For those of you who know my son, you are more than likely familiar with his near-ubiquitous companion, Simba. This stuffed animal might as well be stitched to his arm. It’s serves as a friend, a safety blanket, and as an intimate part of my son’s self-definition. For Jason, Simba has simply always been there. I bought the plush toy while at Disney, chaperoning Grad Nite during my first year working at LaSalle when Jason was but 3 months old. Since then, Simba has been tossed, travelled and tattered.
Most nights, Simba is cradled in the crook of Jason’s arm, the toy’s worn fabric brushing against my son’s soft cheek as he sleeps. This sight tugs not only at the clichéd heart-strings, but at threads of memory as well. His connection to the plush toy might very well be a learned behavior, as I spent most nights growing up cradling a similarly sacred stuffed animal, Bugs. Now, my Bugs (a gift from my Madrina when I was one) resolutely rests on a shelf in my children’s room, sitting as a sage sentry amongst the other stuffed animals. So, the opportunity to take our son to see Simba on the big screen, in 3D no less, was not one my wife and I would pass on.
Last weekend, Disney re-release their 1994 blockbuster in 3D. It became the first re-released film since “Return of the Jedi” in 1997 to hit the box office at #1. (Don’t worry, good ol’ Georgie has set the Star Wars franchise on the 3D train track, “The Phantom Menace” inexorably chugging toward a 2012 re-release. More importantly, “A New Hope” is set for a 2015 3D re-release.)
“The Lion King” is arguably Disney’s greatest hand-drawn animated feature film. The story’s original treatment was written in 1988 by Thomas Disch, best known for “The Brave Little Toaster”, and it has strong connections to William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet. It also sports strong a premeditated murder scene that had my son twisting in his seat, cowering behind his Simba. (Of course we let our son bring the stuffed animal to the movies!)
I’ve watched many a Disney film in my life, and “The Lion King” is the only one that comes to mind where a murder is planned AND executed on screen. Scar’s murder of his brother Mufasa pushes the boundaries of the film’s G-rating, probably much more so than some of the other G-rated movies where the title characters lose a parent. (See: “Finding Nemo” (2003), “Tarzan” (1999), “The Fox and the Hound” (1981), and/or “Bambi” (1942). In all these features, parents are killed, usually by a hunter, but always off-screen.)
Jason squirmed when Mufasa was murdered, so much so that I raised the arm-rest in the theatre and let him rest against me for the next thirty minutes or so of the film. It’s really the murder of Mufasa that ties the strongest link to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and although the Bard’s tragedy opens after the murder of the king of Denmark, many of the connections are still quite strong. Scar and Claudius both usurp the thrones and their brothers’ wives, although Claudius does repent in the end. We see both Simba and Hamlet Jr. delay their retribution, while Mufasa and Hamlet Sr. both become heralds for their sons in death. There are even links between the duos of Timon and Pumbaa and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. That being said, thankfully Disney did not end the script as a tragedy like Shakespeare. I mean, killing off the King, the Queen, the Prince, the Prince’s Love Interest, and giving the kingdom to a foreign Prince would have been a bit much for Disney viewers.
|You be the judge.|
The integration of 3D technology was pretty seamless and very effective. My daughter, not one to wear the 3D glasses for any length of time, reached out repeatedly during the film, most notably trying to catch the rain near the end of the film. The 3D animators didn’t bombard the film with the effects; rather, they used it in the obvious spots like Simba’s presentation and during some of the musical numbers. Even the controversial alleged “SEX” in the flying dust floated out and across stylishly. Animators claim that the dust spells “SFX”, a common abbreviation for Special Effects.
|Abby loves Simba, too.|
“The Lion King” was never my favorite Disney film, that title belonging securely to “Toy Story” (1995). Even as a hand-drawn feature, I think I like “Aladdin” (1992) more. However, as we left the theatre last night, my son smuggling the 3D glasses out of Sunset Place like a practiced pick-pocket, I couldn’t help but be impressed. The film is incredibly strong. The music is fantastic, and the animation is obviously eye-popping. My son’s love for Simba aside, after re-watching it for the first time in years, I came away with a greater regard for the film. The themes of hope, love, family responsibility, and renewal are resonant, and the connections to literature like Hamlet give it a lasting quality.
Now, Disney just has to stop killing us parents.