THE LION KING: IMAX EDITION
**** (out of 5)
December 25, 2002
Matthew Broderick as SIMBA
James Earl Jones as MUFASA
Rowan Atkinson as ZAZU
Jeremy Irons as SCAR
Robert Guillaume as RAFIKI
Whoopie Goldberg as SHENZI
Cheech Marin as BANZAI
Moira Kelly as NALA
Jonathan Taylor Thomas as YOUNG SIMBA
Directed by: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
BY KEVIN CARR
In recent years, the studios have found a way to make big movies even bigger. When a film is an epic or otherwise visually stunning, it is not uncommon to see a release in IMAX theatres. Examples in the past include “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Apollo 13” and recently “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.”
Once just a Las Vegas novelty, the IMAX format is a 60-foot screen with a 70mm projection print. Multiple speakers engulf the theatre for an actual experience rather than exhibition of a film. Originally, IMAX movies were shot specifically for this large-format setting, sometimes utilizing state-of-the-art 3-D technology. (Incidentally, these 3-D movies, while becoming more and more rare for IMAX, are alarmingly realistic and a must-see for any avid moviegoer.)
There is a huge difference between films shot as IMAX movies and films blown up to IMAX size. The Walt Disney company does both (most notably with “Fantasia 2000,” which had an exclusive IMAX run before being released in standard format and now “Treasure Planet,” which has a special IMAX print). In fact, if you see “The Lion King: IMAX Edition,” you will also most likely see “The Young Black Stallion” trailer, a Disney film shot exclusively for IMAX. The image from a 70mm IMAX negative is so stunningly sharp that diving into even a beautiful film like “The Lion King” is a step down.
Basically, a loose retelling of “Hamlet,” “The Lion King” follows the life of Simba the lion cub who runs away from home after his uncle Scar kills his father Mufasa. Scar takes over Mufasa’s pride until Simba returns as an adult to claim his rightful place as king of the jungle.
This is basically the same “The Lion King” from 1994 – only bigger. The print is touched up a bit and the soundtrack has been remixed for IMAX theaters, but nothing else is changed.
I hadn’t seen “The Lion King” since it was released eight years ago, and this viewing had pretty much the same impact as before. While it is one of Disney’s most successful film, it was the first in the Mouse House’s animation slump, leading into the years of “Hercules,” “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire.”
The biggest let down was the loss of Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman’s musical numbers. (Howard Ashman died during the production of “Aladdin,” which directly preceded “The Lion King.”) While Elton John received many kudos for his work on the soundtrack (almost as much as he did for merely changing lyrics for his tribute to Princess Di), it doesn’t hold the same punch and excitement as the tunes from “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.”
There are also some problems with the plot. Simba is a wimp. He was born a wimp, and he became king as a wimp. Even in the end before Scar admits to killing Mufasa, Simba doesn’t have the brains or guts to realize that it was never his fault that his father died.
Additionally, the film is a bit intense for some children, showing Mufasa’s death as Simba watches. Finally, the film is steeped with political correctness despite the fact that it was criticized in 1994 for bad stereotypes when it cast Whoopie Goldberg (a black woman) and Cheech Marin (a Hispanic man) as the gangland-style hyenas and presented villain Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) with homosexual mannerisms.
In 1994, it was the height of celebrity chic-ness to be a voice in a Disney movie. While it was considered celluloid death to do this only a few years before, this new trend was driven by Robin Williams’ scene stealing performance as the Genie in “Aladdin.” But jam packing the cast with celebrities hinders the movie by overdoing a good thing. give me the days of Buddy Hackett and Edie McClurg in “The Little Mermaid” or Robby Benson and David Ogden Stires in “Beauty and the Beast” any day.
The most powerful scene in the film by far (as it was eight years ago in its original release) is the opening sequence. Showing the majesty of nature, all the creatures of the jungle gather to honor the birth of Simba. Set to the tune of Elton John’s “The Circle of Life,” the animation is stunning on the big screen and beautiful to watch.
Other scenes, such as the climactic fight at the end and Scar’s solo “Be Prepared,” are equally fun to watch on the larger-than-larger-than-life screen. Many children today have only seen “The Lion King” on a tiny television screen and haven’t experienced it in a theater. Considering those born when it was first released are eight years old now, this will be a treat for any fan of the film.