When I decided I was going to make my list, I knew without a shadow of doubt that there would be at least one Disney film on it. How could there not be? Disney is the world’s most well-known animation company, with a long and glowing history and whose creations have enchanted children and children-at-heart throughout the decades.
It was hard picking my favourite “traditional” Disney film (i.e. animated with songs and based on an existing fairytale or myth) to take the number six slot. I grew up during the “Disney Renaissance”, a period of time when Disney released an animated feature film every year, with each film being solid cinematic gold. Films from the Renaissance period include Hunchback of Notre Dame (which has the best Disney villain song ever, “Hellfire) The Little Mermaid, and Mulan.
The two big names of the Disney Renaissance are Aladdin and Lion King, both of which I love to bits. But like Highlander, there can be only one, and in the end I have to go with Lion King, because ultimately I consider it the more impressive in terms of animation quality, voice acting, and soundtrack.
Do I really need to explain the plot of Lion King? Really? Oh, go on then. I’ll give you the very quick and ugly synopsis.
Okay, so Lion King is essentially Shakespeare’s Hamlet , with a bit of the story of Moses thrown in for flavour, and the main characters are anthropomorphic lions. With me so far? Mufasa is the king of the Pridelands, and has a son, Simba, who will inherit the kingdom. This doesn’t sit well with bad uncle Scar, who wanted to be the next king.
Simba leads a carefree, adventurous life, getting into all sorts of wacky mischief. Along the way, his father teaches him about the circle of life, the responsibilities of being a king, and the power of the Dark Si- oh. Not that last one.
Scar eventually tricks Simba into a ravine, and starts a stampede of wildebeest. Mufasa rushes to save Simba, but is killed in the stampede when Scar hurls him to his death. Afterwards, Scar convinces Simba that he is responsible for Mufasa’s death, and the grief-stricken prince runs off into the wild. There he encounters Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat-warthog heterosexual life-partners, and spends a few years chillaxing. Eventually, he mans (lions?) up, returns to the Pridelands where Scar has done an amazing job of being a totally shit king, and claims back his throne.
Lion King is, to me, the most visually impressive of Disney films from its era. When I saw it for the first time, that opening shot of the sunrise and the Afrikaans chant leading into “Circle of Life”… that hooked me. I knew I was in for something special, and that was a feeling that never really went away as the film progressed. There’s some real striking moments in the film that help maintain the sense of wonder, like the zoom-in shock and horror on young Simba’s face when the wildebeest herd comes stampeding down the cliff, or the Zack Snyder-esque slow-mo fight at the climax between adult Simba and Scar.
Throw in an amazing soundtrack and an all-star cast of voice actors, and you’ve got – in my mind at least – the crown jewel of Disney’s animation history.
Number five tomorrow!