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Why there are no more Lion Kings

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published Nov. 26, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

It’s a dark tale of a murderous uncle who denies his nephew the throne. Ghostly visions ultimately convince the prince to return from exile in a far-off land, goofy sidekicks in tow, and take back the crown.

This tale has gripped the guys for the past week. And if you’re going to be sentenced to seven days of home confinement, you could do worse for entertainment.

Hamlet? No, sillies. “Lion King.” It might well be the greatest animated movie of all time and the last one in the true Disney tradition. Everything that’s wrong with children’s movies today is right in this one.

It has everything – romance, action, drama. Its straight-to-video sequel is better than most of the schlock studios are cranking out today. I’d take the “third-rate” prequel over “Ratatouille” any time.

But “Lion King” would never get the green light today. Where are the commercial tie-ins? How can we keep sucking money out of parents for years to come? It’s hard to build a product line on a few stuffed lions.

In this house, though, we still like movies with plots. And musical theater-style tunes that actually further the plot rather than act as music videos stitching together two pieces of animation.

Hakuna Matata. You know it. You remember it. Quick: Hum an original song from “Cars.” See? It just doesn’t resonate.

In a way, the success that was “Lion King” paved the way for the downfall of children’s movies.

It was the first animated film with a voice cast chock full of stars. Getting Robin Williams to voice “Aladdin” was a major coup for Disney, but, beyond him and Gilbert Gottfried, you have a crew of no-names.

Just look at the credits for “Lion King”:

James Earl Jones – I could listen to him say “This is CNN” for days. Jeremy Irons’ Scar was his best villain this side of Claus von Bulow. Robert Guillaume popping in and out with his cryptic wisdom. The comic relief of Rowan Atkinson and Nathan Lane. Whoopi Goldberg. Cheech Marin. Matthew Broderick – though how Darth Vader fathered Ferris Bueller is beyond me.

Which has devolved into a new working theory that if you have the voice talent, you’ll sell the tickets. It’s true, too. “Cars” is a good movie with only one great part: Paul Newman’s performance as Doc Hudson.

“Lion King” also was the father of the Big Commercial Theme song. Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was a nice tune – though not the best from the movie. For years after that, studios tried to bottle the same magic. Vanessa Williams, “Pocanhontas,” “Colors of the Wind.” Phil Collins, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” “Tarzan.”

What really spelled the end of great animation, though, was the release just a year after “Lion King” of “Toy Story,” with its computer bells and whistles, starrring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Except for lack of a sellable theme song, it was the perfect commercial movie. See any Buzz Lightyears or Woodies knocking at your door this Halloween? More than a decade later, “Toy Story” remains commercially viable.

But the guys weren’t playing Buzz and Woody in the back yard today. They were Mufasa and Simba, Scar and Kovu, the protagonist in “Lion King II.”

Big Guy calls Little Guy “Pumbaa,” because his brother and the comical hog share similar, er, digestive problems.

I always get stuck playing Zazu, which stinks because my British accent is lousy. And why do I have to be a supporting character? I want a lead role!

I suppose the sacrifice will be worth it in 12 years or so, as the guys struggle with Shakespeare.

“Sheesh, this is easy,” I’ll say. “Just remember that Hamlet is Simba, and you’ll understand.”

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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