The Lion King Returns to Theatres: Seeing It Then and Seeing It Now
The king has returned
Children of the eighties perked up their ears when they heard The Lion King was returning to theatres. It was only one of Disney's biggest hits of the nineties, part of the company's "Renaissance" that also included The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Add together stunning animation sequences (the wildebeest stampede), a colorful cast of characters, and an award-winning collection of songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, and you had the recipe for a box-office success. The fact that young Simba was voiced by preteen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas didn't hurt, either.
I was among the throng of kids that went to see The Lion King when it first came out in 1994, and our family added it to our collection of beloved Disney VHS tapes. My little sister slept with her stuffed Simba doll for years. I still get a lump in my throat every time Mufasa dies--it was our generation's pivotal emotional Disney moment, on par with that hunter shooting Bambi's mother or the carneys separating baby Dumbo from his mom. At any random moment, my friends and I jokingly imitate the hyena trio, who say Mufasa's name to give each other the chills ("Mu-fasa!" "Ooooh! Do it again!")
So imagine my excitement when I found I had the chance to experience the movie on the big screen again. We rounded up some girlfriends and made a trip to the theatre. It was a late showing, but there were still several families with young children packed into their seats with tubs of popcorn and drinks. We were the only young childless adults I could see, actually. Still, we probably laughed the hardest. Timon and Pumbaa's jokes are still fresh and silly (and now that we're grown, we catch more of the adult humor).
That's not to say that the little ones in the theatre weren't engaged in the film, too. I imagine some of them were seeing it for the first time. When Simba tearfully nuzzles his dead father, I heard a young voice behind me: "Simba's sad." See, even three-year-olds get it.
The song that Rafiki sings ("'Asante sana Squash banana...") is a popular Swahili children's song, akin to the jumprope chant "Cinderella dressed in yella."
And speaking of Mufasa's death scene, it still hits me with the same punch that it did back in '94, if not more. Then, I identified mostly with young Simba, sharing his fear, confusion, and anguish when his father falls and doesn't get up. Now I'm an adult, and I see the scene through Mufasa's eyes. I'm not a parent yet, but I feel his terror and desperation knowing his son is in danger. I get a knot in my stomach when I see the flash of panic in Mufasa's eyes, and I'm mesmerized by his determination to do whatever it takes to save his child, even if it costs him his life. And I look on Scar's betrayal with even more venom, seeing not only that he murders his brother, but then cruelly tells Simba that it was the young cub's fault Mufasa died. Talk about giving a child deep psychological issues!
The film's themes are clearer to me now as well. Simba not only has to face his issues and accept his responsibilities as king, he also has to take a good look at his reflection and remember who he is. He is Mufasa's boy, as Rafiki the baboon reminds him, and Simba realizes that the ones we love never truly leave us. His father lives on in him, and to honor him Simba must remember the past. It's deep stuff for a children's animated movie.
Visually, the film still holds up. The 3D aspect does nothing for me, through. The whole 3D thing is just a gimmick to squeeze more money out of our pockets, in my opinion, and it added nothing special to The Lion King except some extra depth. But since it didn't noticeably detract from the viewing experience, I'll let it slide.
Lion King products
So, whether you have your own little ones now, or you're just a perpetual lover of the classic Disney films, head to the theatre and rediscover the magic of this gem. A new generation will be discovering it for the first time, and hopefully Disney will reintroduce more classic films to their youngest fans. I imagine one day I'll pass on these timeless favorites to my kids and say, "See, we had the best movies when I was your age."
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