TLK Press Reviews

These are three critics from british newspapers, and one from a german paper, about "The Lion King". In the case of the british articles, it must be said that TLK obviously was not the film to be released that week. Forrest Gump got more coverage in all papers.
DISCLAIMER:This is a random choice of film reviews from papers. I am in no way connected to any of these papers, and they do not reflect my personal opinions. They are presented here as-is, without warranty and everything.

M a n e e v e n t ' s h o l l o w r o a r The Daily Telegraph, Oct 07
Walt Disney's The Lion King has clawed its way to the top of the US boxoffice this summer - a gratifying outcome for its makers, since this animated tale of an African cub, deprived of his father and his royal birthright by the scheming of a wicked uncle, is the first fullength Disney feature based on a story written "in house" rather an existing fairy tale.

It is tempting, too, to see in the film signs of how radically the Disney organisation has changed of late. With one of the company's offshoots distributing Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and young Simba the lion-cub witnessing his father's death in a wildebeast stampede on the African plains, one might almost think it time of a new slogan. Something like "Disney: Flagrant Ferocity For All The Family", perhaps.

However, that would be to forget the death of Bambi's mother all those years ago, which raised the same sort of doubts about possible distress to very small childred. Leaving such caveats aside, however, what is most noticeable is the effort to get away from the old Disney style of anthropomorphic cuteness and make the animals look more like, well, animals.

It's a laudable intention, but, perversely, it has the effect of making the screen convention of the talking beasts look more, not less strange. You see lions moving very much as lions do, yet because they converse with one another, the eye unconsciously adjusts their lithe motions to a human standard. It is rather disconcerting.

The tale itself also stresses human parallels, since someone in the script department has been raking around for material in the myths associated with the astrological signs of Leo.

What they have come up with is - no, don't laugh - something not a continent removed from Parsifal: a king sick, traduced or ursuped; a blighted land; a hero who must restore health, harmony and happiness by reclaiming his father's rightful place.

It should be a winner - built on the epic scale, using all the sophisticated technical tricks we have come to expect. There is some perfectly acceptable characterization - tatty-maned Uncle Scar is well-voiced by Jeremy Irons, who does a fair imitation of George Sanders, while children will appreciate the flatulent warthog and chattering meerkat who befriend Simba when, holding himself responsible for his father's death, the unhappy cub leaves the pride and goes into exile.

And yet, beside the standard set recently by Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin (or in earlier times by The Jungle Book) the film has an air of hollow grandeur.

The music and songs are mostly pretty awful, the story single-stranded, and Scar's evil hyena henchmen hard to tell apart. Worst of all, the lions often look not so much noble as smug - not unlike Disney as it purrs all the way to the bank.

M o r e w h i m p e r t h a n r o a r The Independent, Oct 07
Internecine warfare, powerlust, backstabbing and betrayal: the recent dramas at Disney (the death of Frank Wells, one of the studio's three senior executives, last April; the illness of a second, Michael Eisner, in July; and the brusque exit of the third, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the following month) would make an action-packed animated feature. But, much as the thought of Jeffrey Katzenberg sporting Mickey Mouse ears appeals, as a cartoon hero, Disney has never been a great one for topicality or shorttermism. Its expensive, labour-intensive works must echo down the decades, recyclable unto the fifth generation.

And so, for the studio's first-ever animated feature to be based on an original story, we have a self-styled "instant classic". Simba, believing himself responsible for his father, the lion king's death, goes into voluntary exile. In fact, the deed is the work of the king's bad brother, a green-eyed, black-maned customer, silkily, deliciously voiced by Jeremy Irons. But Simba, with diverse comic sidekicks in tow, will return to stalk his birthright.

The story is a frightful mess of contradictions. Contemporary sensibilities have imposed a vaguely ecological subtext and lots of stuff about compassion and watching out for each other. In exile, Simba meets a warthog and a meerkat, for whom "grub" means grubs, and is taken under their wing: incredibly, he grows, prospers and sprouts a mane on his new low-cholesterol diet. Eventually, he snatches the hog from the jaws of a lioness: his exile has prompted an inner growth and re-education.

But The Lion King wants to eat its cake and follow a logical diet (the constant food imagery running through the film mirrors its contradictions). It wants political correctness and timeless myth, both at once (Simba is such a generic character that even his name is Swahili for "lion"). And formost of it it arch-traditionalist.

Disney has made a few brisk nods to feminism recently, with its lightly revisionist versions of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (even the princess in Aladdin was spunkier than most). Here, Simba's mother is allowed one brief, amusing gag when, pestered by the cublet, her sleepy spouse mutters "Before sunrise, he's your son", but soon we're back to basic father-son bonding.

The film is a big loud cheer for the status quo, from the moment that the King presents the infant Simba to his subjects in the naff one-day-son-all-this-will-be-yours opening scene. The assembly thrills mightily to the prospect of a new diner on the block: lions eat antelope, but tough - that's the Circle of Life, and the bones of dead lions will eventually moulder into the fertiliser that nourishes the grass the antelope eat (fearlessly, the film-makers brave the wrath of the Antelope Liberation Front).

But when the poor hyenas, the riff-raff dangling at the bottom of the food chain, batten on carrion - their natural function, after all - they're stigmatised as "poachers"; when, under the foul ursuper, they're allowed to claw their way up the Darwinian hierarchy, the place goes to rack and ruin. This is what happens, the movie says, when underdogs rise above their station. At one bizarre point, they're even seen goose- stepping.

The Lion King is, as one would hope, stunning to look at. The usual anthropomorphism (long-lashed giraffes; lions courting in the missionary position) is offset by dazzling, near-abstract set-pieces - the Riefenstahl goose-step, or, more innocuously, the kaleidoscopes of elephant tusks and zebra stripes and glowing tropical colours. But, for all the surface sense of fun and brio, great tracts of the film are reactionary drivel of a high order. Maybe that's what you get when you try to make a fast-food classic.

Camden New Journal, Oct 07
After the inspired Aladdin and the slightly less inspired but nevertheless emotive Beauty and the Beast, Disney appeared to have hit a winning streak in terms of animation, plot and dialogue. But The Lion King is a step back (about 50 feet) in every which way possible.

The usual structure: part one, happiness; part two, despair; part three, happiness regained, is adhered to like a code of conduct.

The familiar baby-faced features of Disney's humans are translated here en flagrante upon the faces of the lions, making them all thin-lipped, doe-eyed and long-lashed; these aren't lions but humans in fancy dress.

The struggle of the little lion king to regain his kingdom from the irascible grips of his Uncle Scar (Jeremy Iron's spine-tingly, verse-speaking voice almost saves the film) and the wholly unthreatening hyenas is helped along by an ever-farting warthog and a Jewish meercat.

The jokes are few and far between and the dreaded PC has filtered through - the Lion King is semi-vegetarian (grubs in, gazelles out).

Perhaps most irritating of all, is the particularly poor soundtrack. Offenders Elton John and Tim Rice appear to have got together after a boozy lunch, set a couple of riffs down on the back of an envelope,then written the lyrics back on the way to the studio. It'll be a winner, but a lazy one nevertheless.

N a t u r a l N u t r i t i o n Saturday, Nov. 19, 1994
Note: I have translated the following text myself. As someone said to me, the author of this article obviously only wanted to prove his writing skills. And I had terrible difficulties trying to adjust myself to it. I had to work around a few phrases in order to restrict the author's language to my vocabulary. I apologize for any differences (although there aren't too many) from the original intention.

The prince of Wales will like "The Lion King". He knows how hard it is to be a prince, and he can identify himself with Simba, who steps into the footprints of his big father Mufasa. It is also known that prince Charles listens to birds and and talks to flowers. He will sympathize with the naturalism of the country that is pictured in Disney's new animated motion picture, for the monarchy is here shown as part of and fulfillment of the of the Circle of Life.

The Circle of Life is first mentioned in the introductory song. You'd wish King Mufasa to have an Elgar as musician, but sadly, he must be satisfied with Elton John. The sun rises, and the young prince is presented to the folk. They hop, jump and fly from all directions. An ape blesses the prince, and the antilopes bend their knees. This may look like blasphemy, but it is made to look natural. In a world which can be overseen from the King's rock, are cosmic and political order united. The prince himself is like the rising sun. At the end of the movie will again a prince be presented to the masses. Udo Jürgens might have written the hymn of their land instead of Elton John: 'And always, always the sun rises again'.

The future folks of the prince of Wales is few as un-anglish as his natural mysticism. Thus is the monarchy of this film from the great american nation as european as Euro-Disney. The monarchy isshown here as an achievement of nature, a focus of force. The lion is King because he has more strength. Mufasa is King but not his weak brother Scar, who ironically says of himself to have the Lion's share of intelligence. In the original, he is spoken by Jeremy Irons; this hints at the opposing elements of american law of nature and british decadence.

Still, Disney knows how to tell people that its animals differ from turtles and dinosaurs by their paedagogical value. Today, also natural conscience belongs to education. Mufasa presents the kingdom to his sond and explains to him the Circle of Life. We are all connected. This could be a call for saving energy. The book where Mufasa draws his phrases from is Earth in the Balance by Al Gore.

Like the death of his mother was the sensible element in the education of Bambi, we now have the death of the father. Mufasa is stampeded to death while trying to rescue his son. The son feels guilty, because he doesn't know that his father was killed by his evil uncle. He flies and finds shelter in a tropic paradise, where a meerkat and a warthog sing their motto to him: The bare necessities. In this magic forest, all tyrannism and naturalism is abandoned.

When the unequal friends perform The lion sleeps tonight, it is a comical moment like the ones in Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin that blow away all sentimentality.

But the moralic order of the world must be reinstablished. Thus, Simba is not allowed to rest in the forest, and the animators must train again natural drawings. The nature that the movie goer knows from TV is copied here. Simba recognizes that his father is not dead, because he takes his place. Mufasa lives on in Simba; prince Charles is also known to be interested in reincarnation. Everything now follows from this insight. The circle is closed.

The theme of the movie, as the authors tell us, is responsibility. In truth, its message is amoral. Moral bgins where the force of nature is restricted. Simba does not take responsibiliy as an individual, but he takes his one true place. This differs the moral of this fable from Disney's Jungle Book. Mowgli also has to listen to nature. He is human and cannot stay in the jungle forever. But the human world is not shown there. For Mowgli, the world is open. But Simba returns to the beginning. There is nothing new under the sun. The law of nature also bind the king.

In spite of showing this law as "clear as the sun", its first rule is systematically suppressed. The law of nature is eat and be eaten. When the king meets his folks, he studies his dinner. In this film for the whole family no death is shown. Only Scar kills his brother Mufasa, but Scar is what no animal is in reality: evil. Mysterious movie, mysterious America. On the one hand, it is normal to show young people killing each other, on the other hand, the carnivores, the true natural born killers may not touch anyone.

But the reproach, Disney shows a happy world that does not know fear, would be wrong. The optimistical metaphysics of the movie come from american tradition. For america, there is always a new sunrise. The wide land is the west; the background artists have copied the work of western artists. But this this wideness is not without borders. When the Father presents the territory to his son, he also shows him the border that must not be crossed. The land in the shadows does not belong to them. Here the fears of the metropolitan white middle-class are projected into the wilderness. Where it becomes dark, the no-go area begins.

Of course the young Simba disobeys. He falls into the claws of hyenas. These are drawn and spoken as blacks, brutal and debil, a street gang on crack. One hyena is even spoken by Whoopi Goldberg. This movie celebrates the law of strength. The circle is closed in racism.

M y s e l f Friday, Dec. 23, 1994
I just cannot believe what the papers tell about this movie. I believe it is about the reverse of their opinion. To the british public, the movie isn't british enough (just think of the "fast food cartoon"), and the reviewers do everything to dismantle the success to the movie. It is in some places funny to see that they disagree on certain points. Once the movie desperately tried to be politically correct, and another "expert" says it is racist.

In my opinion, it is a wonderful Disney movie. I didn't realize that the first time I saw it, but maybe then my hopes were set to high (I had seen lots of pictures and fragments of animation before seeing it in the theatre). It is a tender story, and it needed its time to unfold its full impact. It will probably not replace Beauty and the Beast as my Disney all-time favourite but comes right behind as No. 2.

It has its moments of romance and magic, of humour and action (although I don't like the use of slow-motion in the Lion's fight scene), and combined with all the technical tricks (you seldomly notice the use of computer animation) it makes a great and entertaining picture. The last word is most important, entertainment, because this is one reason why I happen to like the movie.

It also tries to teach us about responsibility, to care about the ones we love and about the environment. The paper's critics didn't understand that, they always picked at the possibly negative meanings of every single line. True, if you judge the phrase Circle of Life alone, you can of course detect some questionable intentions in it. But here, the circle includes all forms of life, as well as the responsibility of everyone not to forget about what has brought us to life, to think about what has been.

I feel pity for the people who agree with the critics above; I fear they have lost their sense of humour and romance somewhere on their road of life. For them I hope they will find back their way, back into the Circle of Life. Then there's the soundtrack of the film. It is currently my favourite CD, and I've had weeks in which I listened to it daily. Well, to tell the truth, I have always programmed the player to play tracks 1 (Circle of Life), 5 (Can You Feel the Love Tonight) and Hans Zimmer's instrumental tracks. It is the most wonderful soundtrack I have heard so far. But I must agree that the three other tracks are not as well as Howard Ashman's lyrics before.

I will not comment on the bits of story Disney has grabbed from everywhere for the assembly of TLK. There was a lot of talk about the story being pinched from the Japanese animation "Kimba, the white Lion", and some people replied that Kimba was in itself stolen from Bambi. But maybe we should not flame everybody for stealing a bit of story from somewhere else, although even I am surprised at Disneys attitude not to acknowledge Kimba. There are some similarities too obvious to be coincidental, and if Disney replies upon being asked "We have never heard of Kimba, nor have used anything of it", I, too, feel angry about it. Well, now I have commented about it after all ...

Frank Pilhofer <fp -AT-> Back to the Homepage
Last modified: Fri Mar 31 18:28:11 1995