After taking a hiatus to complete a cross-country move, I am delighted to be back to cover summer family movies! A big thank you to Geetha for holding down the fort — you can check out her wonder reviews here.
Of all Disney animated films, The Lion King is the movie that comments the most profoundly on the meaning of existence. With its circle-of-life analogy, where predators hunt and kill, but later die and provide nourishment to help the grass grow to feed that same prey, it is perhaps the movie that can hold up the best to retelling.
It is in the tradition of African storytelling, where tales are told again and again around the campfire. The Lion King has roots in the venerable likes of Shakespeare. It is a coming of age story, but also a tale of the struggle between good and evil, between quiet strength of a graceful ruler and the deceit the wicked will resort to in order to steal that power.
Why The Lion King is still relevant
Critics are criticizing this movie for not having enough heart. They say the CG-animated animals’ faces aren’t expressive enough. Many, especially fans of the original, are arguing that the remake was unnecessary. I have been on the fence about many of the Disney remakes, and I would love for Disney to mine its vast talent pool for more original storytelling. But this movie is special for several reasons.
Disney has long been breaking cinematic barriers, and this new version of The Lion King is one that will go down in history for its technical magnificence. And because the story has relevance and deep storytelling roots, it can hold up to the retelling.
Secondly, Disney is bringing attention to African animals at a time when they are in crisis like never before. This movie will bring more attention to their plight and hopefully will move people to take action through wildlife conservation organizations such as African Wildlife Fund.
What will kids think?
But all of this doesn’t get to the heart of an important question: will your kids like it? The short answer is a resounding yes.
The Lion King tells story of young Simba, the lion cub who anticipates, and later does everything he can to escape from from, his regal birthright. Without giving way too much, thanks to Simba’s conniving Uncle Scar, the kingdom falls into disarray. Simba finds himself on the run. Can he bring himself to do the right thing?
The story is just as compelling, and the songs are just as stirring, as they were the first time around. Watch the original 1994 animated version of The Lion King first if you can this weekend with your kids to set the stage.
A word of warning: the hyper realism makes some of the intense scenes a lot scarier. My nine-year-old was crying at the very difficult scene of one of the main character’s passing. That being said, director Jon Favreau, already with the brilliant live-action The Jungle Book under his belt, takes extra care to show nothing gruesome. There is no blood.
This is a movie that not just kids but that grownups will be asking themselves, “How did they do that?” No doubt some credit can also go to Caleb Deschanel, who was the cinematographer for The Black Stallion, one of the greatest children’s films ever.
We don’t get mad when a new version of a children’s literary classic is released with new illustrations. In this case, I think Disney can be forgiven for wanting to capitalize on its brand extension of a best-loved animated classic.