Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #146
Director: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Starring: Matthew Broderick and James Earl Jones
During the early 1990s, Disney was absolutely unfuckwithable as an animation studio. From 1991 to 1995, they consecutively released Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and Pocahontas – masterpieces all. According to IMDb users, the best of these films was The Lion King, as it is the only one to make the Top 250. (Personally I prefer Beauty and the Beast.) It is a fantastic film, and it remains one of Disney's greatest epics. Released a year before Pixar came along with their classic Toy Story, The Lion King challenged the very boundaries of what could be done with animation, and even today its take on the art of hand-drawn motion pictures is among the finest examples of all time. Scenes like the wildebeest stampede that takes Mufasa's life and the Triumph of the Will-style hyena goose-stepping show the painstaking attention to detail as well as the unprecedented cinematic vastness incorporated by Disney animators when they made this film. Unlike today when a great traditionally animated Disney film is an exception to the rule, in 1994 it was merely indicative of the quality that was expected of this studio.
The story of The Lion King is one that can be appreciated by people of all ages. It is undoubtedly a movie targeted at kids, but it doesn't pull any punches. In the film's first third, the lion patriarch and ostensible protagonist Mufasa is killed by his brother, Scar, thrown into a sea of storming wildebeests. Mufasa's young son Simba is made to believe he caused his father's death by Scar, who offers this accusation while Simba paws at Mufasa's corpse. The scene is tragic by any genre's standards, it just happens that there were theaters full of young kids watching it in this case. The rest of the film alternates between sunny singalong moments like the coming-of-age sequence, anchored by the worry-free philosophy of meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa and darker scenes like the exposition of the barren wasteland that Scar transformed the savanna into during his reign as king – but no moments are quite as high nor as low as Mufasa's death. It was this emotional complexity that Disney would roll over to Pixar for most of that studio's films. In a somewhat superficial sense, "it all" started here.
If there's one thing that's frustrating about the presence of The Lion King on the IMDb Top 250, it's that it is the only traditionally animated Disney film to make the cut. The studio has animated 49 feature length films since 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, including a significant number of movies generally considered to be classics. It's not to take away any of The Lion King's greatness, but the absence of movies like Beauty and the Beast and Bambi is conspicuous and, in short, wrong. Using a blog entry meant to praise one movie to lament the absence of others, though something I've done a number of times in the past eight-nine days, isn't particularly useful, so I'll leave you with this: The Lion King is a phenomenal, timeless movie, and it should be required viewing for cinema lovers of all ages.
The Good: The emotional power of the Mufasa death scene.
The Bad: "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" is not a very good song, especially when placed next to classics like "Circle of Life" and "Hakuna Matata."
The Skinny: Again, it's not the only Disney film that deserves to be on the list, but it does deserve to be here.