Ranking Disney: #1 – The Lion King (1994)
This had to be number one. It’s the only film of Disney’s that will actually get me to sit and watch entirely from start to finish. I love the rest of them (specifically Fantasia and Beauty and the Beast), but this is the only one I will watch in its entirety every time.
I feel like this is (and should be) a populist choice. It is, after all, the highest grossing Disney film of all time, and is really the film that manages to combine all the elements of a great Disney film. Fantasia‘s a little bit on the slow side and Beauty and the Beast is a bit slight on the villain/conflict aspect. This one has it all. The story, the songs, the characters, the comic relief — everything you could want in a film is here. Not to mention the message — “the circle of life” — it’s wonderful.
I love everything about this movie, and honestly, aside from the fact that Fantasia is Disney’s greatest artistic achievement, this is a slam dunk, no-brainer number one for me, all day, erryday.
“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba!!!”
“Sithi uhm ingonyama!!”
I love how this film begins. Cold opening, and then “The Circle of Life.”
How badass is that opening?
The opening line hitting you out of nowhere, blowing you back in your seat, then the repetition and beautiful shots of the animals.
“Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala / Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala / Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala…”
Also, check out the rack focus here:
And then there’s the build to the big crescendo and the reveal of Pride Rock.
And then the fluid motion of having Zazu guide us right to it as we meet Mufasa.
And then Rafiki coming up and doing his thing during the soft part.
And then there’s the big crescendo (and key change!) as they present Simba to the kingdom.
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life!!!
And then the final, “thum!” drum hit as the song ends and we have our title card.
What a perfectly contained opening. No Disney film opens better than this one does. None. Nothing gets you as perfectly pumped up and into the movie like this does.
Then, after our credits, we meet Scar.
He captures the mouse and says, “Life’s not fair,” which is just a great Shakespearean opening line. And we find out that he wants to be king and is jealous that Simba is now first in line for the throne.
And then Mufasa shows up, wondering why his brother wasn’t at the presentation ceremony, and we get a really good sense of what their relationship is like. Scar is resentful of his brother’s position and is very sarcastic and dismissive of him, while Mufasa is mostly disappointed at how Scar behaves, but never really does anything about it unless Scar seems to be actually threatening him.
And then we have a scene of Rafiki hanging out in his tree and drawing Simba into his tree. That’s one badass mandrill, right there.
Then we meet Simba, who is taken out by Mufasa and shown the kingdom. He tries to teach him how to be a good king, by respecting all the creatures, from the ant to the antelope. So really, from A to A.
Then Zazu shows up and Mufasa gives Simba a pouncing lesson. But then they get news that some hyenas are in the pride lands, and Mufasa goes off to deal with it.
Simba then goes to see Scar, and talks all about how he’s going to be king. Scar then goads Simba into going into the dark portion of the land – the elephant graveyard where the hyenas live.
He tells Simba it’s too dangerous and that only the “bravest” lions can go there, knowing Simba will full well want to go there (which will endanger him, and possibly get him killed, thereby making Scar heir to the throne).
Simba then goes and gets Nala to bring her to the graveyard, but his mother Sarabi says that Zazu must go with them as they play. They manage to get rid of Zazu by losing him in a musical number. (Seriously.)
They sing “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”:
And when it’s over, Zazu is trapped under a Rhino’s ass and Simba and Nala sneak off to go to the graveyard. Along the way, Nala “pins” Simba twice. (Not a euphemism.) This will be foreshadowing for later (when they fuck).
Zazu then shows up and tells them they need to get the fuck out of there real fast. That’s when Shenzi, Banzai and Ed show up.
And there’s a chase, and all that’s when Mufasa shows up and fucks their day up. But he’s pissed at Simba for not listening to him.
And this is all witnessed by Scar, who planned the whole thing and is pissed that it failed.
Then Mufasa has a talk with Simba, which leads to a nice father-son moment.
We then return to the hyena’s lair (where the first thing we hear is, “That lousy Mufasa — I won’t be able to sit for a week!” Not gonna touch that with a lion’s penis), where Scar admonishes them for failing.
He then sings “Be Prepared,” which to me is probably the best Disney villain song there is.
The next day, Scar lures Simba into the gorge, pretending that Mufasa has a surprise for him.
Shenzi, Banzai and Ed then create a stampeded of wildebeests as Scar goes and tells Mufasa that Simba is in trouble.
And then Mufasa shows up, and — well, we all know what happens…
“Long live the king!”
And then Simba comes to his father and it’s all sad and shit.
Then Mufasa comes and convinces Simba that it’s all his fault and tells him to run away and never return. And he does.
Though Scar then sends Shenzi, Banzai and Ed to kill him.
But they don’t, since Simba manages to escape through a bunch of thorns. (What, did Maleficent get there?)
And Simba runs away to never return.
I’d like to pause and point out that this next section of the film I covered in an article I wrote about a year ago called “Can You Feel the Love Tonight: A Pictorial Analysis of a Sex Scene That Wasn’s There When You Were Six.” (I know. It’s a mouthful. Zing!)
Scar then announces Mufasa’s death (and tells them Simba is dead too, thinking he is), and announces the new way they’re gonna do things, with the hyenas being top dogs around there. Basically it’s a military coup.
This is witnessed by Rafiki, who thinks Simba is dead and is sad. That’s one badass mandrill. I keep telling you, but are you really listening?
Simba is then left out in the savannah, half-dead, and is about to be picked on by some buzzards until Timon and Pumbaa show up. They decide to befriend Simba with the thought that having a lion as a friend will keep them safe from other predators.
They see Simba is sad and teach him the magic words — “Hakuna Matata.”
And then they teach him how to eat bugs and sing away his worries, and the three of them basically become stoners as we fast forward to Simba growing up.
And then we see what Pride Rock has become with Scar — it’s pretty barren. All the animals have gone away since the hyenas have taken over and there’s not much food. It’s basically how we all picture North Korea.
Then, one day, a wind blows over to Rafiki’s tree, and he finds out (because he’s a badass mandrill) that Simba is alive.
Then we get Simba and Nala being reunited. After she almost kills Pumbaa.
(This is the part where I recommend checking out my other article.)
Also, Nala totally turns into a white person when she grows up.
And then there’s the “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” sequence. Where they so clearly fuck. (I’m serious. Read my article.)
And then Simba is a total bitch, refusing to go back because he’s turned into a huge pussy. Both kinds.
Simba then goes off, pulling some “to be or not to be” shit, until Rafiki (that badass mandrill) shows up. He’s fucking awesome, and shows Simba that Mufasa lives on inside him. (Like Kuato.)
“Asante sana, squash banana, Wewe nugu mimi hapana”
Then Mufasa shows up in the clouds and shit. He’s all like, “MY SON WORKS?!”
Sorry, wrong movie.
Actually he’s all like, “Remember who you are.” Which is a good motto, I guess. Either way, he’s off using that great Soul Glo in the sky.
It’s a great moment, and then afterwards Rafiki is like, “What the fuck was that?!”, which is the perfect thing to say after that moment. And he basically teaches Simba some wise ass shit in the span of about thirty seconds (because he’s a badass mandrill), and Simba returns to the Pride Lands to fuck up some uncle.
Simba then returns to Pride Rock.
He uses Timon and Pumbaa as “live bait” —
— then goes to get Scar.
Scar tries to get over on Simba by reminding him of Mufasa’s death (which Simba still thinks is his fault), and goes to kill him just like he did Mufasa.
Like father, like son. (Note: Not the Big Momma’s House sequel.)
He even flat out tells him, “I killed Mufasa.”
Only when he tells Simba this, Simba hulks out and fucks up Scar real good.
He also makes him admit that he killed Mufasa to everyone, which gets all the lionesses to start fighting the hyenas. (Also — that means Mufasa was fucking all the lionesses, right? Since he’s the only guy? So technically Simba and Nala are siblings, aren’t they? Well — wouldn’t be the first time James Earl Jones fathered two siblings who did that.)
And then the fight is on.
Rafiki (that badass mandrill) even joins in. And he fucks UP some hyenas!
And then Simba and Scar have a showdown atop Pride Rock.
Simba goes to banish Scar, rather than kill him, and naturally Scar then tries to kill Simba anyway. (Using a foreign object too. Throwing some hot coals in his eyes like Mr. Fuji or something.)
And then the fight is really on. It’s like Rocky. All slow-mo and shit. And Simba wins. And then Mufasa is left to the hyenas, who he sold out just before. So they’re not happy.
Then it rains and the fire is put out. And then Simba takes his rightful place atop Pride Rock. And it’s got a big score and shit. It’s pretty great.
And then everything’s all great again. And we end just like we begin — with a birth. The circle of life.
In fact, we actually end with “The Circle of Life,” which is really the only way this movie can end.
Having just watched this movie as I typed the synopsis, all I have to say is — there’s no way this isn’t number one. It’s such a perfect entity, this film. Both times that title card comes up, you just want to stand up and applaud.
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Official Disney Number: #32
Run Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: June 15, 1994 (premiere)
June 24, 1994 (release)
Budget: $45 million
Box Office: $312.9 million first-run, $422.8 million all-time domestically, $951.9 million worldwide
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- “Circle of Life,” performed by Carmen Twillie and Chorus
- “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” performed by Jason Weaver, Laura Williams and Rowan Atkinson
- “Be Prepared,” performed by Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings
- “Hakuna Matata,” performed by Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Jason Weaver and Joseph Williams
- “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” performed by Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Sally Dworsky, Joseph Williamd and Kristle Edwards
– – – – –
– – – – –
- The film won the Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” It was also nominated for Best Original Song for “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata.” (It also probably should have been nominated for Best Picture over Four Weddings and a Funeral, which would have made that one of the strongest Best Picture categories ever.)
- The concept for the film came about in 1988 as they were promoting Oliver & Company in Europe. (Even from the worst things can come the best things.) And the script went through many, many iterations between then and 1992. And they even flew out Tim Rice to work with them to make the lyrics more organic to the story (note to Disney, more of this!)
- The original opening of the film was going to be a quiet, dialogue-heavy sequence. But when Hans Zimmer prepared “Circle of Life,” they decided to change the opening to fit the song. (Thank you, Hans! This is also the exact opposite of what happened to the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West. Not dialogue-wise, but — Morricone had this grand score over the opening and then Leone just cut all of it out in favor of just silence and sound.)
- This is the best-selling home video of all time. (Goddamn right, it is.)
- Just to clear this up now — the cloud says “SFX,” the name of the company that did the effects. Sorry to spoil it.
- Before the film opened, they screened it for Elton John (who wrote the music with Tim Rice, in case you didn’t know), who saw that they cut out his love song and was like, “Yo, put “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” back in there.” And they did. (Imagine if they made that mistake…)
- The producers also considered Tim Curry and Malcolm McDowell for Scar. (Both of whom would also have been awesome choices.)
- This film was one of Gregory Peck’s favorite films of all time. (I knew he and I had something in common.)
- Apparently Jeremy Irons’ voice gave out while singing “Be Prepared” (during the “You won’t get a sniff without me!” part), and Jim Cummings took over on vocals. I’ve never noticed that, ever. I thought the story was always that he threw out his voice because of the song, and then they just used the one good take in the film. (But yeah, you can totally hear it once he starts singing, “Prepare for the coup of the century…”)
- My favorite piece of trivia about this film, bar none: James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair also played husband and wife (and king and queen!) in one of my absolute favorit films of all time — Coming to America.
- Ironically, this film was considered a second-rate project. Disney’s “A” team was animating Pocahontas (and it shows. That animation is absolutely pristine), while the “B” team was working on this, since they thought that one would end up being the better movie. (Funny how things turn out.)
- Apparently when they wrote the film, they thought Sean Connery was going to be Mufasa. (Which is awesome. Only — James Earl Jones was a much better choice. Also, wouldn’t it be awesome if Disney or Pixar got Connery for a role? A good one. Not some shitty “let’s just get him to do it” role. I mean a great one. Like a Mufasa. He’s retired, but I know he’d go and do voice work if they really wanted him to.)
- I know most people wouldn’t have caught this, but when Simba tells Scar he’s “so weird” and Scar says, “You have no idea,” that’s actually a reference to Reversal of Fortune (for which Irons won his Oscar). He says the exact same thing in that movie.
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1. I love how they layer this shot. You get the first layer of birds in the first shot, then they layer more birds in the middle ground, and then in the bottom shot, they start layering more birds in the foreground. It’s a really terrific piece of animation.
2. I love the scale of this. It really makes everything so awe-inspiring. As a kid, you watch this shot and just go “Woww…” because you feel like you’re there.
3. Love me a good animated downpour.
4. Oh, that negative coloring. You’ve become such a good friend.
5. “Girl, turn around and let me see dat ass!”
6. “Maybe we should just kill this fuck.”
7. Characters reflected in the water. There’ll be more of that later (mostly because I forgot this was here), so I’ll separate the two by saying — this also looks like that segment in Fantasia 2000 with the flamingo with the yo-yo (introduced by James Earl Jones, no less).
8. Violence happening in silhouette. This is popped up more than a few times with Disney.
9. First — “Hum…. dum dum… hum… dum dum… HUM!!” (You know you were thinking it.) Second, I love how they frame shit no matter what it is. Always shit on both sides of the frame, and it’s always incredible. (Seriously, you can learn a lot about filmmaking from animation. This kind of stuff helps a person make frames so much more interesting.)
10. Nazi hyenas!
11. This shot is very Pink Floyd The Wall (which also, since I’m sure they were referencing it in that movie, makes it very Alice in Wonderland, with the playing cards marching).
12. I separate this from the “violence happening in silhouette” one because this one looks a lot like the demons dancing in the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia.
13. They pulled out an old 40s trick here — pulling back and having the colors change depending on how far you are. There’s a great set of shots during the “Nutcracker” sequence in Fantasia where there’s an underwater cave, and they push in three times, and you can see the colors and the brightness change depending on how far or how close you are. It’s brilliant animation. I love when they do this.
14. I love this shot. It’s just like the one of the elephants before (which I guess can be considered foreshadowing) — you really feel like you’re in this stampede.
15. Any time I’m asked to pick an animal that describes me, I always pick this wildebeest.
16. I love how a couple of Disney films really deal with the cool/warm distinction. Lots of cool blues and harsh reds. Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas do it more so and to greater ends, but this one has more than its fair share (specifically also in the final fight between Simba and Scar).
17. Here’s another set of photos just called: “Framing.” I love how they work in great framing in every image. It’s really inspiring that they take such care with every frame of film.
18. Power slide! YYYYYEEEEAAAAHHHHHH!!!!
19. “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts…”
20. “Hamlet” reference:
21. The ‘sex’ cloud (which is actually the ‘SFX’ cloud) as it exists today (they fade away before it appears).
22. Character walking across a log/downed tree.
23. Character reflected in the water.
24. Direct Wizard of Oz reference. My favorite of all the Oz references made in any film. I love whenever they copy that exact shot.
25. “Bitch, don’t give me no sass, now! Go in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!” (or: Jungle Slap!!!)
26. This really reminds me of the cliff the Queen climbs at the end of Snow White.
27. He go’n fuck him UP, son!
28. “Bitch, don’t you talk that way to me, I’ll WHOMP yo ass!”
29. And, as always with these beautiful films, just some great leftover images I wanted to share because they look so good.