Saturday, August 2, 2014

16. The Lion King (1994)

Code-name: Simba
(ugh, I really couldn't get creative at this point... I'll be on my game next week, promise)

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Type: Disney animation, musical, dramedy
Composers: Elton John & Tim Rice (music & lyrics), Hans Zimmer (score)


Young Simba- Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Adult Simba- Matthew Broderick
Mufasa- James Earl Jones
Sarabi- Madge Sinclair
Scar- Jeremy Irons
Young Nala- Niketa Calame
Adult Nala- Moira Kelly
Rafiki- Robert Guillaume
Zazu- Rowan Atkinson
Timon- Nathan Lane
Pumbaa- Ernie Sabella
Shenzi- Whoopi Goldberg
Bonzai- Cheech Marin
Ed- Jim Cummings

Notable awards and animations:

OSCAR- Best Original Song ("Can you feel the love tonight")
OSCAR- Best Original Score- Hans Zimmer
nominations-OSCAR- Best Original Song ("Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata")
overachieving, much? lol
Golden Globe- Best Picture- Comedy/Musical
Golden Globe- Best Original Song ("Can you feel the love tonight?")
Golden Globe- Best Original Score- Hans Zimmer
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Original Song ("Circle of Life")
Grammy- Best Male Pop Vocal- Elton John ("Can you feel the love tonight?")
Grammy- Best Musical Album for Children
nomination-Grammy-Best Instrumental Composition for TV/film- Hans Zimmer
nominations-Grammy-Best Song written for film/TV- ("Can you feel the love tonight?" and "Circle of Life")

[again, if you hadn't seen this movie yet, shame on you... it is awesome... spoilers ahead]

Earliest moments
To my recollection... okay, my recollection sucks. I remember this being the 2nd movie I saw in theaters... that honor belongs to "Jurassic Park," which my dad and I saw a year after "Aladdin."
Give me a break, I wasn't even 8 yet and as the years pass, my memories get further away.

This was definitely a movie to behold in the classic cinematic format. The absolute size of the opening number was jaw-dropping. I didn't know I felt, but I knew it was something special. A constant stand-out was the comedy in this movie. For all the intense moments involved Scar and the hyenas and wildebeests, comic relief was struck throughout. Early on, it was poking fun at Zazu and later it was the duo of Timon and Pumbaa.

What I don't remember clearly was Mufasa's death and my reaction to it. I think I was crying in the theater... I'm not positive, and honestly who wasn't? That was after so much intensity with the stampede.

I remember the final fight scenes pretty well where all the characters got in on the action, Timon, Pumbaa, Zazu, even Rafiki got to kick some great hyena :P
and Simba's chill-inducing ascent to the "throne" atop Pride Rock. The animation, yes, but a great deal of that goes to the score.

As for the cast and crew, back then I only knew Whoopi and Jonathan Taylor Thomas from "Home Improvement."

...there's one cute episode later in the series where Tim is entertaining his niece with voices and she asks him to be a lion. He says he's never been a lion cub, and JTT comes in and says "I have. You know, I gotta tell you it's a tough gig. Everyone expects you to be king."

Nice little inside joke/bit of homage ;)

for this very reason, I saw "I'll be home for Christmas" and watched his cameos in Tim Allen's newer series "Last Man Standing"...
looking at his profile now... amazed he's originally from Bethlehem PA (I commute there!) and only 5 years older than me


Disney admits they loosely based it on "Hamlet" and had a little bit of "Bambi" in there too... c'mon, what kid is to be familiar enough with "Hamlet" to make this connection?

I'm not super familiar with "Hamlet" (been meaning to try reading it again... I got maybe 10 pages in before I got busy with school... I was reading it for leisure, btw) but other than, you know:

  • king gets killed by brother
  • brother takes over throne
  • prince is driven away by brother and later returns to avenge his father
  • prince sees visions of father who guides him

There are enough differences where I don't fully buy into it, nor do I really want to. It overcomplicates things (Lion King II being based on "Romeo & Juliet"... so obvious, but we'll get to my adoration of that movie later).

We have the big EPIC opening with the "Circle of Life" where all the animals venture to Pride Rock to see the debut of the new prince. Just thinking on it gives me chills.

On the other side of this momentous occasion, we have Mufasa's younger brother Scar, who is less than pleased about this news since he was next in line for the throne.

Now a young cub, Simba learns from Mufasa about the circle of life and keeping balance of the kingdom. Later that day, he also learns a valuable lesson: being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble.

Scar suggests Simba check out the elephant graveyard, something too good for him and his friend Nala to resist, and this lands them in trouble with the hyenas... almost deadly until Mufasa comes to the rescue.

[Come to think of it, that was another scene that stood out when I was a kid... Mufasa lecturing Simba with the music all serious in the background]

Because Plan A was a bust, Scar puts together Plan B during his villain song "Be Prepared": wipe out Mufasa and Simba and become king of Pride Rock.

The big part of that, he gets absolutely right and it is really dramatic. Not just super sad and shocking, but the adrenaline rush is RIDICULOUS. More props to Hans Zimmer, for sure, and this was many years before I'd knew his name or had any idea he was attached to this movie.

:shudder: another moment that still gives me chills (and not in a good way)... the fall of Mufasa and Simba's epic "nooooo!"... can hear it so clear in my head, fills me up with so much sadness

Scar convinces Simba that Mufasa's death was his fault and suggests he run away. His big mistake there is sending the hyenas to finish him off... considering they're part of the comic relief, yeah, they fail miserably... and for the audience, hilariously

All the denizens of Pride Rock believe Simba to be dead while he's growing up in the jungle under the "guidance" of the most unlikely duo: Timon (a meerkat) and Pumbaa (a warthog), who teach him the "wonderful phrase" of Hakuna Matata.

"Bad things happen and there's nothing you can do about them, right? Wrong! When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world" and live your life with no worries...

yeah, like with The Land Before Time, I practically know this movie by heart :P

Fast-forward however many months/years, Simba's illusion of paradise is shattered by Nala, who ventures into the jungle to find food for the starving pride. Their friendship quickly gives way to romance (funny... when Zazu told them as cubs that they were betrothed, they were so grossed out... how times change).

Then when the plot comes to Simba's attention, he's reluctant to act on it.

So he gets another "nudge" in the right direction by Rafiki, the old mandrill/shaman.

"Do you knew my father?"

"Correction, I know your father" [actually, a lot of this scene of Rafiki stood out to me as well]

Simba sees a ghostly apparition of Mufasa and finds the courage to return home to confront his past. Not without resistance from Scar, of course. Sure, he let the kingdom go to ruins because his allowing the hyenas to rampage eliminated all the herbivores, but he's pretty good with the mind games.

Or just proving that Simba's still very young at heart and in the mind and the wounds of his past are still fresh in his mind.

Either way, we have a great number of fight scenes where all the characters get in the action. In the theater we agreed that Rafiki stole the show... again...

Then Simba and Scar finally have it out. Not nearly as epic as the opening sequence, but it's impressive to watch. Scar's comeuppance was also a great twist that none of us really saw coming.

Simba ascends the throne (like I said, in epic fashion) and the circle of life continues: now with his and Nala's cub being lifted into the air by Rafiki and the title screen reappears.

Oh wow... I'm getting all the feels recounting all this... again, another great ending to a great animated movie. But instead of the "aww it's over" emotions of "The Land Before Time," it's almost to the point when I want to get on my feet, clap and CHEER.

Characters and Actors

If I didn't know the members of this all-star cast then, I certainly grew to know them as time went on.

Already mentioned Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Simba.

It did not know for YEARS that Ferris Bueller actually did adult Simba :P

Actually, other than James Earl Jones as Mufasa and Cheech Marin as the hyena Bonzai, I don't really think of any of the actors watching this movie because the characters are so memorable and iconic.

But while on the subject of the actors, the hyenas (Whoopi/Cheech/Jim Cummings), Timon (Nathan Lane) and Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) had the biggest names. I didn't see Jeremy Irons until that Bradley Cooper movie "The Words" (grossly underrated IMO but maybe I just related as a writer struggling to get published).

The name that took me the longest time to find the name attached to it: Moira Kelly

not that I was really looking for her, but out of the blue, that familiar name appeared...
during the end credits of "Chaplin" (she played Charlie's last wife, Oona O'Neil)

It doesn't get much bigger than James Earl Jones as Mufasa. He owns this role just as well as he did Darth Vadar. Nobody else could have brought the epitome of African lion to life.

Simba starts out as a brash young cub itching to be in charge and getting his own way, but his personality changes once tragedy strikes. He adopts a care-free lifestyle to put the past behind him, but deep down, when Nala returns, we see that he never did get over it. Believing he killed his father has scarred him for life and despite how big and strong he'd gotten, we see he's very troubled.

Sooner or later, he does come to realize there are things more important than fear.

Nala starts out as his partner in crime and develops into a very compassionate individual, also wants to be the rock to help Simba fulfill the role he was born into.

We see very little of Sarabi, Simba's mother, only in a couple of scenes. She has a strong maternal presence on screen, but wasn't as used as much/well as she could have been.

Other than the first scene with young Simba (with JTT's voice) and where we meet Nala, the most we really see of her is during Simba's return and Scar gives her a lecture.

Sure, Scar may have killed Mufasa in a pretty devious way, but besides that, he's not the strongest character in the bunch. Heck, during this confrontation, his defense to Sarabi is an echo of Simba's as a cub: "I'm the king, I can do whatever I want"... LAME...

How part of the pride ceded from the whole in the "Lion King II" because they supported how Scar ran things... I can't begin to rationalize. He was as good as king as Prince John. :facepalm:

but Jeremy Iron's drawl can be very intimidating. Then again, he's reasoning with a scared lion cub trapped inside an adult lion's body...

Part of the reason this movie succeeds, other than the strength of Simba and Nala and Mufasa... the side-kicks. The hilarious comic relief characters.

Timon with, seemingly, all the brains and Pumbaa with all heart (and farts, lol... first ever Disney character with flatulence issues).
Zazu being the butt of all of the jokes from Simba, the hyenas, even Mufasa who uses him for a pouncing lesson... a neurotic little hornbill serving as advisor to the king. However disrespected, he does know what he's talking about.

Sure, the hyenas are vicious, but they can be pretty hilarious too. How they interact with one another and the other characters. Funny enough, they also get the final laugh at the end of it all.


Since I'm brought up Hans Zimmer a bunch of times already, I'll start with him.

This movie wouldn't be nearly as impactful with that score. It canvases each scene perfectly with the emotions we're meant to have. The other reason (next to the incredible backgrounds) why this movie is meant for the cinematic treatment. Music so explosive in the heart-racing/stopping moments, it fills in all the cracks.

Aside from some of the dark stuff Disney has been known to sneak into their movies (in that, you often don't notice these touches until you're older), and having heavy weights like James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons in the cast, Hans Zimmer's score takes "The Lion King" to the next level. It makes it bigger, but also accessible to a wider audience. It gives it more of an "adult" feel, a professional feel.

Geesh... to heck with Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and Shawshank, "The Lion King" should have been nominated for Big Picture... maybe should have won with this score :P

[looking him up now...
first of all, he was part of the band who "Killed the Radio Star" with the very first MTV music video...
he'd been nominated for 9 Oscars and this was his only win... other nominations included Rain Man, Sherlock Holmes, Inception and Prince of Egypt...
Sherlock Holmes was the one that made me acutely aware of his name but other than Lion King, it was the only other movie on my list where I thought the score had a lead role opposed to fading into the background]

As for the soundtrack itself, we listened to it A LOT as kids. It has all the songs featured in the movie written by Elton John and Tim Rice, as well as a couple bits of the score, and three of the former songs performed by Elton John himself.

Not just performed, but also rehashed.

That really threw me the first time, especially when I saw a music video for "Can you feel the love tonight?" and the lyrics were all wrong.

Both it and "Circle of Life" were slowed down and "I just can't wait to be king" has a quicker, different melody.

Either version, "Can you feel the love tonight?" has always been my favorite.

Yeah, I had no idea what it meant when I was a kid and I really don't want to think on that too much... While the other songs are catchy and kids easily learn/remember the lyrics, there's a certain beauty to that song in particular. Especially in Elton John's performance version, the quality of the music itself.
Legacy and Sequels

We had a computer game called Lion King Activity Center that had three different areas. One was Rafiki's tree (which had games like his version of Tic-Tac-Toe), another was the Jungle with Timon & Pumbaa (which had a game where you found animals hidden in scenery) and another, I believe, was the elephant graveyard (one of the activities was navigating a maze and avoiding hyenas).

Had so much fun with that 8-)

According to the first diary I kept (when most of my entries were a couple sentences long, opposed to pages) we saw the Broadway musical November 6th 1999.

I believe the guy who did Sebastian in "The Little Mermaid" played Mufasa (funny, he didn't sound Jamaican to me, lol). Most of it was the same, but lots of things varied, including one scene where Timon goes over a waterfall that was not in the movie.
Until I saw "Mamma Mia" with my dad and sister, it was my favorite Broadway experience.
It also comes at the cusp of a pivotal point in my life.
1) it was 9 days before I had surgery on my back and later started writing
2) I saw it with my immediate family, aunt and uncle before he died of cancer a month and a couple days later
...with my surgery, I felt like I left childhood behind and started to blossom into the person I am now. But make no mistake, I still have a lot of "evolving" to do.

In the Kingdom Hearts series (since I'd already brought this up with "Nightmare Before Christmas, "Aladdin" and "Mulan"), Simba appeared as a summon gem in the first game.

In the 2nd game, PrideLands was one of the worlds. When visiting, Sora transforms into a lion cub, Donald into a bird with flight ability and Goofy into a turtle (still don't get what is with Goofy and taking on the shape of turtles).

The storyline takes over from the middle of the movie, the Pridelands are in dire shape and Sora and the others find Simba with Timon and Pumbaa to convince him to come back.
Then when you visit all the worlds in the 2nd half of the game, the story gets a little muddled. Simba is haunted by the ghost of Scar and doubting he'll be as good as king as his father was. Almost like they didn't try to make a compelling storyline to continue the plot.

As for sequels...

I'll get the lesser out of the way.
"Lion King 1 1/2" where we find out Timon's backstory, how he met Pumbaa and how the two of them, supposedly, were present in events that happened in the original movie, though behind the scenes.
I really hated this movie because to me, it stampeded on the memory of the original. Timon and Pumbaa are great, but they're not THIS great where the events of the original couldn't have happened without their "interference." Ridiculous...

"Lion King II: Simba's Pride"... I was about as obsessed with as "Land Before Time IV"...

I believe it came on VHS in summer 1999. So sought after that Blockbuster was fresh out the day it came out (much to my annoyance).
Admittedly, the songs aren't as good or as memorable as in the original, but I do have the soundtrack. Haven't listened to it in YEARS... but loved it.

Yeah, I enjoyed it so much I committed to memory that Neve Campbell (I'd meant to but never saw "Party of Five" to see her) did the voice of Kiara, Simba's daughter and Liz Callaway did her singing voice.

Forgot along the way that Jason Marsdan, whose voice I came to LOVE later in my countdown did young Kovu, and his father was played the late Suzanne Pleshette (who also starred in that movie with him).

Also created a fanfiction based around her going to school with some other lions, getting bullied by a cub later banished from the pride and the narrator was my version of Kovu, the lion she falls in love with. The names were changed, but it was still a true to form fanfiction (before I even started on the endeavor in late 1999 while recovering from my surgery)... now that was something I wished I had kept with me (had long since thrown out my print-outs).

But what I still have are my plushies. I have a young Simba, a lion from Barnum & Bailey circus, a Kiara I got at Blockbuster (that I slept with throughout 1999-2000) and a Kovu I got while we were vacationing at New Orleans. That was also where I picked up the soundtrack (and my dad found a copy of Xanadu's... there's a story there for sure that I'll get into at a later date).

Yeah, I just loved that movie, perhaps more than the original at times. The songs and score didn't stand out, but I fell in love with Kovu and Kiara, the idea of them together. Simba was a decent character, but I thought at times he was a little too overprotective... heck, there was one line of dialogue that still unsettles me.

After Kovu is banished from the Pridelands for betrayal, Simba first says to Kiara that she won't go anywhere with an escort and later says she'll stay on Pride Rock where he can keep an eye on her... well, which is it?
Either way, she does manage to run away so all of this is null and void.

That movie's definitely worth watching again. I came to learn it by heart so I hadn't watched it for YEARS.

Coming Soon

It amazes me how so many of these movies connect to one another without my meaning to connect the dots.

Rumor has it that the next movie on my countdown was one of my late uncle's favorites. He was a cop . I rented it from Blockbuster and fell in love with it... and its sequel...
another great 80's movie with some great funny actors, whether they meant to be or not.

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