Disney has gone back into their vaults and dusted off their 1991 classic The Lion King and given it a 3D overhaul, releasing it to screens anew. The film looks and sounds incredible but it’s not necessarily the audio/ visual razzle dazzle that might strike many parents. Rather, compared to the studio’s more recent, considerably sunnier fare like Toy Story, Bolt and Tangled, The Lion King is a much darker affair than you might recall. Something Jack can attest to.
Jack is my 4-and-a-half- year-old son, and I decided to take him along to the press screening, further exemplifying the ‘circle of life’ theme of the film itself. I vividly recall watching The Lion King as a kid, the last gasp of my childhood before adolescence consumed me whole and “cartoons” ceased to have appeal. So sitting in that darkened theatre, Jack by my side, was surreal and rather lyrical, both of us humbled before massive projected 3D images of illustrated African savannah, tumbling fauna, stoic royal felines and red eyed predators. Jack was rightfully awed…but also more than a little bit upset.
Maybe it was the core story, a familiar early Disney cocktail (think Bambi and Dumbo) that taps into the primal fear of losing a parent but couples it with the shock of murder, deceit, child abuse and the visceral jolts of slavering hyenas who eat everything in sight. It is a cuddlier Hamlet after all, something I obviously never noticed as a kid, and it has all the broad dramatic, Shakespearean strokes intact but with the added element of toothy lion battles to the death…
There’s no denying that The Lion King is every single inch a masterpiece. It’s a flawless animated triumph of warm, hand drawn cell animation that is handsomely goosed by the added depth of this new 3D conversion. It’s bold and brave, teaching kids lessons about the darkness of living while celebrating hope and optimism. It’s a real movie, not watered down fodder designed to sell hamburgers.
Still, parents of young children should be warned and reminded…this ain’t Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
“I loved it”, Jack said to me after lights went up. “But it was too sad when Simba’s daddy died. And it was also a little bit scary … and there were too many skeletons …”