The Lion King

Posted on July 16, 2019 at 1:22 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, very sad and scary death of a parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 18, 2019
Date Released to DVD: October 21, 2019

Copyright Disney 2019
I had a lot of skepticism going in to the “live action” remake of “The Lion King.” The last two live action remakes of animated Disney classics were disappointments. Even the best so far (in my opinion, “Beauty and the Beast“), could not escape its, well, remake-ness and justify itself as an independent work worthy of the time and attention of the filmmakers and the audience.

Also, I am not the biggest fan of the original “Lion King.” I would not go as far as this very extreme critique, but it always bothered me that all the animals were supposed to sing happily about the circle of life when that means something very different to those at the lower end of the food chain to those at the top. The idea of Simba’s right to the throne made me uneasy (Nala is much more worthy, or maybe let the lions choose who is best). And I never got past the Hakuna Matata idea that a good way to deal with life’s problems is to run away from them. Plus, how can they call this live action when the animals are CGI?

All of which is to explain that I was very pleasantly surprised and it won me over. The opening scene is a shot for shot recreation of the original, but more spectacularly beautiful, thanks to Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel (the cinematographer of the most beautiful film of all time, The Black Stallion). The quality of the light, the texture of the terrain, the fur, the feathers all lend a grandeur to the story. And the music is sumptuously produced, evoking the holiness of the natural world.

We all know the story, which draws from Shakespeare (“Hamlet” and “Henry IV”), the myths collected by Joseph Campbell (the hero’s journey), and perhaps from the Bible as well (the prodigal son). Simba is the lion prince, born to rule as far as he can see. But his father, Mufasa (voiced again by James Earl Jones, as in the original) teaches him that the ruler serves those he rules. Simba will be responsible for their welfare, Mufasa tells him. “It will be yours to protect…A true king searches for what he can give.” Still, Simba chafes at the rules and dreams of a day when he is king and can do anything he wants.

Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants to be king. He resents Mufasa and Simba. In a brutal scene that will be too intense for younger children and many older children and adults, he kills Mufasa and blames Simba. The cub is devastated, and runs away. He is befriended by a warthog (Seth Rogen as Pumbaa) and a meerkat (Billy Eichner as Timon), who sing to him about the pleasures of a worry-free life. (Eicher has a great singing voice! Who knew?)

The lions believe Simba died with his father. But when Nala (Beyonce) finds him, she tells him that Scar and his hyena henchmen have all but destroyed their community. Can he be the hero they need?

This version makes an attempt to address some of the issues that concerned me in the animated feature, though Mufasa’s explanation of the circle of life is not entirely reassuring. But director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “Chef,” Happy in the Avengers movies) brings together the realism of the animals, who come across as authentic and expressive, with a capable balancing of humor and drama. John Oliver’s Zazu and Keegan-Michael Key’s Kamari are comic highlights. Was this necessary? No. But it earns its place.

Parents should know this film has some intense scenes of peril and violence, very sad death of a parent as the child watches, severe feelings of guilt and abandonment, murder and attempted murder, predators, some potty humor, and references to the “circle of life.”

Family discussion: Why is a group of lions called a “pride?” What from your family do you carry with you? What is the difference between Mufasa’s idea about responsibility and heritage and Timon’s idea that nothing matters?

If you like this, try; the animated “Lion King” and “Lion King 1 1/2” and “The Black Stallion” a beautiful film from the same cinematographer

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Interview: Mark Henn of ‘The Lion King’

Posted on October 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I had a lot of fun talking to animator Mark Henn about “Winnie the Pooh” last summer so it was a pleasure to get to talk to him again, this time about The Lion King, which has had surprise box office success as a 3D theatrical re-release and in its first Blu-Ray edition.

Were you surprised by the support for the theatrical re-release of a 1994 movie?

Yes — seventeen years gone by and this little film that we had no idea how well it would do back then is surprising us again even today.  Still the king of the beasts, I guess, and a nice shot in the arm for hand-drawn animation, which is still viable.

I think it is less due to the 3D than because people want to go to the theater to see a movie the whole family can enjoy.

I don’t disagree.  The 3D is a hook but it is still a great movie.  I haven’t seen it in a long time and even I went, “Wow, this is a really good movie!”  And the 3D on top of it gave it a fresh twist but it’s really a great movie and there’s a whole new generation to see it, too.

You start by going there.  I was not a part of the original research trip but the directors, head of story, head of layout and head of background go on these trips.  I did one for “Mulan.”  They went to Africa and I had the opportunity several years after the film came out to go to Africa to do a promotional trip and when I showed up there, I said, “Oh, my gosh, there’s Pride Rock!  There’s where the wildebeests were!”

It all goes back to Walt Disney.  He believed everything had to be based in reality and fact and then you go from there.  We went to zoos and studied real lions.  Even though there are some liberties with color and things like that, that’s what you can do with this medium, adjust the colors and moods but it is all based in fact and reality.

What was your role on the movie? 

We’re the actors.  In a live action movie we can offer it to Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt but for animation we are usually cast on a specific character.  I was responsible for young Simba, the beginning of the movie through “Hakuna Matata,” those scenes of him growing up.  Animators, like actors, have a variety of strengths, some are better with villains or comedy but I’ve tended to do more lead characters, especially the girls.  The directors, when the sequence is ready to go into production they can sit down with us and communicate what Simba is doing and part of my job is not just the design of the character, what he looks like, but how he acts and moves.  So I act like quality control between the director and the other animators working on Simba, and make sure that what they do is what the directors want and consistent in the way he looks and acts throughout the the film.

One of the highlights of the film for me is when young Simba sings “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”  How do you make a lion dance?

You have to know how a lion walks and moves first, and how they’re put together.  And then you can break the rules and have some fun with it.   You push it until it looks broken and then you back it up.  It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to get up on two legs — you had the rhythm and choreography but it had to be on all fours.

We have the voice and the music, particularly with songs, but the rest of the score comes in later.  We get the very specific musical beats and highlights and accents they need to hit and the lyrics — you have that to move the character to.

What does the 3D add to it?

It completes it, in a way.  The film was already very vast and epic in the way it was laid out.  We did what we could with the tools that were available in 1994 to make it that way.  If we had this technology then we would have used it.  So the technology has caught up with us to provide the final piece of the puzzle.  It is really something to see Zazu walking the lion cubs out into the middle of the Savannah.  You can feel him floating in the air with the cubs below him and it is really neat, an extra little tool that enhances the movie-going experience.

 

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