Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Return of a Winner

In our short visit to Connecticut, we have been immersed in Disney. Our grandkids are 4 and 2 and currently love THE LITTLE MERMAID(1989), the film began the renaissance of classic Disney animation that petered out in the late 1950's. Told in lush, expressionist colors that recall the gorgeous paintings of BAMBI and especially PINOCHIO and its dreamlike under water sequences, THE LITTLE MERMAID is ever so loosely based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson and sets a pattern that would be duplicated again and again in other new classics such as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST(1991), ALADDIN,(1992), and THE LION KING (1994).

So it was inevitable that we take four year old Rosie to see THE LION KING in 3-D. She was in awe of the spectacle but especially the cute animals, but she jumped into her mother's lap at key moments of Disney darkness--the wildebeast stampede and the snarling hyenas. I had been afraid that the 3-D version would be another mess like CLASH OF THE TITANS, but it was magnificent in its recreation of the original film's gorgeous vistas, streaked skies, the foreboding elephant graveyard, and, in fact, almost every visual aspect. While THE LITTLE MERMAID had not used famous voices, ALADDIN had employed a fantastic performance from comic Robin Williams as the genie, so the new trend was celebrity voices. Sometimes they work, often as not. But the two major adult characters in THE LION KING need commanding, strongly contrasting voices. And they got them!

Perhaps the most famous "Voice" in movies and television is James Earl Jones, who memorably gave Darth Vader his menace to the half-human, half-machine. Jones wisely toned down (or up, to be correct) his approach to voice Mustafa, the Lion King, and displayed strength as well as paternal love. As Scar, his jealous brother, Jeremy Irons practically stole the show, taking the Iago approach with smothering charm and cunning but acting with merciless cruelty. Iron's rich baritone-bass makes Scar one of Disney's greatest villains.

THE LION KING was made into one of the most successful Broadway musicals in history, holding on to its original songs and spirit and adding the puppetry magic of Julie Taymor's creative production as well as delightful new music. In the long run, the original film THE LION KING will always stand as one of the classic Disney animated films, proudly standing side by side with PINOCHIO and FANTASIA(both 1940), the height of Disney animation.

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