In 1994, “The Lion King” was released as Disney’s 32nd animated film. This feature-length cartoon carried on the rich tradition of Disney films — of course characterized by memorable plots and characters ripped off from centuries-old sources (see works by the brothers Grimm, the Bible and Shakespeare) and harried parents ushering their screaming children into a darkened theater, praying for an hour-long distraction for their children under the guise of “family time.” In 1994, I was among these screaming children, about to experience a “movie theater” film for the first time.
Lucky for this no-longer-three-year-old, “The Lion King” is a pretty impressive film to call a first. It’s hailed by critics not only as one of the best animated films in the history of cinema, but also one of the best movies of all time. The critics love the art direction, the characterization, the overall message — all of these things and more. However, five-year-olds seem to be able to grasp something that critics just can’t — what makes “The Lion King” great lies in the simple fact that it’s a sensory overload. It occupies young minds with a barrage of noise, constant flurries of activity and most of all, Pumbaa and his song about farts.
Ranked number one in the box office during the first week of its two-week run, “The Lion King” has returned to the silver screen with a rush. And if it wasn’t a sensory overload before, now it’s in 3-D — so hold on to your hats. Now the stampede will be rushing directly towards the audience at a breakneck speed, and Rafiki will lift baby Simba into a sky that looks downright touchable. One must pause for a moment, however, and wonder if some of these scenes will be a bit much for small children to handle — imagine being four and being convinced that there’s actually a giant, bloodthirsty hyena circling you and your friends. It’s sort of scary.
“The Lion King” is one of the last hand-drawn greats in the world of feature-length animated films. In our day — until “Toy Story” changed the game — that’s all we had. Gone are the days when a movie was based entirely upon the skills of a pen-and-paper artist, his or her renderings and an ability to put it all together. These days, cartoons sometimes feel cold and foreign — the perfect edges and lines of computer animation utterly lack the telltale, comforting signs of the human touch. However, computer animation is to today’s children what hand drawn cartoons were to mine. What’s even better is a mixture of these two things. And what better way to mesh old-school hand-drawn animation with today’s technology-obsessed culture? Put it in 3-D.
Anyone can poo-poo the current fixation on 3-D as well as anything classified as bigger, stronger, faster, better. Of course we will always believe that our cartoons were better and that our childhood was the only way to have a childhood. The important thing is the younger generations will have the opportunity to see a movie in theaters that for many of us symbolizes the comfortable and untroubled days of early childhood. Those immortal words — “Hakuna Matata” — will once again blare across cinema speakers and reach a whole new age group of ears and minds with the concept of taking it easy. The fact that it is in 3-D is irrelevant — no matter the way in which are they are told, classics like “The Lion King” live forever.