In 1994 I was a newly married, young stepmother when The Lion King animated feature premiered. I wanted to have the kind of family where the kids got to see the cool Disney movies in the theater, as that was not the experience I had growing up. I remember piling into the seats, excited that the kids were looking forward to seeing the movie, passing a giant popcorn bucket between us. As the first notes of “The Circle of Life” began and the sun spilled across the savanna in a sequence that almost made me forget that this was an animated movie, I became teary with emotion. When newborn Simba, cuddled close to his mother, gave the most adorable little sneeze I have ever seen, I knew this was going to be a favorite, not just for the kids, but for me too.
The movie became an instant classic. It was, up until that time and perhaps since, the only children’s movie to inspire such deep emotions in me. I cried (a lot), I laughed, and I cheered with the kids when the lions reclaimed the Pridelands at the end of the film.
I’m sure we purchased some of the merchandise (a Disney movie always has lots and lots of merchandise, right?) and I know we had a copy on VHS tape. It was a movie I shared with my own son when he was old enough, though he was a much bigger fan of the Disney version of Tarzan. I still hear Phil Collins singing “You’ll Be In My Heart” in my sleep sometimes- a result of the hundreds of times I listened to that Tarzan song back then. But The Lion King remained a special favorite and when we adopted our first set of cats in the early 2000s, we named them Simba and Nala.
Though I once was a pretty avid movie viewer, in recent years, I just don’t care for the experience anymore. Tickets are expensive and so are the concessions. I like the option of being able to put the movie on pause when I have to go to the ladies’ room (which I always do) and the type of films being released today just don’t excite me, the way they once did.
One of my biggest complaints is that so many movies are just remakes, prequels, and sequels. I don’t see many of them, so maybe they are amazing pieces of cinema that I am just missing out on, but I’m OK with that. However, in spite of my normally negative view of Hollywood retreads, when I heard that a live action type, CGI version of The Lion King was coming out, I knew this was going to be a movie I wanted to see.
Even though I knew the elements of the story as all the major plot points are the same, I loved the new version. The special effects were incredible. The animals looked very realistic in both their appearance and the way they moved and interacted with one another and the details in the scenery were just as meticulous. The oasis where Pumbaa and Timon live was especially breathtaking. And since it was a more realistic depiction, some of the more fantastical scenes from the cartoon version were left out, which I thought went well with the overall tone of the movie. I still laughed and cried and many times found myself playing the same scenes in my mind from the animated version as I watched the action on the screen. I truly enjoyed it.
We went to a 9:55 pm showing to accommodate my son’s work schedule and I was surprised as I watched the other customers leave the theater (which was full) that there were no young children. It was interesting that most of the other moviegoers were at an age where they probably saw the original in theaters 25 years ago as kids. I found that very fitting for a movie whose theme is the circle of life.