The Lion King 1994
The Lion King stars the vocal talents of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane, and many others and was directed by the duo of Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. It tells the story of Simba, a lion cub who’s next in line to become the king of the Pride Lands. After a tragic incident and misunderstanding, Simba runs away from his home and turns his back on his past. Years later, he must return to defend his home and become the king he was always destined to be. How do you talk about a movie like The Lion King? I guess some people can just jump right in and discuss it like it’s any other movie, but I can’t do that cause it’s not just any other movie to me.
It’s the movie. So, before I talk about the film itself, I feel like I need to provide some context and explain exactly what this movie means to me. The Lion King defined my childhood. It was my childhood. It was my favorite movie for a decade. Even now, it’s still one of my favorite films and, without question, still my favorite animated movie. But, my connection with this movie goes beyond just liking it as a kid. This movie constituted so many firsts for me. It was the very first film I ever saw in the theater. It was the first film I ever saw more than once in the theater.
It was the first movie I ever cried at, the first movie I ever saw at a drive-in. When it was re-released in 2002, it was my first IMAX movieÖ it was just after Christmas and we drove down to New York City cause it was the closest IMAX theater at the time. My Lion King firsts weren’t just limited to the movie itself. The soundtrack was the first cassette I ever owned. The musical was the first show I ever saw on Broadway. The Super Nintendo game was the first video game I ever beat. And so, when I think about my childhood and experiences I had, I can’t help but also think about The Lion King because it really was connected to everything. Mufasa wasn’t kidding.
There are so many aspects of The Lion King that are praiseworthy. And I’m gonna talk about a lot of them, but I know that there’s no way I could ever touch on everything that deserves to be acknowledged in this movie. So, with that in mind, the first thing I need to highlight about this movie is its timelessness. Watching it today is as fresh and enjoyable of an experience as any other time I’ve watched it. The story, the animation, the characters, the musicÖ it’s all still fantastic. Now, I can see how somebody could chalk that up to nostalgia, especially since you now know just how much I loved The Lion King when I was a kid.
There ‘s no doubt that nostalgia is an incredibly powerful thing, especially when it comes to movies. While it does have a hand in why this movie is so incredibly important to me, it’s not the reason I love it as an adult. The reasons I love this movie now are very different from the reasons I loved it as a kid. And, that’s another aspect of this film’s timelessness. It’s one of those movies where you can connect with it in some way, no matter what stage of life you’re at. And so you can really grow with itÖ not just growing up, but growing as a person too.
Even though the movie doesn’t change, it feels a little different each time you revisit it cause you’re a little different. You’ve changed, you’ve evolved and so it feels like the movie has to cause your perspective and where you’re at in life gets reflected back onto you through the characters and themes. And that’s an amazingly important and rare quality in a movie. So, different things about this movie have stood out to me and connected with me at different points in my life.
When I was four years old, I loved the excitement of the movie, the colors and the songs, and just the whole experience of it. I also loved animals, especially Simba. I was obsessed with Simba. And, as I got a bit older, I still loved those aspects, but I started to see more in the movie too. I could pick up on some of the themes and I started to really relate to Simba. When I started to get into film and look at movies with a more critical eye, I realized just how well-crafted this movie is.
Things like story structure and character development, the score, the animation, and shot composition. it’s a movie that I can tell I’m gonna continue to grow with. As I move through even more periods in my life, I know I’m gonna keep viewing this movie slightly differently each time. And so, it’s always gonna be relevant for me. We can’t talk about The Lion King without spending some time on the animation. It’s spectacular. It was the day it was released and it still is today. The character animation so vibrantly and emotionally brought these animals to life, really capturing the essence of each character and turning it into something visual.
The background animation is equally as stunning, frequently utilizing this almost watercolor style. But for me, the impressiveness of the animation is far more than just the art; it’s how that art is used. The story that’s conveyed just with an image, like the iconic log-crossing aging montage. The way this movie is framed and the shot composition is on par with some of the best-crafted live-action movies. It’s are so unbelievably cinematic. There’s so much depth in the visuals and even though it’s an animated movie, the use of so many cinematography techniques and camera movements are amazing. So many instances of that stand out to me. There’s a shot very early on of some leafcutter ants walking across a branch.
They look fantastic just in themselves, but then we get this rack focus (in an animated movie!) that reveals the zebra herd that had previously been out of focus in the background. There’s a similarly impressive shot of Zazu just a minute or two later where we’re following behind him and he’s in focus. And we can see Mufasa in the background on Pride Rock, but it’s not until Zazu gets close enough that Mufasa comes into focus as well. The stampede has a lot of amazing and memorable cinematic shots too. The moment the wildebeest start coming down into the gorge, with that fantastic quick dolly-zoom on Simba as he realizes what’s happening.
Then we immediately get this shot of Simba in focus in the midground as he runs towards the camera, with all the out-of-focus wildebeest in the background. It’s the kind of animation style and depth of field that’s so well that you don’t even really notice it unless you’re looking for it. We’re so used to that kinda thing in live-action movies causes that’s how cameras function, but here, the animators had to replicate the inherent cinematic style of a camera, without actually using a camera. It’s mind-blowing. And speaking of mind-blowing: that opening. Easily, the most iconic and impressive opening of any movie, animated or otherwise.
The whole thing just gives me the chills and I almost tear up from its kinda overwhelmingly exciting, impactful grandeur. It just hits youÖ going from a black screen to that shot of the sunrise, accompanied by some incredibly iconic music. The animation is remarkable and it brings me back to what I said before about how it’s not just the art, but how that art is used. Those opening four minutes tell us everything we need to know.
We see the relationships between key characters. The respect that all the Pride Land animals have for Mufasa, the reverence they have for Rafiki as they bow during his approach, the pride that Mufasa and Sarabi have in Simba, the deep friendship and trust between Mufasa and Rafiki, and, of course, the importance of Simba. All of that is expressed visually, without a single word of dialogue. We have that iconic image of Rafiki presenting Simba; something that has been imitated millions of times with babies and pets everywhere. And then the opening sequence closes with that drumbeat and sudden title card on a black background.
Four minutes and you’ve already experienced something utterly moving. But really, that can be used to describe the entire movie. The simba’s journey is so impactful. All of the themes and messages are so resonant. The whole concept of the circle of life and how it applies not only in terms of nature, but also family and succession is amazing. All of the lessons and wisdom that both Mufasa and Rafiki impart on Simba are so meaningful. About responsibility and duty, about leadership, about fear and death, about learning from the past, and about finding yourself. Again, these are all things that can apply to different points in anybody’s life and it’s just so impressive how they’re incorporated into the story.
This movie’s got some heft to it. It’s impactful, it’s epic, it’s quite dark and tragic at times, but it’s never too heavy. It remains a very enjoyable watch, largely due to comedy and music. Timon and Pumbaa are certainly the primary sources of comedy in the film, but nearly every character has at least a few light-hearted moments or funny lines of dialogue, which does help prevent this movie from ever getting too somber. There are so many iconic lines and the voice cast was just perfect. Then you’ve got the music that really rounds everything out. A set of fantastic songs that were, quite literally, the soundtrack of my childhood, but also an extraordinary score that truly elevates everything that we see on screen to extreme emotional heights.
Like I said before, there’s no way I could ever touch on every aspect of this film that deserves attention. I could talk about this movie for hours and, even then, I’d just is scratching the surface. The characters, the Hamlet parallels the perfect full-circle ending. So much went into this movie, even small details like the Swahili meanings of almost all the names: Simba meaning lion, Mufasa a variant on king, Nala ñ gift, Rafiki ñ friend, Pumbaa ñ foolish, Sarabi ñ mirage, Shenzi ñ savage, Banzai ñ lurk, even Scar’s has given name, Taka, means garbage. Even the non-Swahili names aren’t just random. Timon’s Greek for respect, Zazu’s Hebrew for movement.
There’s just so much more meaning in this film than you can see at its surface. You really need to look harder to appreciate it all. The Lion King is, and I think always will be, the pinnacle of animated filmmaking. It may not be my favorite movie of all-time anymore, but it still remains the single most important film for me. Not only did it define my childhood, but it shaped who I am, both as a movie-lover and as a person. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Can I just say everything is a pro? Really, this is such an amazing movie that I could never list all of its positive aspects. The animation is fantastic, both the characters themselves and the backgrounds. Even the cinematic style the animation has is sensational. The themes are so impactful and so relatable, no matter where you are in your life. The characters are so vibrant and memorable. Simba’s my all-time favorite Disney character, but all of the characters are really great, from the regal Mufasa to the sinister Scar and everyone in between.
The music is equally as memorable and iconic. All five of the songs are incredibly catchy and ideal fits for where they’re incorporated. The score’s just as perfect, bringing an authentic sound to the movie, while really pushing forward the tone and emotion of each scene. I could go on foreverÖ everything’s a pro. So that means I really don’t have any cons. Even with movies I love, there’s usually some minor fault I can find or a small nitpick I have, but there really isn’t anything I dislike about The Lion King.
I’m gonna give The Lion King 5 out of 5 paws. It truly is a masterpiece and I believe it’s the greatest animated film ever made. I would recommend The Lion King to absolutely anybody. It might sound like an overused clichÈ, but this movie has something for everybody. Maybe it’s the story or the themes, the characters, the humor, the music, the animation. Whatever it is that you like in a movie, live-action or animated, you’ll find it here.
This really is a universal film and no matter who you are, it’ll have something you can connect with. If you liked The Lion King, I would recommend a few other Disney movies. Perhaps the most obvious is The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride. It was a direct-to-video sequel and even though it could never live up to the incredible first film, it’s still a pretty decent movie in its own right, serving as a continuation of the story and expansion of its themes.
I would also recommend Tarzan for its combination of a darker story, excellent music, and detailed animation. And, if you want more of the growing up and finding oneself theme, not to mention a pretty similar tone, be sure to check out Brother Bear, one of Disney’s last hand-drawn animated films. Alright, a couple of questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen The Lion King? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What is the movie for you? The movie that might not necessarily be your favorite, but is the most important to you? And why? Alright, so if you got some enjoyment, insight, or information out of this review.