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The Lion King 3-D Review: The Circle of Life for a Few Dollars More

By Agent Bedhead | Film | September 17, 2011 |

By Agent Bedhead | Film | September 17, 2011 |

Ordinarily, I’d be rolling my eyes in sheer dismissal at the fact that Walt Disney has re-released one of its most beloved films [to be more precise, its 32nd animated feature film that also hails from the studio’s so-called “Renaissance” period and just happens to be the top-grossing ($783 million globally) hand-drawn animated film of all time] while jacking up the price with a 3-D premium. Yet I’m not nearly as apathetic about this re-release as I presumed, due to my erroneous presumption that the 3-D couldn’t possibly make much of a difference. Unfortunately, all of the digital trickery involved is not a subtle endeavor and, as such, takes away from most of the previously-existing breathtaking moments of what was once a sprawling epic. Here, the 3-D does not enhance the movie in question but makes the visuals substantially less appealing, which in turn lessens the mythic stature of the story itself.

Such a damn shame.

That’s the main reason for reviewing The Lion King 3D, right? To tell you what effect the 3-D makes upon the 1994 classic. Well, it makes a great difference in that it looks like crap now. The technique used is not a delicate enhancement, the animation now seems layered, and the extra dimension is much more of a distraction than anything else. The sweeping views of African plains are now rendered into a dimly-lit farce, and the careful focus shiftings of the original are now mere gimmicks. Obviously, this is also post-production 3-D that we’re dealing with here too, so if you want to relive the frustrating, what-the-hell-am-I-looking-at feeling of the Clash of the Titans remake, well, be my guest. Instead of reflecting a painstakingly applied gradation, The Lion King 3D is the cinematic version of a pop-up book. That is, the visuals are now flimsy and easy to pull apart even for the least discriminating viewer.

The story, however, remains the same as do the themes. The circle of life, death, loss, guilt, fear, destiny, and responsibility are all still present in an original story that still heavily borrows from preexisting tales and, mostly notably, evokes shades of Hamlet and Bambi as well as gratuitously bathes in Biblical overtones. Also still intact is the remarkable voice cast that includes James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson (as the hovering tutor-bird, Zazu), and Nathan Lane.

And so we re-witness the birth of lion cub Prince Simba (voiced early on by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and later by Matthew Broderick), who is born to proud parents King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Madge Sinclair). Simba is welcomed with much joy to the Pride Lands by everyone except for one soul. The King’s brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons), wants the throne for himself, so he tries and fails to kill young Simba; some years later, Scar eventually executes a plan to kill Mufasa and make Simba believe that he was responsible for his father’s death. Scar then assumes the throne and Simba heads into exile. Long story short, he meets Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), sings “Hakuna Matata,” and is eventually persuaded by his childhood friend, Nala (Moira Kelly), to return and defeat Scar and the three hyenas (Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings, and Cheech Marin). Yes, I’m oversimplifying the plot a great deal but also expect that most of you know the drill.

In the end, it seems pointless to re-release this movie in 3-D, but it’s also a nice way to welcome back some quality into theaters that even Disney itself can’t hope to reach these days. So it’s great that the story is back out there, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to see The Lion King on the big screen when most of us have only seen it on VHS or DVD; but the 3-D lessens the original experience. Yes, the landscapes, the stampede, and Atkinson’s flight-bound Zuzu pop out when you put on those funny glasses, but the unavoidable muting of the colors outweighs all of the 3-D novelty. Further, those potentially scary sequences will truly freak out the young ones in 3-D. As always, the movie does contain a significant amount of intense violence (Mufasa’s death by trampling stampede and the climactic battle) and very wrenching moments involving the loss of a parent. No matter what feelings that The Lion King 3D manages to stir up, however, it’s all about the extra bucks. By the way, the Blu-ray “Diamond Edition” of the movie hits stores in two weeks, so this movie’s re-release in 3-D is no mere coincidence.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.

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