The Lion King (1994)

by Kim Basa

Now for one of the most beautiful movies of all time! :)

The Lion King is the 32nd Walt Disney Animated Classics film.  The story takes place in a kingdom of anthropomorphic animals (animals that take on human characteristics) in Africa, and the official statement is that the story was influenced by the Bible stories of Joseph and Moses and the William Shakespeare play Hamlet, although many believe a lot of aspects of it was taken from the Japanese animated series, "Kimba the White Lion".  This is because many shots' compositions are almost identical, and the characters from The Lion King seem to have parrallels in the Japanese anime.  

Until the release of Finding Nemo, The Lion King was the highest grossing animated film of all time. It belongs to an era known as the Disney Renaissance, roughly between the late 1980s and ending in the late 1990s when the Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making successful animated films mostly based on classic stories, restoring public and critical interest in Disney.

Songs were written by composer Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice, with an original score by Hans Zimmer.  The Lion King garnered two Academy Awards for its achievement in music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

While the story was being developed, it was originally named "King Of The Jungle".  The original treatment written by Thomas Disch called it "King of the Kalahari". 

More than 600 artists, animators and technicians contributed to The Lion King.  As for Bambi, the character animators studied real animals for reference.  Jim Fowler, renowned wildlife expert, visited the studios on several occasions with an assortment of lions and other jungle inhabitants to discuss behavior and help the animators give their drawings an authentic feel. 

The "Pride Lands" are modeled on a national park in Kenya called "Hell's Gate", which was visited during pre-production by several of the lead crew. 

Though the film is predominantly a hand-drawn animation film, five specially trained animators and technicians spent more than two years creating the two-and-a-half minute wildebeest stampede sequence through 3D computer animation, which was done by creating some wildebeest, multiplying them into hundreds, cell shade them to look like hand-drawn animation and giveing them randomized paths to follow.

If you have seen some of the latest DVD releases, you will notice that the film now contains a song and scene which was not in the original theatrical release. "The Morning Report" was originally a scene planned for the theatrical film but never made it past the storyboard stage. It was first added to the 2002 IMAX rerelease.

Disney picked up some scrap with this movie too. For one thing, there are the parrallels with "Kimba The White Lion".

For another, it was alleged subliminal messaging. Where Simba plops down on the ground and some grass seeds or something start flying up into the air, I never picked up that they form the shape of letters (exactly how does one discover this? View the entire movie frame by frame?? :) )

Conservative activist Donald Wildmon asserted that these spell "SEX" and promote sexual promiscuity. The film's animators claim that it spells "SFX" (Special Effects), a signature the special effects team put in. How much sense a signature of one frame spelled kind of unclearly in some grassy dust makes to bother putting in is another question nobody should bother to answer. :)

Other controversies include the family of Solomon Linda filing suit for the use of the song "The lion sleeps tonight"; the portrayal of hyenas as evil garbage (one hyena researcher sued Disney studios for defamation of character) and along the lines of hyenas being a symbol of low class filth, cultural analysts read a lot into Disney's use of an African-American voice (Whoopi Goldberg) and a Latin American voice (Cheech Marin) for the hyenas. Film analyst Matt Roth went as far as describing the film as "the spadework for the ugly principles Disney feels it must implant in each new generation."

During its release in 1994, The Lion King grossed more than $783 million worldwide, becoming the most successful film released that year, and it is currently the thirty-first grossing feature film of all time.

Lesser known to you may be that Disney also produced a sequel, "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998)" and a movie that fits somewhere in the middle or all on its own, "The Lion King 1½ (2004)".

The Lion King will be released in a Diamond Edition Bluray/DVD combo pack coming Fall 2011. Even more interesting is that a 3-D version is also in the works, though no release date has been announced. Yep, I'll be there with my 3D glasses!