For those of us who hit elementary school in the early 90’s, our first brush with musical theater came from animated films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These titles traded in traditional musical forms, but were staged by brilliant visual artists, not Broadway heavy-hitters.
As little kids, we didn’t know about Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menken, or Elton John, we just loved their characters and adored their music. Disney animation was the ultimate status symbol, too — pity the first grader who hadn’t seen Lion King on the big screen and on home video. Several of those classic titles have been turned into Broadway musicals, but it’s the films that will always stay closest to the heart of those who grew up on them.
Now Disney has re-released The Lion King in theaters. Revisiting this grand, family myth is more than worth your while–not simply an exercise in nostalgia, The Lion King is a case study in taut, fine construction: Not one word is unnecessary; not a single shot is superfluous. It’s a wholly self-contained universe that still manages to exude spunk, beauty, and pathos. The central plot–a shamed young lion must return to the responsibility of his savaged homeland–holds all the big scale of traditional fable or parable, but still holds onto its own specificity and sense of style. It’s a wonderful, lean journey more than worth the $17, 3D ticket price.