Classic childhood film returns to big screen

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba! (“Here comes a lion, Father!”)

These iconic words form the intro to “Circle of Life,” the beginning of one of Walt Disney Pictures’ most beloved films of all time. Since Sept. 16, Disney fans have celebrated the theatrical re-release of The Lion King, a megahit that still holds records as the highest-grossing 2-D animated film and best-selling animated home video in history. It is a classic directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, brought to life by the vocal talents of Matthew Broderick as Simba, Jeremy Irons as Scar, and James Earl Jones as Mufasa. With a timeless story and a soundtrack made memorable by the contributions of Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Lebo M., and Tim Rice, The Lion King re-release can only be considered one of this year’s hugest successes and a milestone in cinema history.

The movie closely parallels Shakespeare’s Hamlet as it follows Simba, a young prince exiled from his kingdom after an unfortunate family death. Years after his banishment, he returns to Pride Rock to seek revenge and reclaim his throne from Scar, the scheming and manipulative uncle who nearly destroys Pride Rock in Simba’s absence. On this journey, Simba reunites with his childhood friend and later mate, Nala, and attracts the loyalty of quirky sidekicks Timon and Pumbaa. The entertaining personalities of outcast hyenas (their leader voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) still manage to amuse the masses while they tremble (and laugh uncontrollably) at the mere mention of Mufasa’s name. Zazu remains a sarcastic mentor, Scar a formidable presence, and Rafiki’s display of ninja skills are no disappointment in the latest edition of Disney’s animated classic.

But why go see a movie you’ve seen, quoted, and sung along to a thousand times before? As an adult, one is able to analyze and appreciate it as a film with many layers; there are plenty of details to discover that one might have overlooked as a toddler. For example, when Zazu sings “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” Scar is holding a skull in his hand, a clear reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. One of the bugs Timon pulls out of a knothole during “Hakuna Matata” is wearing Mickey Mouse ears. In a scene shared by Timon and Pumbaa, Simba collapses on a cliff and the dust that flies into the sky forms the letters “SFX,” an abbreviation of the special-effects team that worked on that portion of the film. The Lion King is riddled with symbolism and hidden messages, and years later, audiences can still find something new in a familiar story that inspired a generation. At the very least, nostalgic adults can unite to the tunes of “Be Prepared” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight.”

One more aspect that separates this release from the 1994 original is its conversion to 3-D. Unlike most headache-inducing films made intolerable by 3-D effects, The Lion King’s magic is not hindered by this technology. Very few scenes are shaky enough to cause mild irritation, and for those audiences who simply resist 3-D glasses, the original 2-D version was also re-released.

Not surprisingly, The Lion King has grossed $61.5 million since its Sept. 16 opening. Zimmer and Lebo M.’s African-inspired score is as powerful as ever and complements the stunning visuals beautifully. During the movie, many viewers are reminded of their own childhood connections to Simba, Mufasa, and the rest of the wonderful characters. The Lion King, whether in 2-D or 3-D, has always been an epic tale and experience to remember, and it is certainly one for which a generation of Disney lovers will always be grateful.