From the day we arrive on this planet and blinking, step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen and more to do than can ever be done. So much, in fact, that it is always a pleasure when a film steps out of the morass and reminds us that for every piece of brain candy that swarms in the tall grasses aiming to devour our brains, there’s a giant predator willing to protect our immortal souls from forever being damned to the halls of mediocrity. So was the case back in 1994, when The Lion King rode of wave of goodwill triggered by 1989’s The Little Mermaid, and was swiftly followed by Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin to put Disney back on the map as the kings of animation. Such is the circle of life.
Inspired partly by Hamlet, and if the accusations are to be believed, Kimba the White Lion, The Lion King tells the story of the birth of a cub named Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas), the son of the reigning Lion King Mufasa (James Earl Jones). Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons), outraged that he will now never be the king, concocts a plot with the evil hyenas that results in the death of Mufasa and the exile of Simba. Years go by, and the now adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) has been taught by the sarcastic meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) the philosophy of “Hakuna Matata”. It means no worries. However, when childhood friend Nala (Moira Kelly) returns, Simba must decide whether or not to accept his destiny and return to take his place on Pride Rock.
In many ways, The Lion King was the historical bookend to an animation tradition that began with 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1995, just over a year after the release of The Lion King, Disney would release the Pixar produced Toy Story, a groundbreaking computer-generated film that would change the face of animation forever. Yet in the staggering 17 years since the orignal release of the film, little has come along to diminish the power and majesty of this perfect piece of traditionally animated storytelling. From the awe-inspiring opening, in which the animals of the Pride Lands come to pay tribute to the newborn prince, the music of Tim Rice and Elton John infuses an energy into the film that few subsequent films have matched. Indeed, the love song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” not only became a hit single around the world, but it won an Academy Award along with Hans Zimmer’s Best Original Score. Fans will be pleased to note that the mediocre track “The Morning Report”, including in the 2002 IMAX re-release and subsequent DVD Special Edition, has been dropped for this 3D reissue.
While it is lamentable that it has taken the gimmick of 3D, and the imminent Blu-ray re-release, to see The Lion King return to cinemas, the already high-quality animation lends itself to this post-conversion. Traditional cel-animation already has all the elements separated, so it is possible to make them ‘pop’ out at the audience. While there are a few moments that do this for kitsch value, most notably in the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” sequence, what Disney has managed to do here is add extra layers of depth. Just as William Garity’s Disney-developed multiplane camera were designed to give the illusion of depth to flat objects as early as the 1930s, 3D is the natural progression of that innovation, extending the field of vision to the tips of our noses. It is certainly not the first Disney film to be converted to 3D in post, with Beauty and the Beast 3D enjoying a limited season in theatres last year, but it is difficult to imagine a grand vision more appropriate for the format than The Lion King.
The Lion King is perhaps the darkest of the Disney canon, with murder plots, betrayal and outright killing in several sinister scenes. Yet it is also the most joyful and celebratory, bringing all the skills of a mighty animation powerhouse to bear on a piece of art and storytelling that continues to be as fresh and vibrant as the day it was released.
The Lion King 3D is released in cinemas for a limited run in Australia from 22 September 2011 from Disney. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D on 4 October 2011 in the US and 12 October 2011 in Australia from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.