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The Lion King’s eternal problem

HollywoodNews.com: As most of you know, Disney is re-releasing The Lion King in 2,330 3D theaters this weekend as a two-week advertisement for the upcoming Blu Ray release. So weak is the current crop of openers (financially, not artistically), that there is a good chance that the re-release of this 17.25 year old movie could top the weekend box office yet again. Anyway, I come not to discuss what that means for the industry, or for the new-found trend of re-releasing old movies retrofitted with 3D, but merely to point out the big problem that I’ve always had with the film.

It’s still pretty great overall (I watched it just under two years ago), with dynamite animation, a sober and moving story, plus terrific vocal work from what was arguably the first major animated film filled with an all-star cast of human actors. Yes, the film’s success basically caused the current trend of filling up animated features not with professional voice-over actors but with whatever A-list or B-list celebrity you can get to say yes, but I digress. I do have few qualms here and there. Simba’s primary moral dilemma is based on a falsehood, Simba only triumphs because Scar stupidly reveals his villainy just before his triumph, and the romantic subplot is a waste of time and space. But overall, the film still kills as an emotional journey and a towering achievement of the 1984-1994 Disney Renascence period (Jeremy Irons probably should have gotten an Oscar nomination). But what I’m describing is the film’s first and third acts. What about the second act? Well, it doesn’t have one.

The original theatrical version runs 84 minutes without credits (or 79 minutes if you view “Circle of Life” as a stand-alone prologue not related to the primary story, but that’s your call). By the forty-five (or so) minute mark, Mufasa is dead and Simba has just been chased out of Pride Rock. Minutes later, he passes out and is awakened by Timon and Pumba. Well over half the picture is dedicated to what is technically ‘the beginning’. What happens next is a quick musical montage set to “Hakuna Matata” where we see Simba grow up into a young adult. We see one brief nighttime conversation where Simba talks about his father and then POOF Nala shows up to set up the romantic subplot as demanded by Elton John (there was a version of the film with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” cut out, but Elton John allegedly protested so back in it went).

And then right after that gratuitous love song, POOF Rafiki the wise monkey shows up to basically coax Simba into returning to his rightful place as king. And of course the extended action climax follows and all is restored by the 84 minute mark. But wait… pretty much everything that happens between Simba talking to his animal friends under the stars and Simba taking his place on the circle of life is Act Three of ‘the end’. As best as I can figure (and I’ve tried for seventeen years), the second act of the film, the ‘middle’ if you will, is entirely comprised of a single 3-4 minute musical montage where Simba dances with his new animal pals and learns how to say ‘No Worries’ in Swahili. After that moment, there is no more of Simba adjusting to his new life, just one brief moment of ‘life under Scar’s rule’, and then we’re off to the self-discovery and redemption finale.

Photo by Disney Enterprises Inc.

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About Scott Mendelson

Mendelson's Memos: The basics - 30 years old, married with one child, currently residing in Woodland Hills, CA. I am simply a longtime film critic and pundit of sorts, especially in the realm of box office. The main content will be film reviews, trailer reviews, essays, and box office analysis and comparison. I also syndicate myself at The Huffington Post and Open Salon. I will update as often as my schedule allows. Yes, I'm on Facebook/Twitter/LinkIn, so feel free to find me there. All comments are appreciated, just be civil and try to keep a level discourse, as I will make every effort to do the same. Read more at Mendelson's Memos:

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  • September 17, 2011 | Permalink |

    You’re just looking for something to write and complain about. Lion King is a great classic that can’t be judged, it’s already won everyone else over so get over your flawed view and go watch something more your age.

  • September 17, 2011 | Permalink |

    It’s a cartoon movie directed towards a younger audience, try not to rack your brain over it so much. Let me lay it out for you… ACT 1 – Circle of Life, Simba can’t wait to be king, Scar, the Elephant graveyard, and Mufasa’s death. ACT 2 – Hakuna Matata, Rafiki, Nala, Mufasa speaks to Simba. ACT 3 – Return to pride Rock, THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.

    If anything, Act 3 is the one that is over quickly, but Act 2. The Lion King is a classic filled with archetypes. It was even a hit on Broadway. How can anyone think The Lion King is flawed??

  • September 17, 2011 | Permalink |

    In Hamlet, doesn’t everyone die in the end? Is that what you really wanted?

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