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The Lion King (1994)

June 24, 1994

There’s this term they got now, “Disney adult.” I’d rather jump in a pool of lava than be called that. I feel that it goes without saying that animation is an artform, that Disney is a historically great animation studio, and that adults can appreciate their films if they want to, so turning it into an identity group is not necessary. I’m not a person who would strut around in a Winnie the Pooh letterman’s jacket like I think I’m Ryan Gosling in DRIVE, I’m just an ordinary respecter of excellence in animation.

Most of my favorites are ones from before I was born, like PINOCCHIO, but I also respect the now-vaunted “renaissance” period of the ‘90s and enjoyed most of them in theaters. I was in my teens or twenties then, so I was never indoctrinated by the clamshell VHS tapes, and maybe my tastes are just weird. I used to rate BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN at the top but to me their greatness has faded a little with time, so I’m afraid I have THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, POCAHONTAS and TARZAN at the top. I know millennials love MULAN and I wish I did too, it seems like the subject matter I’d like best, I just think the animation and story are mediocre by their standards.

And, even worse, I never liked THE LION KING (as I confessed when I reviewed its widely derided, $1.664 billion box office grossing 2019 remake). I’ve watched the original several times over its decades of existence, always thinking this is gonna be the time it works for me. Never does.

But this time I think I came close! This 30 years later viewing is the most I’ve ever liked it. I appreciated things I might not have paid attention to before, I forgave things that used to bother me, I even felt like there was a thing I was too hard on it for. I still don’t like some of those songs, though.

Did you know original co-director George Scribner (OLIVER & COMPANY) quit when they told him it had to be a musical? He wanted it to be more like an animated National Geographic special, and had them figuring out how to do lens flares and stuff. The opening of the finished film does seem to visually reference some of the shots you’d see in wildlife documentaries, but also gets much of its power from the song “The Circle of Life.” (The animals aren’t singing it, though. This part is technically a musical montage, not a musical.)

Those opening minutes are the best part of the movie – this over-the-top glorification of all life on the African savanna, gorgeous artistry re-creating the majesty of the sun rising, waterfalls, fog, dust, sunbeams. I forgot until I read about it that they just played that whole sequence in theaters as the teaser trailer. Good idea. Supposedly it went over so well that producer Don Hahn worried they were setting expectations too high.

The movie’s use of color to create different types of lighting is spectacular. It’s funny that Hans Zimmer did the score because there’s a Jerry Bruckheimer quality to the use of magic hour and orange sunlight. I recently heard Zimmer (RENAISSANCE MAN) on an episode of the Team Deakins podcast. I didn’t know he had a history of working with South African choirs on the films A WORLD APART (1988) and THE POWER OF ONE (1992), and that’s why they wanted him for THE LION KING. He claims he had a warrant out for his arrest in South Africa for recording the illegal Black South African anthem for A WORLD APART, that Disney didn’t want him to go there to record and asked who should finish the score if he was killed.

This time is the most I’ve ever appreciated that score. I guess I’ve always overlooked the incidental music, which I now realize really stands out from other animated movies. There’s the African-inspired sounds but also there’s some of the texture and bluster of what Zimmer would be doing the following year in CRIMSON TIDE. It’s just so bombastic compared to anything you’d hear in a modern animated feature, and that works really well with some of the live-action-inspired filmmaking like the JAWS zoom-in on Simba before the stampede, the “camera” rotating 360 degrees around him as he faces Scar, and the slow motion slap fight.

I’m sorry to say that I never really caught that before, that they did a slow motion fight scene in front of fire, with embers floating around. That’s new in animation. Especially with animals. Has there been 2D animation with speed ramping in a fight? That would be cool. Anyway, I like how much of this moves the camera the way I would love in a live action movie.

This time I also loved the dramatic smash cuts to the title at the beginning and end. Another modern filmmaking technique that seems thrilling when applied to animation.

Another funny thing I read was that lyricist Tim Rice wanted them to be big pop songs that adults could enjoy, and his first choice to collaborate with was Abba! In those days you could do a musical about Africa with Abba or Elton John and no eyebrows would be raised. Before eyebrows became woke. I probly would’ve gotten a kick out of the Abba version, and I have grown to sort of enjoy Elton John (even though I find him cheesy), but the more Broadway style shit probly won’t ever get through to me. I can respect how “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” turns into fantasy, Busby Berkley style choreography and stylized colors, but I just don’t think the song adds much to the story or characters other than to underline how vapid and annoying Simba can be. I also felt that way about “Hakuna Matata” (it means “shit happens”), and I still don’t particular enjoy that there’s an entire verse based on the concept that Pumbaa is an outcast because he has horrible gastrointestinal problems and constantly emits horrifying farts. (Also it’s a plot hole because later they show his ass for a long time and he clearly has no butthole.)

But I can recognize now that the song is important to the story to explain the “problem free philosophy” Simba enjoys in the years skipped over with a CONAN THE BARBARIAN wheel of pain style transition. It’s just kind of funny that arguably the most popular song (although there are three certified smashes in this thing) is the one that the movie later shames Simba for agreeing with. I don’t think people were listening to it outside of the context of the movie thinking “but it would be wrong to live that way because we all have responsibilities.”

The song I totally forgot was the one Scar sings. I think that one kinda sucks. But I’m just not a Broadway guy. I do, however, wish I saw Julie Taymor’s Broadway adaptation. I have faith in her.

I prefer the parts of the movie where they get across the same ideas more economically. The scene where Simba says “Hey, guess what, Uncle Scar? I’m gonna be King of Pride Rock!” communicates his entitlement and childish lack of awareness, plus Scar’s bitterness, in a way that makes you kinda get where he’s coming from, even though you personally wouldn’t move to the next stage of plotting against your baby nephew. Scar is an evil jerk but I honestly think if he didn’t grow up in a royal family or birth-order-based monarchy he would’ve turned out different.

Maybe if they cut the two wackest songs they wouldn’t have had to rush through the climax like they were being chased by the cops. When Scar thinks Simba is back from the dead like THE CROW, he turns the the assembled masses against him by revealing that he fled because (he thought) he was responsible for Mufasa’s death. And then the master stroke of his plan is to… immediately turn around and brag that actually he killed Mufasa. Kinda seems like a whole alternate framed-for-murder plot they decided against but couldn’t quite bring themselves to delete entirely so they did the thirty second version.

I identified in my review of the remake that a story about a prince inheriting the throne isn’t very relatable to most of us. And returning to the original recipe I realize that’s not the only thing that makes Simba fall flat for me. Disney princesses can be simplistic, so much so that Belle just reading books seemed like progress at the time, but I think some of the male protagonists have it even worse. In that era there was this idea that the most universal protagonist is a human (or lion) low sodium saltine cracker. Just a bland, blank, non-threatening, non-personality-having weiner of a guy. Who better to voice a stale bowl of white rice than Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick? (See also: Donnie Osmond as the singing voice of the male lead in MULAN.) If they never betray any soul or personality it counts as being a sweetheart.

But there’s one way he’s relatable: he gets told what to do by older people. I apologize if anybody’s sick of me talking about boomers vs. gen-xers in this review series, but I’m afraid it’s relevant here. THE LION KING very much reflects the then-very-common boomer complaint that the new generation were lazy “slackers” who didn’t care about anything and didn’t want jobs, just wanted to grow their hair long and play bass and write a poem or some shit. Everybody was so charmed by the farting warthog and the cynical Billy Crystal mouse or whatever* that they didn’t notice they were part of that same scoldy lecture. Simba, it may seem real great enjoying life and doing what you want in paradise, having a great time with your best friends, singing and being peaceful and not hurting anybody. But it’s wrong. You have to do the job your dad said you have to do, of lording over everybody and marrying the girl you just wanted to be friends with. And he doesn’t think that’s what he wants in life but then he does it and decides it’s awesome, Dad was right, shoulda followed the rules all along.

I wish they really would’ve underlined his slackerness by giving him a soul patch, and turning his mane more into stoner hair. Maybe have them play hacky sack with an acorn.

Anyway, that’s the moral that babysat millennials, who have grown up into a world where little Kopa’s never gonna get to be the Lion King, because his dad Simba never even got a chance, because Mufasa’s generation refuse to become constellations, won’t let go of power, won’t let society change except by moving to the right until Scar’s positions seem moderate. All the lions in power agree that most of the resources should go to the hyenas (if we take the scene where they’re goose stepping to mean they represent the military and cops).

Consider this: Then-Disney-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has said THE LION KING is “a little bit about myself,” is an advisor and campaign co-chair for the 2024 Biden re-election campaign. I mean I agree, it’s better than letting Scar get in again, but why the fuck does a CEO who peaked 30 fucking years ago get to be an important voice in our future? Go enjoy life, dumbass, your turn is over. Also how the fuck could a person be responsible for Quibi, losing $1.35 billion in 7 months by trying to convince people that the dumbest thing they ever heard of is actually cool, and then come out thinking “You know what? I should keep telling people what to do”? It’s an almost unfathomable level of delusion. But that’s the type of guy that gets a say in this shit.

Look, I’m sorry to defame Mufasa, I look forward to his upcoming CG movie from acclaimed director Barry Jenkins, which I hope will add some depth to him. But right now he represents an old way of thinking that’s full of shit. The Circle of Life sounds beautiful and poetic and all that but it’s just an excuse. It’s fuckin trickle down economics. Mufasa says, and I think the movie definitely agrees, that it’s okay for lions to eat the antelope because one day the lions will die and fertilize the grass and the antelopes will eat the grass. But Mufasa and the movie also tell us that the elephant graveyard, where Whoopi and Cheech live, is the scary place you should never go to. The movie portrays the scavengers as scum of the earth, scary threats who circle around little kids, planning to eat them. When Nala needs to convince Simba to come back she just says that Scar allowed hyenas into the Pride Lands. Simba is immediately outraged, and we’re supposed to be too.

Yeah, that Circle of Life sure does move us all, huh? Giraffes and zebras better fuckin show reverence for the baby lion, because we let them eat grass. But carrion eaters, we don’t consider them part of the circle. They need to be segregated.

That’s my take now. But I get that it’s a well made movie too. It’s got something for everyone: an IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT joke, a love scene that probly sparked furry awakenings all around the globe, a part where the baboon Rafiki does a Bruce Lee noise and I thought it was cool at the time but now I suspect it’s supposed to be funny. But the animation is good, it was the first non-sequel, non-anthology original story for a Disney film, it takes itself mostly seriously, I somewhat respect it now.

THE LION KING was the biggest movie not only of the summer, but of the whole 1994. It was the highest grossing animated movie ever made and kept that record until FINDING NEMO came out. In five years they’d had the comeback of THE LITTLE MERMAID, the best picture nomination of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the casting coup of Robin Williams in ALADDIN, and now this new peak of financial success and acclaim for the vaunted artform of drawings that move. Then ten years later they stopped doing it, but THE LION KING is not at fault.

* * *

Additional notes:

On this viewing I was kind of fixated on Scar luring little Simba to the scene of the wildebeest stampede by telling him “your father has a marvelous surprise for you.” Simba believes he caused Mufasa’s death himself and has to flee, he doesn’t get that his uncle lied to him. So did he spend his years of exile wondering what the surprise was that his dad had for him?

Only while researching this review did I learn that the singing voice for adult Simba, Joseph Williams, was the lead singer of Toto in the mid ‘80s and also is the son of John Williams and is responsible for

1) singing the Gummi Bears theme song and

2) writing the English lyrics for “Lapti Nek” and “Ewok Celebration.” In other words, one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, and it’s not even close.

Like all Disney movies THE LION KING went through a long development with an endless cascade of writers and artists reworking the story. I would like to note that one of the many people who wrote a treatment at some point was Miguel Tejada-Flores (REVENGE OF THE NERDS, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2, BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR, FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY), and two screenwriters they met with much later were Billy Bob Thornton (!) and SPEED-script-doctor Joss Whedon.

Tie-ins: There were 186 licensed products and promotions with Burger King, Nestle, Payless ShoeSource, etc. In 1994 alone they made literally a billion dollars on products based on THE LION KING. The box office wasn’t even that important!

*when this came out I’d never heard of Nathan Lane, I thought Timon was Billy Crystal, and listening to it now I can see why

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26 Responses to “The Lion King (1994)”

  1. I also never liked this one because of its lame characters and lazy storytelling, and I’m not enough of an animation fan to give it a pass on its technical merits. Most of the Disney renaissance movies have messages I find morally repugnant, which normally I don’t mind, but these movies are supposed to be so wholesome and openly instructive that they just make me angry. I’ve talked before about BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’s domestic violence apologia, but there’s also LITTLE MERMAID’s extremely-on-the-nose symbolism of a young girl giving up her voice in exchange for legs to spread for some fuckin’ dude she doesn’t even know, and of course this movie’s whole-hearted hard-on for generational privilege. Plus, their broad, hammy comedic sidekicks laid the groundwork for the Doritos-commercial-style comic relief and its attendant lazy catchphrase synthetic-joke-substitute humor modules, which continue to ruin movies to this day. I look at the damage this fuckin’ warthog has done and I’m like, “That’s gonna leave a mark! AWKwaaaaard!”

    So, no, I am not a Disney adult. I believe you could get punched for saying something like that.

  2. I wouldn’t consider myself a “Disney adult”. (My girlfriend is one and honestly…it can be a bit annoying.) I was probably only a “Disney child”, because by that time there wasn’t much else, especially not theatrical. Recently I realized that, while I like a bunch of their movies, their TV stuff always seemed to give me more and still does. Sure, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was cool, but DUCK TALES or TALE SPIN was my shit! I still haven’t bothered with checking out their most recent movies (The last one was maybe FRO2EN), but I recently had a PHINEAS & FERB rewatch and by god, this show makes me laugh harder than pretty much everything else. (By how much do I have to raise my Patreon to make you review their Zombie episode, Vern? It even has a George Romero cameo!)

    One thing that I often notice when I rewatch the Disney Renaissance classics is that I appreciate a whole bunch of stuff that went over my head or just accepted as just a thing that was there, because of the missing media literacy of my childhood. Like the visual brillance of the slow mo fight. At the same time these movies don’t really seem to hold up that well anymore. I still remember how excited everybody was for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and how it really seemed like the most epic piece of animation ever, but by now animation has evolved so much, both in terms of the, well, animation, but also the writing, that so many of these flicks feel kinda basic and underwritten. Nothing against the glory of a short movie, but there is only so much story that you can put in 80-90 minutes. And when it’s a musical, even less, because at least 20 minutes are songs!

    Last time I watched this one, I still liked it, but yeah, the story just runs from A to B to C. Nothing has really time to develope. Mufasa dies, Simba feels bad for a bit, then instantly becomes carefree, before his dad’s ghost tells him to get his ass back and free everybody.

    That said: The TIMON & PUMBAA spin-off cartoon was crazy! I have no idea who at Disney thought it would be a good idea to use two characters from one of their animated epics and put them into a zany gag cartoon (one joke from the first episode still makes me laugh whenever I think of it), but I’m glad that this happened.

  3. That look that Nala gives Simba right before they fuck is far too erotic to be in a cartoon about anthropomorphize lions. I don’t want to be called a prude or nothing, but that shot right there should have gotten the film an X rating.

  4. Comrade Question

    June 24th, 2024 at 11:13 am

    “Maybe if they cut the two wackest songs they wouldn’t have had to rush through the climax like they were being chased by the cops.” Classic Vern line, and perfectly encapsulates the weirdness I always feel about this one. The movie spends, what, 20 minutes with Adult Simba? On the other hand the last act of a movie is usually the weakest part of any given movie (IMO) so if they weren’t confident about it, maybe it’s good they just jammed through it. It probably would’ve just been more lion fucking, anyway.

  5. I used to work at Disney and during that time I became a bit of an expert on what a “Disney Adult” really is. I would be surprised if anyone here is one (though I’m not judging if you are). The DA is someone who has a season pass to Disneyland (or World) and goes every weekend. Any important event (birthday, marriage proposal, wedding, etc) happens at the park. Park visits often involve elaborate cosplay and that cosplay extends into their non-themepark life. Their cars are almost always decorated with custom license plates, stickers, stuffed animals on the dash, and other sorts of accoutrements celebrating (usually) their favorite character. Said character is usually Mickey and/or Minnie but others like Tinkerbell are also very common. Disney Adults are basically hardcore about everything Disney and have no shame in it (good for them). At times, when I worked with a bunch of them, I was a little envious of how happy they all seemed and wish that I could put my cynicism aside to dress up like Prince Charming or whatever (and do so completely unironically).

    Also, I think Lion King is my favorite of the “renaissance” period for Disney Animation (although, I mainly don’t like the songs). I also saw the theatrical version which is one of the most memorable stage experiences I’ve ever had. Just incredibly inventive sets and costuming.

  6. I can never get on board with the critiques that examine Mufasa’s tax policy or what-have-you because I’ve never viewed The Lion King as being about the real, exterior world. Its Africa is a savannah of the mind, a psychological space rather than a literal one. Its about the inner turmoil of adolescence, something I intuited when I saw it in theaters at 10 years old, though I could never have explained it at the time.

    Simba, as avatar of childish impulses, must mature and tame the wild savagry that Scar would allow to run rampant. He’s the superego to the savannah’s id, and making sure everything is in its proper place is how all these elements integrate into a functional adult. (That’s also how Disney got away with Nala making eff-me eyes in a kids cartoon: integration of sexuality is another crucial part of maturing.) The Lion King is something akin to a film adaptation of the faux-Native American parable about the two wolves. (Just wait for that to be the next big thing in Hollywood.)

    Anyway, count me in as a huge fan. The movie had a big impact on me as a teenager and I love it.

  7. Whoa – yes, some of the politics/metaphors here are even less than pleasant than I ever realized, though I do remember people were hip to certain aspects at the time, as there were multiple “letters to the editor”-type pieces published revolving around the movie’s “There goes the neighborhood” attitude toward letting the undesirables/hyenas into the suburbs/pridelands.

  8. I acknowledge it’s problematic sub-texts while frequently head-scratching as to why this gets a whole bunch of people riled up. It’s a cartoon and fantasy land cartoon at that, if the opening scene doesn’t lay it all out for you. The whole jungle turns up to celebrate…the birth of yet another apex predator that’s gonna eat their ass at the first opportunity? Like if the side of lamb, sirloin of beef and a tub of chicken wings leapt off the “All You Can Eat Buffet” bins and personally welcomed every customer walking into the restaurant.

    This is my fav of the Disney Cartoons. Liked it’s epic scale, almost Arthurian in it’s telling, great voice work, Irons is absolutely fucking fantastic as the villain, decent songs, funny but goes to some surprisingly dark places, I still find Mufasa’s death disturbing, and flinched when Scar that bastard hits Sarabi much later. Fratricide and Domestic Abuse co-exist with themes of Succession and Revenge, wrapped up in great animation, with a few chuckles thrown in. And glad RBatty024 brought up Nala’s “Come Fuck Me” look. Amazing that Disney of 30 years ago could push more boundaries in their animated stuff no less than the sanitized shit they mostly drip feed us these days.

    This, and ALADDIN, I can rewatch any time, while avoiding their abysmal live action remakes on general principle.

  9. Is “I’m not a Disney adult, but I like some Disney animated films” the new “I’m not a Trekkie, but I like some STAR TREK”?

    A case could be made that I was raised in the Disney Adult religion. My mother might have been classed as a “Disney Adult” by the standards of her time; never much of one for the theme parks (of course that’s at least partly that she doesn’t live in America, or later France or Japan), but she loved Disney and would wear clothes to show it, had a few ornaments and such a few books on Disney. Before my time but she even briefly worked in London’s Disney distribution offices, and attended the UK Premier of THE BLACK HOLE, along with Prince Phillip (his wife was holding out for EMPIRE STIKE BACK I guess). Wasn’t a Disney purist though, she also liked Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera and the MGM stuff, among other animated fare. (She’s still alive BTW, but I’m using past tense because I’m talking about the 20th Century) How far does the modern Disney Adult go in their devotion; are they into OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE and TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS and BLAME IT ON THE BELLBOY and such? Do they see Marvel and STAR WARS as a welcome addition to the family or an intrusion?

  10. The subtexts of movies from this era or earlier perhaps stem from older generations’ belief that surviving and overcoming adversity is heroic and builds toughness and resilience.

    The more modern view is that adversity is something unjust to be avoided in the first place, and that the old ways were corrupt but we’re trying to do better now. FROZEN 2 is a more recent Disney movie in this vein. So is THOR RAGNAROK, if you count Marvel.

  11. It is pretty odd that the term “Disney Adult” came out during a time when it is totally normal for adults to enjoy cartoons. Okay, they seem to mean adults who make Disney stuff their whole personality in often pretty disturbing or at least annoying amounts, but still, it has a certain “You silly adult, don’t you know that Mickey Mouse is for children? Grow up!” smell.

  12. Comrade Question

    June 25th, 2024 at 7:40 am

    I’m a Disney Adult but only for The Watcher in the Woods.

    (What a weird movie. I was fascinated by it as a kid. I’d love to hear Vern’s take on that one sometime.)

  13. I second the request for WATCHER IN THE WOODS. That one and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES were shown to us in class in elementary school and I think it’s proof that they were actively trying to fuck us up.

  14. I love love love the annual Vern summer movie series, and I have just caught up on 1994 so far this week (I’ve had a crazy schedule the last month).

    I wonder if we’ll score a Wyatt Earp review. It came out the same day as Lion King. It doesn’t hold up to Tombstone but it’s an interesting comparison. Apparently he hasn’t reviewed it before.

    As for Lion King, it DOES feel rushed. It always felt like it always had just two acts: (1) Simba leaves, and (2) Simba comes home. I hate Hacumamatada, but Circle of Life is beautiful and gets me every time.

  15. Only times “Disney Adults” in dialogues I’ve come across come from the obnoxious film Twitter sorts online, gatekeeping BS.*

    I think of how Siskel and Ebert at the time adored alot of those Renaissance films because to them, that was Disney finally getting its shit together and aware from the economical art style which defined them from the early 60s up to mid 80s give or take, to be on par with those early classics they cherished seeing first as kids then rewatching a lot of them as adults and appreciating their fimmaking qualities.

    What I always found funny about LION KING is this was in production alongside POCAHONTAS and TLK was considered by the animators to be the “lesser” project. Funny how life works like that. Count me in the “overrated but still pretty good” camp.

    *=You get this in pro wrestling fan circles right now. For example AEW fans will point to data about how their fans are smarter/richer allegedly than WWE fans, who are “basic.” Of course said fans just blamed Juneteenth, the Kendrick Lamar concert, and BLACK PANTHER showing for why Dynamite had its worst ratings ever last week. Yes, that really happened.

  16. i get why they wouldn’t go into this stuff but it sorta sounds like what gets the hyenas banished is their willingness to eat kids, consuming the next generation for their own gain and so “breaking the circle” in a vague symbolic sense if not an actual biologic one. which sorta mirrors the stuff with the evil lion, and i guess in the movie’s terms to be a cop is also to eat the young for the sake of continuing political power? kind of a fun thing for a disney movie to bring up, especially in light of the biden connection.

  17. The Lion King was probably my least favorite of the Disney renaissance movies but as someone aged 12-14 when they were happening, those movies were huge, Avengers-like events! It’s hard to explain how much hype surrounded every post Little Mermaid Disney animated movie to the point where whether or not you liked the movie or if it was even good was a non issue because there was just so much fanfare happening around the movie. Part of that success was crafting the plot of these movies around your run of the mill hero’s journey where the moral is that the status quo is always correct and it’s the good and right thing to maintain it. Uncle Walt’s vision of “Main Street USA” as a lilly white paradise was clearly still guiding the Disney ship. I was too busy rocking out to the soundtrack in our family’s minivan to delve too much into the bones of these stories so thanks, Vern, for pointing out how insidious some of these messages were.

  18. I think the reason I’ve never been much of a Disney fan is because of when I was born. 1977. The late 70s to mid 80s, the years when I should have been indoctrinated with the Disney virus, were historically the company’s leanest era. Animated films of any kind were a bit of a rarity, and most of the ones I remember were the Don Bluth joints. THE SECRET OF NIMH was my jam. Disney just wasn’t a factor. When the renaissance started, I was 11, and my formative cinematic experiences were live-action movies that kids liked but weren’t necessarily made for them. In 1988, my favorite movie was DIE HARD. I wasn’t going to see no LITTLE MERMAID. Are you kidding me? I saw those movies eventually because, as Buzzfeed said, they were inescapable, but they never imprinted on me. I think if I’d been born a few years later, I’d have the same Pavlovian response to the rhythms and texture of Disney-style animated entertainment that the millennials do, but I missed my window.

    I’m fine with it. DIE HARD remains an infinitely cooler childhood favorite than THE LION KING.

  19. I feel like some of you take the story of this (and other Disney movies) a bit too seriously, considering that this is more or less a basic hero plot: Here are the good guys, there are the bad guys. Good guy gets wronged as a kid, grows up, learns the truth and reclaims his place.

    Yes, the whole “circle of life” thing and “Why don’t they let the Hyenas in?” stuff has been looked and and analyzed and even ridiculed for now 30 years with varying results, but I think in the end it just boils down to “That’s just the kind of story that was told 30 years ago” and in these stories the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad and there were no real questions asked.

  20. And those changes in the kind of stories that are told are one of the things I like to consider in these retrospectives. If these are hacky topics to discuss I honestly wasn’t aware of it – they hadn’t occurred to me in previous viewings.

  21. Nah man, wasn’t really criticizing you (or anybody else here)* but I think the discussion about what this cartoon about a bunch of talking animals REALLY tries to say, is at times a bit out there. Sure, it’s absolutely impossible to tell a story without being influenced by the storyteller’s views or simply just the time when it was told so there are definitely important and interesting things to mention about this movie, but I also believe that the whole thing is a bit more surface level than we give it credit for. When the movie was announced, it was called “HAMLET with lions” and parts of that are still in there, even if it’s just the very basic plot of a prince with a father who was murdered by his uncle. So once we start to wonder if this movie might be a reflection of the all-American good vs evil worldview from a time when Walt Disney was still alive, we also have to consider that it’s basically a very watered down Shakespeare adaptation, that was rewritten and probably even more bastardized from its original intention, because they had to make room for the musical numbers.

    I hope y’all know that I love to read your different takes on these things here after all.

    *Going through a heatwave here, so I am a bit in grumpy ass bitch mode though. Sorry for that.

  22. But CJ the interesting thing of analyzing this kind of stuff is not “what was X movie all about really” but what did it say about the prevailing culture and mores at the time? Watch an 80s comedy sex movie now and one person can say it’s just a dumb comedy why think about anything, but then you look at it and it’s like “why does any Asian character arrive and there’s a gong sound effect” and “boy they sure seem pretty cool with leching over a 14 year old.” And then compare that to society.

    I never get why people get testy when something is looked at critically. A lot of movies were made that weren’t meant to be more than entertainment, but there’s shit in there that even the creators didn’t realize was there and sometimes it’s interesting to think about this stuff.

  23. Generally I didn’t have any problems with analyzing the movie within the context of its time or even genre, but I think some things here went a bit too far off base and started to go into “We see connections where there aren’t any” territory,


    extreme heat waves always put me into a bad mental state and usually I wouldn’t have been so short-fused about it, so: sorry y’all. I swear I wasn’t trying to be as bitchy as I sounded.

  24. “A lot of movies were made that weren’t meant to be more than entertainment, but there’s shit in there that even the creators didn’t realize was there and sometimes it’s interesting to think about this stuff.”

    I forget where I read it, but someone said the “just entertainment” type movies you reference can often tell you more about the contemporary culture and society than serious “issues” movies or award-winning fair. By NOT trying to portray a specific idiosyncratic vision, or inform or change people’s opinions about the issues of the day, the pop entertainment tells you what kind of stuff they thought would sell or appeal to everyone. And based on the historical successes and failures, and prevailing trends and recurring elements across these movies, we get a broader look at the culture. Like, the people making most of the dumb sex comedies in the 80s weren’t trying to SAY anything, but the fact that so many of those movies portray invasions of privacy, questionable or non-existent consent due to intoxication, false identity, power dynamics, etc. and many audiences found it funny or cute and rolled with it certainly does say something about the culture.

    I am a lifelong animation and comic nerd since a few years before those things started being more culturally acceptable for an adult. So from this position I am willing to judge the “Disney Adult” as lame. Not because they like “childrens” movies, but because they are people who define themselves by loyalty to a corporation and a narrow, frequently unchallenging avenue of pop culture that has become more self-mytholigizng and self-consuming until its eating its own tail. I feel the same way if you define much of your life by fandom to an individual sports team, band, or singular hobby that makes you a less interesting person.

  25. Yep, you want to learn about society, you don’t analyze Beau is Afraid…you look at Rocky, Rambo, and how James Bond has changed over the years.

  26. Adam C >>

    I purposely returned to this comments section hoping to read a good comments following Vern’s thoughtful review. Yours gave me that, good stuff man.

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