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The Lion King
1994 - G - 87 Mins.
Director: Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers
Producer: Don Hahn
Written By: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts
Starring: Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Cheech Marin, Rowan Atkinson, Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Review by: James O'Ehley
Sheer avarice or financial desperation?

Is it just me or does the video shelves seem to be groaning beneath the weight of Disney produce lately? I know the expensive “Treasure Planet” did very poorly at the box office, but does Disney really need the cash this desperately?

Let’s see, lately we’ve had “Treasure Planet”, “Jungle Book 2”, “Stitch the Movie”, “Atlantis – Milo’s Return”, “Peter Pan 2: Return to Neverland” and “Piglet’s Big Movie” . . .

I’m not using the term ‘produce’ lightly, because that’s what these straight-to-video ‘sequels’ to popular and not so popular (a sequel to “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” fer cryin’ out loud!) titles are.

With thin story lines and cheap animation no doubt subcontracted out to South Korean subsidiaries, these sequels seem to operate on the principle that kids under the age of ten will practically watch anything that’s animated, no matter how bad it is. And that parents will employ their television sets and VCRs as de facto baby-sitters (I plead guilty here, I’m afraid) . . .

The older ‘classics’ are also being milked for what they’re worth.

Earlier we’ve had the re-releases of “Beauty and the Beast” (on IMAX as well as home theatre), “Pinocchio” and “Sleeping Beauty”.

And now, with a barrage of marketing tie-ins ranging from stationary to McDonald’s happy meal toys, we have the “The Lion King”. (Is there anything more evil than enticing kids into eating junk food that is bad for them with shoddy plastic baubles?)

After a successful run on IMAX screens, a so-called ‘special edition’ of this hit 1994 movie is being released on DVD (for the first time) and video (for the umpteenth time – after all, “The Lion King” was probably Disney’s biggest sell-thru video cash cow).

How ‘special’ is this ‘special edition’? It features one extra musical number, newly created for this re-release – a tactic also employed for the ‘special edition’ of “Beauty and the Beast”. To be honest I didn’t even notice the new scene, but then again, it has been a while since I saw the movie.

Oh well, at least “The Lion King” deserves the ‘classic’ moniker that Disney slaps on all their video and DVD covers, whether they can be heralded as such by any stretch of the imagination or not (“Treasure Planet” anyone?).

The plot and its characters are so ingrained in the popular imagination that it is somewhat redundant to rehash them here, but here goes.

Mufasa, the lion king of the jungle (impressively voiced by Darth Vader, er, I mean, James Earl Jones) has a new cub named Simba who will one day be king. However, Mufasa’s brother, the evil Scar (Jeremy Irons), has other plans. He intends to be king instead and hatches a plot in which Musafa is killed and the young Simba blames himself. Young Simba flees and is taken under the wings of a wandering meerkat and his warthog companion.

Years later, an adult Simba (voiced by Matthew Broderick – I didn’t even notice!) has to deal with the evil Scar under whose reign things have gone to hell in a hand basket . . .

The striking thing about The Lion King isn’t that this is Disney’s “Jungle Book” meets Hamlet, but how unremittingly bleak and depressing the film would have been if it wasn’t for the comic relief supplied by (a) Scar’s bumbling hyena henchmen (one of whom is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and (b) the warthog and meerkat.

Unlike many Disney features, “The Lion King” deals with some rather adult themes that might prove upsetting to very young children (of probably under the age of seven).

Mufasa’s death scene here comes to mind. Many heroes such as Harry Potter, Superman, and, er, little orphan Annie are orphans, but few feature such explicit death scenes such as the one here. Parental discretion is advised especially if you haven’t had that chat about issues such death with your little ‘uns yet. Also, some other scenes are quite scary too.

It is also because of this that “The Lion King” resonates beyond its obvious strengths, namely excellent animation, great voice talent and songs that fit in perfectly and doesn’t jar, etc. We’re talking potent emotions and issues here that will ensure that “The Lion King” will have a longer shelf life than most Disney produce.

Buy the two-disc DVD set, by all means. But unlike the other Disney offerings, don’t let your children watch this movie alone. You’ll have some things to them during the movie . . .
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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