MM Retro Review: The Lion King


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By Rob Stoakes

In the first Movie Metropolis Retro Review, contributor Rob Stoakes looks back at a film that touched hearts across the globe. But what does he make of The Lion King 24 years after its initial release?

What happened to the summer blockbuster?

Is everyone seriously just waiting for September now? I look at the Odeon showings and I see a re-release of the Jungle Book and a subtitled Polish film that doesn’t even have the decency to be a perverse and morally degenerate horror film. Just some perverse and morally degenerate rom-com. It’s getting to the point where I’m actually looking forward to the Ghostbusters movie. At least it’ll be A film coming out. That’s like looking forward to eating live roaches because the McDonalds fryers aren’t working.

Well, I am nothing if not the rebellious stallion of film journalism, bursting into your home and breaking genre conventions all over the carpet. If I’m not going to get a recent release to review, then I’m just going to choose an old one at random to give you an insight into my mind. After all, it’s been over a year I’ve been on this site and my not-quite anniversary is a good time to answer the ultimate question;

Why, for all my arty-farty love of Italian neo-realism and independent moody pieces, is the unabashedly childish and extremely mainstream The Lion King my favourite film?

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Picture by Disney.

I speak no hyperbole when I say that The Lion King is a top contender for the best film of all time, but I don’t mean best made or even best written. In fact, if I was scoring this film for a review, it would be fairly ho-hum. The animation is gorgeous but not uncommon for the time, not every joke works and the plot structure is all over the place, with a muddled moral, characters who drop off the map for two thirds of the film but are considered really important when they show up again and a villain who is somehow so stunningly incompetent he manages to cause a drought.

Critical reception at the time was so-so, certainly not as good as Beauty and the Beast despite the fact that it’s absolute rubbish and you know it but won’t admit it, and as impressive as being the highest grossing animation of all time was, it was actually released at an abysmal time and didn’t get half of the draws it could have.

And yet this is the one film that under 30’s around the globe revisit over and over again. When I went to university it wasn’t just my favourite film, but the favourite film of every single person in my block except for the one maniac whose favourite was some unknown flick called To Kill A Mockingbird. Countless jokes and references to the film from Disney and elsewhere show an almost feral love for this film, and the Lion King sequels get the exact same love despite having the budget and originality of a bake sale.

There’s a long history of rubbish getting popular, but I don’t think Lion King is it. I think, and this is especially important with kids, The Lion King is the best film of all time because it is the best at being a film. Films as an artistic medium are just long TV episodes; there’s no interactivity like video games or demand of imagination like books. So what makes films not long boring TV?

In a word, scale.

Other mediums seem so much tinier than films, on that huge cinema screen with the booming sounds and the smell of other people’s body odour surrounding you. Even a Lars Von Trier film is more dramatic than Spooks. And The Lion King is so full of size it’s almost intimidating. That first shot of the Savannah sun, Scar’s paw slamming down on the mouse, the stampede, the rain dousing the flames surrounding Pride Rock, all of these huge images are burned into our minds.

To match, there are BIG emotions and BIG characters. Not complex, but seeming huge. Ok, so Simba immediately believing Scar about the death of his father is dumb and contradicts with later actions, but it doesn’t register with us because it doesn’t register with Simba. All that registers is that very sad scene where (spoilers for 23 year old film you’ve already seen) Mufasa dies and the big epic cloud sky shouting match and you’re hooked.

And that’s what film is all about. The sheer size of The Lion King, the overpowering and masterly crafted scale, is what films should be all the time. This isn’t to put all of the praise upon just the film being big; any one of the pieces on this board could be too big and cause the whole thing to become top heavy and collapse under its own weight, see Avengers 2. The voice acting, music and the animation are top-notch as well, but it’s the scope of The Lion King that captivates audiences. It is, in essence, the perfect summer blockbuster.

What do you think?

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