A 3D reissue of the modern day animated Disney classic about Simba, a young lion that abandons his kind and his responsibilities as a new king, after believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa.
What we thought
It's almost shocking to believe that it has been nearly 17 years since The Lion King first hit cinemas. Not only because I cannot believe it has been that long since I originally saw it - on the big screen and in Zulu as a school outing with the rest of my school's standard 5 (that's grade 7, to you 21st century kids) Zulu class – but because it's astonishing how old fashioned the film feels after less than two decades.
I don't mean to say that it's dated because, even with all the brilliant (mostly CGI) animated films that have come our way since, it still feels as fresh and as vivacious as ever. The Lion King is old fashioned in the sense that it feels like it comes from a time that has long since passed. At the risk of sounding like a nostalgic old fogey, they really don't make films like this any more.
Quite why it feels so different from today's animation, though, is not that obvious. The traditional hand-drawn animation seems like an apparent reason – and stacked up against most of today's big digital animations, it does feel special and quite apart from those projects. Although the film makes use of Computer Generated Imagery (most notably for the now famous wildebeest stampede scene), the mix of vibrant, detailed backgrounds and simple but very distinctive character designs acts as a wonderful reminder of just how impressive traditional animation can still look.
And yet the "golden age" feel of The Lion King comes not only from its beautiful animation, but from its storytelling. Everything about it screams “old school Disney”. It's all there: the noble (often royal) protagonists; the irredeemably evil bad guys; the charming anthropomorphous animals; the funny sidekicks (take a bow Lane and Atkinson) and, of course, the need for every one of these films to be boisterous musicals. It's a formula that may have grown out of favour (Disney did go to this well a few times too many by the end of the '90s) but after being yanked out of the old-school Disney production line and being allowed to exist on its own terms, it looks better than ever.
Here we have a film that works for the whole family not because of the lame pop-culture jokes for the parents and older siblings or due to Pixar’s mastery, but because it simply tells its story with awe-inspiring efficiency and warmth. It's exciting, it's hilarious, it's moving, it has wonderful musical set pieces and an even better score – it's simply everything you could want out of a "family film".
The only problem with The Lion King 3D is that last bit of its new title. The 3D may benefit the film a couple of times (bad weather and ferocious lions jumping out of the screen are pretty much what 3D was invented for) but mostly it clashes horribly with the classic animation. It certainly doesn't give the film any more "depth" - in any sense of the word – like the best 2D films, it already felt three-dimensional.
Still, unwarranted 3D or not, The Lion King is a classic well worth revisiting on the big screen – and one that is sure to win over a whole new generation of fans.