I saw The Lion King 3D alone. When I say “alone”, I mean it literally. I was alone in the entire auditorium. So yeah, this will probably go down as one of my most memorable theatrical experiences… ever.
I’ve never seen the film in theaters; heck, I hadn’t even seen it at home in years. The opportunity to see it on the big screen (with an added dimension, no less) made me salivate. The only hiccup at the back of my mind was the unimpressive 3D conversion on Beauty and the Beast, the previous Disney classic to get this treatment (read my review here).
Turns out, my worries were unnecessary. Not only is the 3D in The Lion King much better than the one in Beauty and the Beast (and many films released nowadays), it is so good in fact that it actually added a new life to the movie.
Heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Biblical stories and other myths, The Lion King tells the tale of a kingdom of lions in Pride Rock, Africa. When Simba is born to the reigning king Mufasa, Scar (who was first-in-line till then) schemes to kill Mufasa, banish Simba and claim the throne for himself. After living in exile for years, Simba is coaxed into returning to his home so that he can overthrow the usurper and become the rightful King.
It’s a story with motifs as old as the art of storytelling itself. Rivalry in a royal family, regicide, jealousy, treachery…it’s all here – and boy is it well told. Quite a few things struck me about The Lion King during this rewatch. For one, the film is not afraid to get dark. Nala and Simba’s clandestine visit to the Elephant Graveyard, the climactic confrontation between Simba and Scar and – of course – the wildebeest stampede are sequences that would be intense in any film, let alone a Disney children’s film. Mufasa’s death in particular validates my long-held theory that gore (or spelling out the event in any other way) is not even remotely necessary to frighten the audiences. Placing a character we care for in peril and then playing with the emotions of that predicament are enough for a master storyteller to devastate the viewer. I wish “family entertainment” today would be a little less sterile and a lot more courageous in this regard.
No amount of praise can do justice to Jeremy Irons’ work in this film. Irons infuses Scar with a macabre personality that, when combined with his arc in the film, makes it easy to see why the nefarious lion is one of the great villains in Disney’s pantheon (no mean feat). One half of me wanted to slap him and the other wanted to bow down in appreciation – that’s how much I loved hating him. The animation’s beauty still holds up (it is amplified by the 3D, actually) and the sheer artistry of some scenes, such as the opening of the movie, is jaw-dropping. Talking about the opening of the movie, “The Circle of Life” is indeed an awe-inspiring song and listening to it in a theater is a mesmeric experience.
Coming to the 3D conversion, one thing I must clarify upfront is that, yes, the picture’s dim. I’m sure the brightness was cranked up in anticipation of this, but it wasn’t enough to negate the dimming. While I would’ve appreciated seeing the gorgeous African flora and fauna in less subdued light, this wasn’t a deal-breaker – mainly because everything else about the 3D is so damn good. My main complaint about the 3D in Beauty and the Beast was that it was insignificant. Apart from a few scenes, it didn’t make its presence felt and didn’t “add” much to the movie. But in The Lion King, the extra dimension roars (sorry) into prominence right from the start. Birds flying toward Pride Rock and elephants trumpeting while in a line are things that certainly benefit from added depth. The action sequences (especially the Wildebeest stampede) gain a new layer of thrill and excitement because of 3D’s oomph. But more than anything else, I appreciated the 3D so much because it meant that I could lose myself inside the movie’s universe… poring over the art, scanning the animals, peering over the landscape. Like a painting that stretches as far back as the eye can see, the 3D version of The Lion King is a feast for the eyes.
I believe I’ve made a convincing enough case for this one. The Lion King is a classic in every sense of the word and the 3D conversion is good enough that you should check it out in theaters. It’s also a great way to introduce new generations and new audiences to this enduring masterpiece.
3D Conversion: (3.5/4)
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Photo Credit: Walt Disney Feature Animation