The Lion King (1994)

“Let me get this straight. You know her. She knows you. But she wants to eat him. And everybody’s okay with this?”

‘The Lion King’, directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff in 1994, is an animated musical from Walt Disney Pictures. The story is a relocation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ to the savannah of an African country and replaces humans with lions, hyenas, warthogs and other assorted animals. It’s a bright, colourful movie with catchy songs, occasionally surreal sequences and distinctive traditional African music. What stood out for me, beyond the standard Disney styles, was the strange philosophies underpinning the story. The centre of the film is a progressive environmental message highlighting the importance of protecting the land and respecting the predatory food chain. This message is fixed in the central song of the film, ‘Circle of Life’, but this is also blurred by the feudal construction of the lion monarchy. ‘Circle of Life’, therefore, refers to both the natural ecology of the animals and the benevolent political dictatorship that is celebrated. There is a strange moment when Nala, the love interest of exiled lion prince Simba, hunts the comedic warthog Pumbaa. When Nala discovers that Pumbaa is really a friend of Simba she stops her hunt and makes friends with him. In one scene Pumbaa points out how strange this switch from predator to ally is, causing Nala to effectively issue a cryptic: ‘I’ll explain later’. This gloss over the flaws in the philosophy of the movie isn’t quite enough to cover the contradiction between the liberal environmental message and love story in the film and the brutality of the predatory food chain, but this also isn’t enough to distract from the lush visuals and the upbeat music. It’s not a sophisticated or coherent as the Ghibli movies, but it is satisfying and distinctive.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s my first Disney movie in this blog and it’s interesting to compare it to the other animated films from other countries. The great achievement is to combine the mythic story of the exiled and returning king with the trappings of traditional African animals and culture – and it almost works.

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