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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Lion King 3D

This one has already been posted on Channel24, though it only opens on Friday, so I might as well post my unedited (though only slightly unedited, to be fair) review of this Disney classic here as well.

From Channel24

What it's about

A 3D reissue of the modern day animated Disney classic about Simba, a young lion that abandons his kind and his responsibilities as a new king, after believing himself responsible for the death of his father, King Mufasa.

What we thought

It's fairly shocking to believe that it has been nearly 17 years since The Lion King first hit cinemas. Not only because I cannot believe it has been that long since I originally saw it - on the big screen and in Zulu as a school outing with the rest of my school's standard 5 (that's grade 7, to you 21st century kids) Zulu class – but because it's astonishing how old fashioned the film feels after less than two decades.


I don't mean it's dated because, even with all the brilliant (mostly CGI) animated films that have come our way since, it still feels as fresh and as vital as ever. The Lion King is old fashioned in the sense that it feels like it comes from a time that has long since passed. At the risk of sounding like a nostalgic old fogey, they really don't make films like this any more.

Quite why it feels so out of place in today's animation, though, is hardly obvious. The traditional hand-drawn animation seems like an obvious culprit – and stacked up against most of today's big digital animations, it does feel somewhat special. It may make some use of Computer Generated Imagery (most notably for the now famous wildebeest stampede scene) but the mix of vibrant, detailed backgrounds and simple but very distinctive character designs does act as a wonderful reminder of just how impressive traditional animation can still look.

That said, though, The Lion King's animation is hardly as unique as it might appear these days. Sure, films like Toy Story and How To Train Your Dragon may grab all the attention but traditional hand-drawn animation can still be found in abundance in the form of Japanese anime (Howl's Moving Castle), adult-oriented animated films (Persepolis, Chico and Rita) and straight-to-DVD superhero films (All Star Superman, Batman: Under the Red Hood). Even Disney has recently taken a page out of its own past with last year's The Princess and the Frog with mostly very good results.

More than its animation, then, the “golden age” feel of The Lion King comes mostly from its storytelling. It is, in many ways, the greatest example of a very specific Disney formula that has since gone out of fashion. Everything about it screams “old school Disney”. It's all there: the noble (often royal) protagonists; the irredeemably, nuance-free evil bad guys; the talking, anthropomorphous animals; the funny sidekicks (take a bow Messrs. Lane and Atkinson) and, of course, the need for every one of these films to be boisterous, hit-making musicals. It's a formula that may have deservedly grown out of favour (Disney did go to this well a few times too many by the end of the '90s) but after being yanked out of the old-school Disney production line and being allowed to exist on its own terms, it looks better than ever.

Here we have a film that works for the whole family not because of the lame pop-culture jokes for the parents and older siblings of something like the truly dire Shark Tale, nor even for the multi-layered sophistication of Pixar at its best but because it simply tells its story with awe-inspiring efficiency. It probably doesn't hurt that the entire plot is lifted from Hamlet but the wit, invention and humanity with which it is told, would probably impress even ol' Billy Shakespeare himself. It's exciting, it's hilarious, it's moving, it has wonderful musical set pieces and an even better score – it's simply everything you could want out of a “family film”.

The only problem with The Lion King 3D is that last bit of its new and unimproved title. The 3D may benefit the film a couple of times (bad weather and ferocious lions jumping out of the screen are pretty much what 3D was invented for) but mostly it clashes horribly with the classic animation. It certainly doesn't give the film any more “depth” - in any sense of the word – like the best 2D films, it already felt three-dimensional. I am very, very much in favour of showing classic films in our cinemas but I hate that it takes so worthless and overused a gimmick to get this to happen.

Still, rubbish 3D or not, The Lion King is a classic well worth revisiting on the big screen – and one that is sure to win over a whole new generation of fans.


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