Sunday 6 November 2011

Closing the circle: "The Lion King"

Rewatching The Lion King in the digital 3D format, one experiences something of a jolt in encountering all over again the lovingly hand-drawn animation that made the film, whether we realised it or not upon its first release, a clear son of The Jungle Book. (Let's not forget that Disney cannily reissued the latter in 1993, as though to prime audiences for what was to come the following year.) The audience who first came to The Lion King as kids may very well now have kids of their own, inadvertently creating a whole new audience for it; the circle of life, in this particular instance, is not just a philosophy, but a very workable business model.

In truth, the 3D adds but superficial effects: the pleasure here lies in once more being in the same room as one of this studio's strongest (and most economical) acts of storytelling, pitched as it is somewhere between primal prairie myth and Shakespearian history play. Those accusations of racism the film attracted in 1994 - accusations Disney habitually attract - now look shaky, in that the dark-maned Scar is obviously voiced by the Caucasian Jeremy Irons, the best Disney baddie since George Sanders' Shere Khan, while the brave Mufasa is clearly James Earl Jones. (More problematic, it seems to me, is the characterisation of the hyenas - Whoopi Goldberg et al. - clearly demarcated as murderous buffoons, living in an animal ghetto.)

No question, however, that The Lion King nailed its comic relief (while pre-empting an entire nation's fascination with meerkats) in the form of Timon and Pumbaa, logical successors to Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Baloo, whose songs update "Bare Necessities" with fart jokes; the rest comprises good, sometimes very good songs (even the ballad "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" and "Circle of Life", which might have been made for a mid-90s world music sampler, are less sappy than I'd remembered), superior schtick ("Lady, have you got your lions crossed") and resonating drum and narrative beats. You can absolutely see why it became the success it did, on stage and screen: in whichever D you see it, it remains a pretty formidable package.

A 3D version of The Lion King is in cinemas nationwide; a Diamond DVD Edition is also available from tomorrow.

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