The Lion King 3D
What It Is
The Lion King offers all of Disney’s usual tricks: songs and sidekicks, romance and redemption, a noble hero and a wicked villain, and ... a dead parent. Yes, there is that.
When baby Simba is born, his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) could not be prouder. As all the animals of the jungle gather to pay their respects, he and his wife Sarabi (Madge Sinclair) nuzzle one another and beam. The witch doctorish baboon (or more precisely, the baboon-mandrill hybrid) Rafiki (Robert Guillaume) holds the new baby up to the sky, the sunlight breaks through the clouds, the animals sway to the sound of Elton John’s exultant tune, “The Circle of Life.”
It’s not long before the movie gets into its psychological trajectory, the Hamlet-ish plot concerning murder, betrayal, and all kinds of doubts. Simba grows into a playful cub (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas), advised by his father, supported by Nala, the girl cub destined (arranged) to be his mate, and also bothered by his Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons), terminally jealous of his big brother Mufasa and fixed on replacing him as king of the jungle. Simba, being a child, takes Scar at his various words, and so soon finds himself in trouble, beset by a trio of cackling hyenas (the loudest voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and soon enough, witness to his father’s demise.
Convinced by Scar that Mufasa’s death is his fault, Simba runs off into self-exile, whereupon he meets those irrepressible sidekicks you’ve been waiting for, the meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella). The newly formed threesome bond over their status as misfits, their shared appetite for protein-rich bugs, and their favorite song, “Hakuna Matata,” which means, essentially, “no worries.” Simba grows up (now voiced by Matthew Broderick), still bothered by his past but also willing not to worry too much about it... until Nala (Moira Kelly) stumbles on the boys’ hideaway and suggests maybe Simba has an obligation to let everyone (say, his mom) know he’s still alive and moreover, to rescue them from Scar’s very bad leadership.
And indeed, the jungle under Scar is desolate: gray and black, cheerless, plants dying and food scarce. (The Lion King skirts the problem that lions might actually eat all the other animals: because they’re “subjects” of the king, zebras, and giraffes and antelope don’t appear to live in fear for their lives when hanging around with the big cats.) Simba’s sense of obligation and decency overcomes his fear of failure — not to mention the alarming memory fragments that have haunted him. returning home, with Nala and the sidekicks, he takes his rightful place as king and Scar gets what’s coming to him.
Why It’s Fun
The songs are fine, the animation colorful, and the primary characters memorable. They were fine in 1994 too, and they’ve been fine on the DVDs most likely viewers of this movie will have at home.
Who’s Going To Love It
Kids who’ve loved it a thousand times on DVD might be interested to see it in a theater, but not in the so-called 3D. The glasses are as annoying as ever, and really, there’s no way (or good reason) to retrofit this classic 2D animation into 3D. The animals and trees might feature a few more shadows to suggest roundedness, but mostly, the effect is to layer a few planes: in front the birds, in the middle ground the lions, and in a third plane the mountains. The imagery is not nearly new or spectacular enough to be worth the extra money Disney is charging.
What To Be Aware Of
Mufasa’s murder is quite upsetting — not only because Simba is so distraught, but also because the manner of death is so violent. As Scar oversees the first steps in his scheme, Mufasa is trampled by stampeding antelope, the noise thunderous, the herd dark and rushing. When Scar actually pushes his brother off a cliff, insuring his plummet to a parched earth, the film pauses on their exchange of looks, and offers the fall in slow motion. All of this is to say that the movie makes very clear what’s happening, and that Simba sees it.
The hyenas are as offensive as they ever were. The three primary hyenas’ “black” American slang and intonations and a brief scene that shows dozens of shadowy hyenas goose-stepping like Nazi soldiers mix metaphors of menace, also upsetting to Simba and, perhaps, some younger viewers.
Simba faces his dilemma admirably. Mufaasa is as grand a father as you can imagine. The girl lions — Nala and Sarabi, and Sarabi’s mother, who has a line or two near the end — have precious little to do.
All that said, the hakuna matata moment — the one that lasts for years, while Simba grows up with Pumba and Timon — is troubling. Simba spends all this time not being responsible to anyone but himself, leaving his mother and girlfriend to grieve over his presumed death, on top of mourning Mufasa. It’s good that he comes to recognize his mistake, but the trouble this brings his family and friends is conveniently off-screen.
Toys and paraphernalia: stuffed or on a lunchbox, in 2D or 3D, on Broadway or now on Blu-ray (as of October 4), The Lion King is all about the sale.
6 out of 10
The Lion King 3D
Director: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Joseph Williams, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jason Weaver, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Year: 1994, 2011
US Premiere: September 16, 2011