I am probably the only person on Earth who finds The Lion King underwhelming and not particularly moving. Yes, yes–I can hear you booing and hissing, and I don’t care. I think it’s an adequate tale. Not bad, by any means, and worlds better than the likes of Pocahontas and Mulan, but hardly worthy of the popular adoration it’s been enjoying the past fifteen years or so. So, where to start my little rant…oh, I know:
It’s Disnified Hamlet
I am certainly far from the first person to point this out, but in case you’ve never realized, The Lion King is Shakespeare’s Hamlet with all the sex removed and with a happy ending. Told by lions. It sounds crazy, but think about it for about twenty or thirty seconds. Ready?
The plot of Hamlet: A young prince who lacks direction returns home after being away when he is told his father has been murdered by his uncle who has married his mother. The ghost of his father asks him to seek vengeance, and the young prince spends the balance of the action doing so, all the while learning how to be ‘the man’ of the house.
The plot of the Lion King: A young prince who lacks direction finds out his uncle has murdered his father and de-facto married his mother and, after chatting with his ghostly dad, returns to make things right by avenging his father’s death, all the while learning how to be ‘the man’ of the house.
Same. Damn. Thing.
Simba is Hamlet, Mufasa is Hamlet Sr., Scar is Claudius, Nala is Ophelia, Timon/Poomba = Rosencrantz/Gildenstern, Zazoo is Polonius…etc, etc.
What Disney changes, though, and one of the things that pisses me off about it is that they (1) remove Laertes (bad move, since it’s Laertes that really makes things interesting), (2) never explore Simba’s uncertainty about taking out Scar, and (3) the only person who dies is Scar, and that not even by Simba’s hand/paw. Granted, it’s a Disney movie–I get it, no super-duper tragic ending–but even still, it sours me on the film a little. That, however, isn’t the main problem I have. The main problem is that…
The Movie Wastes Time
Yes, it does. Seriously, it does. Stop arguing–go and watch the movie again. Did it? Now, let me ask you two questions:
1) What is this story really about. In other words, what’s the conflict?
2) How much of the movie is actually spent resolving or exploring that conflict?
My answers are this: 1) Simba’s journey from child to man through the process of securing justice for Scar and saving the Pridelands. 2) 40 minutes of a 90 minute movie.
The useful and important parts of the movie are the opening song, the Elephant Graveyard scene and Simba’s talk with Mustafa afterwards, the Death of Mustafa, the reunion with Nala, and the final fight with Scar. Altogether, a minimal portion of the movie. What’s the rest?
Because we waste SO MUCH TIME with Hakuna Matata, ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King,’ and a bunch of other completely pointless stuff that doesn’t advance the story, doesn’t sufficiently explore Simba’s character with any degree of depth, and means the *really interesting stuff* (i.e. the main plot of Hamlet) is essentially squeezed into the last 20 minutes or so of the film. Because of that, the film lacks pathos. I am not fully invested. I feel like the movie just is getting started and then, all of a sudden, it’s over. Boooo!
Oh yeah, one more thing:
The Songs are Lame
They are. They really are. Not the score, mind you–that’s pretty good–but the actual songs are generally boring. “Circle of Life” is great, but the rest? “Hakuna Matata” is mildy diverting but uninspired, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is actively annoying, and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is completely terrible in all ways. Even the controlling metaphor of the song is strained. When following up such acts as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, I was frankly expecting more. Even Pocahontas’s songs are better.
So, there you have it. I think the Lion King is lame. Have at me, Disniphiles!
(oh, and as a side note, the Julie Taymor Musical version is much, much better than the animated film. I actually recommend that one)