There’s a confused nostalgia when one realizes some things no longer cast the spells they did years ago. Or that those same things carried far more subtext than we realized.
This is not to say the movie is not as good as ever. It totally is. From the sweeping cry of the opening song “The Circle of Life” to the fiery spectacle of the film’s climax, The Lion King remains among the greats of Disney’s staples.
For those who skipped childhood, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion destined to rule his father’s kingdom. His evil uncle Scar, voiced by the sinister and dulcet Jeremy Irons, has other ideas, and commits fratricide to nab the throne. It’s Hamlet with kitty cats and warthogs.
The story still carries the same simple, beautiful charm as it did in 1994. Wizened, younger adults, however, might pick up a couple more plot hiccups than their guileless four-year-old selves — for example, why are Nala and Simba betrothed if they are from the same pride and therefore have the same father? Did our parents notice this accidental incest twist?
Thank goodness Fanfiction.net did not exist back then.
On a behemoth screen, unseen details give new feeling and respect for the artistic medium — the tears in Simba’s eyes when he sees his father in the sky, the twinkling of the stars on the savannah and the broken whiskers on Mufasa’s muzzle after Simba finds him in the gorge. The big numbers are twice as glorious. “Be Prepared” is deliciously menacing, “Circle of Life” is stirring and passionate and the wildebeest stampede will leave your eyes just as wide.
But the real show-stopper is the audio. Disney went all-out to assemble a cast of excellent voice actors, and hearing them in the re-release is even more stirring. Hearing Irons as Scar, Nathan Lane as Timon, and James Earl Jones as Mufasa is nothing short of epic. Expect a breathless moment when Mufasa calls down to Simba from the sky. The songs, too, are richer and more layered than a standard television can ever express.
As just a re-release, The Lion King is worth every penny. Its 3-D re-release is not.
3-D is a weird niche. In some films — like The Nightmare Before Christmas or How to Train Your Dragon — it genuinely works.
But those are films that already have an element of perceived depth.
In a very-much 2-D film, it’s weird.
The backgrounds receive more “3Dizing” than the characters.
This makes the characters appear flatter by comparison and spoils the contrast between the characters and landscapes. Think paper dolls on sticks. Sometimes the 3-D even interferes with the animation and causes certain moments to blur. Pumbaa’s epic beat down of the hyenas demands better.
A special re-release would have been better served as an IMAX event. Once again, the film studios seem more concerned with the money-grab aspect, as a 3-D film costs about $4 extra at L.A. Live. Luckily, most big cinemas also have showings in regular 2-D. Be a square and see this one — it’s a much cleaner experience, and you won’t get a headache from the 3-D glasses.
Classics remain classics for a reason. The Lion King is a hallmark of animation as well as a children’s story. Some cynical older folk might not get the same youthful thrill from just the plot anymore, but the songs and artwork are gorgeous regardless of age or technological advancement.
One final word of caution — for those who do not frequently attend children’s films, pick a showing 10 p.m. or later. Otherwise, you might find several squalling infants playing backup during “Be Prepared.”