The Lion King (1994)

Fifty years after Walt Disney’s Bambi (1942), his successors at the studio finally came up with a primal animal fable to equal it.

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  • King of the Jungle Working


“[The Lion King] has the resonance to stand not just as a terrific cartoon but as an emotionally pungent movie.”
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, 1994

The fortunes of Disney’s animated division, which had been in the doldrums during the 1980s, were revived in the early 1990s by The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992). Of this new crop of films, it was The Lion King that became a fully fledged phenomenon.

The tale of Simba (voiced by Matthew Broderick), whose father (James Earl Jones) is murdered by the cub’s uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons at his camp, withering best), suggests how Hamlet would have played out with some rousing Elton John/Tim Rice musical numbers and a happy ending.

A theatrical adaptation, directed by the sometime filmmaker Julie Taymor, became a long-running hit on Broadway and in the West End. In 2011, Disney converted the movie into 3D for a rerelease.

Two straight-to-video sequels followed: Simba’s Pride (1998) and Hakuna Matata (2004), which revisited the original, à la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, from the perspective of two minor characters.

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