Editor's note: Considered one of the modern Disney classics, "The Lion King" returns for a two-week run in theaters, but this time in 3-D. In this blast from the past, we dug up Linda Cook's four-star review from July 1994.
Yes, it's a Disney film. But if you're a grown-up, don't let that stop you from sinking your teeth into "The Lion King."
There's more depth, humor and dignity to this, Disney's 32nd full-length animated show, than you'll see at almost any other movie so far this year. That means that all ages can, and should, enjoy this intelligently wrought film on a variety of levels.
The main character is Simba (as a cub, the voice of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, television's "Home Improvement;" as an adult, the voice of Matthew Broderick, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"). Simba learns about life from his wise father, King Mufasa (the voice of James Earl Jones), who tells Simba that the kingdom one day will be his.
But Mufasa's wicked brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons, "Reversal of Fortune"), has other plans. With the help of some sneaky hyenas (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings) he concocts a scheme to do away with both Simba and Mufasa. And young Simba ends up an outcast, afraid to come back to his land and family.
Hungry and alone, Simba is befriended by two other outcasts: Pumbaa (Broadway star Ernie Sabella), a sometimes smelly but always congenial warthog; and Timon (Broadway star Nathan Lane), a wiseacre meerkat. Together they travel through the jungle and lead worry-free lives, until Simba realizes that he can't ignore his past.
There are lessons to be learned here, and they are moving: Mufasa tells Simba that the lions eat the other animals. And when the lions die, they become part of the earth and the grass that the other creatures eat to complete the circle of life. And Simba learns first-hand that dealing with death is part of life, too. But the dark moments, saddening though they are, don't last long. And never do the morals become preachy because the characters deliver them in bright dialogue and action rather than lectures.
And speaking of action - this is where you'll find it. No scene could be more breathtaking than the richly designed wildebeest stampede, which was created over a two-year period. The overall animation, which was years in the making, is the finest that Disney ever has produced.
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There's humor, too, which offsets any saddening scenes. The dialogue is witty, quick and manages to span every age. Children may not understand that Pumbaa's line "They call me Mister Pig!" refers to a 1970 picture "They Call Me Mr. Tibbs." But they'll laugh at it, anyway, because of the funny way the wart hog grunts the words.
In keeping with a Disney tradition, the songs add to the entertainment, too, and never distract from the well-paced plot. Elton John combined his talents with the Academy Awardwinning lyricist Tim Rice ("Aladdin") for more potentially awardwinning numbers such as "The Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."
Don't let the hype and the jungle of " Lion King" products, which seem to be everywhere these days, deter you. This show reigns supreme as the summer's blockbuster.