Movie Review: 17 Years and a 3D Polish Later, How’s The Lion King?

I was 13 years old when The Lion King came out and I was well past the intended audience for such a film. Be that as it may, I had disposable income and time. Thus saw it I did, going to the movies was something you did in the midwest regardless of the film. I walked away from The Lion King at that jaded age where I had begun listening to alternative and industrial music and shunned everything about it. It was commercial, it was sappy, and worst of all, it was mainstream; which was the exact opposite of the path I was on or at least felt I was.

17 years on The Lion King still stands as the highest grossing hand drawn animation film of all time. At thirty, I’m far more sympathetic toward the tale than that jaded teenager from years ago. While not the best story in the world, its considered by some to be the biggest Disney film that isn’t a direct adaptation of an existing fairy tale. It’s main arch is more or less Hamlet with animals. It works effectively and the characters are passable with some pretty great voice talent behind them including: James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons the list goes on. The film, like many other Disney films that came before it, received its own fair share of criticism from various groups. The most vocal of said groups were those that took issue with the portrayal of the Hyena’s in the film as poor second class citizens. An image not helped by the fact that the two Hyena’s that get most of the dialog were voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin. Beyond that, even some of the zoo experts that helped the animation teams distanced themselves from the film after its release since the Hyena’s, specifically Ed, were made to look like bumbling fools. On the flip side, I never quite understood why Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) seemingly get all the love out of this film as B characters. Watching the film as an adult, they get the (no pun intended) “Lion’s Share” of adult humor and one line zingers which makes it a bit clearer now why I see them in reference to The Lion King more often than I seemingly see the lions.

The Lion King‘s release in 3D comes at a curious time. Thanks to DVD and Blu-Ray, the former cash cow of Disney being able to release films on VHS and then lock them away before releasing them again to replace worn out tapes is a thing of the past. DVD and Blu-Ray revenues are also on a mass decline, thanks to Netflix and similar video on demand services. But, I’m trying not to get on a tangent about technology in my movie review. The short of it is that the “Mouse House” needs new revenue streams to replace former ones that technology has replaced. Enter 3D; Disney has been quick to embrace 3D across the board. Funny considering how long they dragged their feet embracing DVD, which I suppose, from a business stand point, makes sense but from a fan stand point is infuriating. From their live action films, (Alice in Wonderland-2010) to most of their animated output, see any Pixar film released since UP  though 2009’s Princess and the Frog being seemingly the lone outcast, just about everything the studio puts out arrives in theaters in “Disney Digital 3D.” The studio has even begun double dipping their fans on Blu-Ray, now that 3D has made its way into homes. Beauty and the Beast was to have been the first Disney “classic” to see a theatrical release in 3D earlier this year. As that date drew near, it was pushed and now oddly is foregoing a theatrical run. It will now see release on 3D Blu-Ray in October, nearly a year to the date after the 2D Blu-Ray version hit store shelves. Said October date is also the same day that The Lion King hits Blu-Ray in 3D. That’s right, Disney is getting its fans again. A chance to scoop up some cash on a limited theatrical release and then the physical release not even quite a month later.

Such acts of corporate greed border on repulsion. Then again, I don’t own a 3D TV so its nice to at least have a chance to see what one of the Disney classics looks like in 3D. My first brush with it was at the Cars 2 screening back in June. The entire opening scene of The Lion King played in front of the film as kind of a demo/trailer. I remember being pleasantly surprised by how good the conversion worked and looked. Part of this is likely due to Disney’s use of their Academy Award winning CAPS system (a descendant of Walt Disney’s Multiplane camera and a Multiplane system itself). This really allows/introduces depth to animation. Animation and Disney nerd notes and history to the side, what about the rest of the film? Well, like all 3D, its a hit and miss. 3D is a tricky beast, as I feel one has to have their expectations set for what they will encounter. At this point 3D is something you’re either into or you’re not. Sure, some films are way more effective with its use than others, but most film goers seem to have drawn a line in the sand. That is to say, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground anymore. Audiences have wised up that not everything is going to look as good as Avatar, nor not every story and film  lends its self to the format. Does every single scene in a film require added depth of field? I’d argue that it doesn’t, and in the case of The Lion King 3D, the 3D adds some pretty stunning depth to some shots while other dialog heavy moments in the film could be viewed sans 3D glasses.

So is it worth it? I walked away feeling caught in the middle. If you’ve soured on 3D, this isn’t going to change your mind that conversion is no great 3D revelation. Though as a fan of animation, I appreciated the effort and it was well done. After the occasionally stunning 3D conversion at the opening of the film prior to its title, I never felt that the conversion quite obtained the same heights it did. Thus, I find that The Lion King 3D is a recommend only to die hard fans of the film that don’t have the equipment at home to get the most out of the 3D Blu-Ray release in October. Otherwise, animation geeks might want to give it a shoot. Outside of that limited audience I question if its worth the time and effort to take a family to see the film and its inflated ticket price.

I give The Lion King 4 “No Sex in the dust clouds, or is there?” out of 5

I give the 3D conversion on the lion king 2.5 “dork approved 3D clip-on’s” out of 5

By John Coovert

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