Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Lion King


The most successful animated movie, ever, until Finding Nemo came along, and still by far the biggest earning hand-drawn feature. It brought in $783,000,000 worldwide, which makes it #29 of the all-time earners, and one of only six in the Top 30 that was made in the 20th century. When you adjust for inflation and things like the recent 3D surcharge, it’s probably higher than that. (But then, by that measure, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs might be in the Top 5.)
Okay, yeah, we’re all box-office crazy these days, right now everybody’s watching the numbers for Iron Man 2 as if they were close results of a presidential election, and as if it really mattered to anyone but studio execs and investors. But is the movie any good?
Yes, it is. It will never be my favorite, but the minute I heard the plot line and saw the opening 20 minutes, I knew this would appeal to kids who were still in the market for plush stuffed animals. That cute little lion cub pulled them in, and then they stayed for a more adult story inspired by, among other things, Hamlet. (Wiki says this was the first Disney feature that was not based on other source material, and though it seems incredible, I can’t find another. Dumbo was based on a toy, not a book or a story or a legend.) (And yeah, there are those who think it was ripped off from that awful Kimba the White Lion Japanimation thing. I choose to ignore them.) The animation is beautiful, and continues the trend toward CGI-aided compositions and action, particularly in the stampede of wildebeest, but it is still mostly hand-drawn. The songs are not as good as the previous few movies, and I didn’t really like “Hakuna Matata,” but that’s minor. The voice talent is all great, especially Nathan Lane as the meercat Timon. I didn’t recognize Matthew Broderick as Simba, nor Rowan Atkinson as the hornbill, but Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin as hyenas were easy to spot. And it has what might be seen as a landmark: the first fart joke in a Disney animated feature.
In addition to the Kimba/Simba thing, this movie was so successful that it attracted more than its share of idiots with axes to grind … and one with a legitimate beef. The song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was used, apparently without permission from the composer’s family. Disney later settled with them. But then there was that asshole Donald Wildmon, who claimed the word SEX was spelled out in the stars in one scene, and the purpose was to corrupt people, subliminally, into wild orgies, probably homosexual. (Something is there—or was; Disney caved and altered the scene for home video. It is SFX, movie shorthand for special effects.) Does the idiocy of some people know no bounds? Apparently not. Another asshole sued the studio for defamation of character. Who did they defame? Why, spotted hyenas, that’s who. (If the hyenas had won, would Disney have paid off in rotting, stinking animal corpses?) Now, the hyena researchers who howled at the portrayal of their favorite African carnivores do have a point. All the other creatures in The Lion King are apparently a part of the great, friendly, “Circle of Life.” Though no one explained why that permitted lions to kill and eat zebras and antelope. Only the hyenas are shown as inherently evil. They are not evil, any more than any carnivore is. However … grow up! The word hyena has an association, and there’s nothing you can do about it, any more than you can take the stink out of the words rat, snake, polecat, skunk, vulture, Sarah Palin, or weasel. (Come to think of it, let’s file suit on behalf of all the weasels insulted in The Wind in the Willows.) These are characters in fables, idiots! In fables, foxes are smart and owls are wise, coyotes are tricky and snakes are sneaky. And hyenas are craven cowards. Let’s not even get into the accusations of racism in the casting of Whoopi and Cheech as hyenas …