After his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, the second time in a month he's received the Blu-Ray treatment after the Star Wars releases) is killed by his evil brother Scar (Jeremy Irons), young Simba runs away from Pride Rock in guilt, in search for a new life, ignoring the fact that he is next in line for the throne as King. If you haven't seen it (what's wrong with you!?), then you could probably predict where this is going from the beginning, but to be honest, that makes it all the more enjoyable. What drives the plot is the father/son relationship between Simba and Mufasa, which impressively avoids any sense of mawkishness of sentimentality throughout. The same could be said for the rest of the film. Yeah there are many scenes here that will leave you with a lump in your throat and make your gooseflesh rise, but there's nothing cloying here, which makes the film all the more tasteful. The characters here are so well developed and scripted, that you start to wonder how we care more about hand drawn lions than we do about human characters in your average Hollywood film. For us to feel an incredible amount of emotion for a character in the first half an hour, is an achievement in its own.
The voice cast here is an absolutely fine one, with all of the cast bring their A-game to it, giving all the characters a nice sense of energy and life. Faring the best is the excellent Jeremy Irons as the evil Scar, and in complete contrast, Nathan Lane as the lovable Timon. Just try and think of Hakuna Matata without him. The only slight niggle is Matthew Broderick who, compared to the rest of the cast, is relatively pedestrian as the older Simba. Amiable, but it deserved someone with a bit more oomph.
One of the most striking things about The Lion King is of course the amazingly spectacular visuals and animation. While I do love CG animation, there is nothing quite like watching traditional hand drawn animation. It has a certain charm and warmth to it that most CG animations lack. The Lion King is undoubtedly one of Disney's most beautifully realized and executed animations, and on many occasions, breathtakingly slowing. Just try not to have your breath taken away by that awesome opening shot. And be wowed by the storming stampede. It's quite interesting that this was the last hand drawn animation that Disney made before moving into CG animation with Pixar a year later with Toy Story. Although Disney have gone back to traditional animation recently with The Princess and the Frog, nothing will probably have the same effect or impact as The Lion King. I never got around to seeing it in the cinema, but it sure looked absolutely stunning on Blu-Ray. In fact, come to think of it, it's one of the best looking Blu-Rays I've seen.
What really makes The Lion King the classic that it is is the fact that it never holds back, whilst never being to much. It's perfectly balanced. The emotional depth is never overdone, it just comes naturally. It's never funnier than it needs to be, yet it has the right amount of humour, as well as sadness, to make it work just write. It's perfectly paced, and it gladly doesn't overstay its welcome. It's 88 minute running time is perfectly satisfying. While its not perfect (we aren't really shown much about what happens at Pride Rock while Scar is in charge), no film is. It's as perfect an animated film that we'll ever get. If you haven't seen it, then I implore to drop everything, run down to the video store and rent it. Hell, buy it even. You won't regret it. For those who have and who haven't seen it in years like me, then do the same thing. It's one film that demands constant revisits. Timeless. Beautiful. Classic.