“New” and “Improved,” by Jack Fleischer
Disney gives The Lion King the 3D treatment for this limited two-week theatrical release, and the verdict is simple. If you love Disney, have “Hakuna matata” in your Pandora mix, or you own a child, this movie is for you … otherwise, it’s neither so new, or so spectacular that it’s a must see.
The story is familiar to Disneyphiles: a goofy young anthropomorphic lion cub experiences a dark tragedy with the death of his father at the hands of a jealous Uncle with a British accent. Luckily he befriends some loveable sidekicks who teach him to laugh again, and by the end of it he’s on top of the world. Part Bambi, part Hamlet, it’s crammed with pop tunes, expansive animation and reportedly Disney’s first animated fart.
I can’t denigrate this one; I used to happily sing along to the songs, even though I was in high school by ‘94. Marked by some of the most ambitious animation ever attempted to that point it was just as famous for how long it took to make as it was for its ubiquitous pop soundtrack from Elton John and Tim Rice. So with all of its amazingly pencil work, cutting edge CGI, and hand cramping coloring, does the 3D treatment do it justice? Eh.
Most go into a 3D movie with little knowledge of the process, and I think it should stay that way. It should be appreciated, but not noticed. As such I didn’t research the techniques or methods used to 3Dify this movie, I just wanted to either be blown away … or not. For the record I’m not a proponent of gratuitous 3D, and more than once I’ve been disappointed by it’s use. Plus, I hate the 3D goggles more than I hate Scar.
This film was so lush and epic in 1994 that, I still remember being impressed at how expansive and beautiful it was. From the opening sequence to the stampede scene, it was unlike any animated film I’d ever seen before. Happily these scenes are still beautiful, well drawn, and amazing. Unfortunately the 3D elements reduce the whole thing to a moving pop-up book.
The savannah’s rises and ranges are reduced to layered flat planes. There were a few scenes where Zazu’s beak looked like it had “body” to it, but it seemed more like flat planes being sandwiched on top of each other. I feel like the 3D here is taking away from what already had great depth and scope. They took the Mona Lisa and made it bumpy. I guess the technique is “effective” yet it’s unnecessary.
In the spirit of full disclosure I experienced something at this particular 3D screening that has never happened to me before. I puked, vomited, and spewed. A musical number had me spinning, so I briefly took off the glasses. When the feeling subsided I put them back on, but I couldn’t get the feeling to go away and during a particularly graphic explosion of color on screen I had to bolt for the door. It was a “Technicolor yawn” of the first order.
I had a photographer friend with me at the screening to help analyze the 3D work so between us we didn’t miss much, but this effect was one I didn’t expect. I’m willing to admit that this probably came about because of something I ate, rather than a 3D effect, but I would hate for anyone to say I didn’t warn them.
To quote The Lion King, “It’s the Circle of Life, and it moves us all.”
I caught a screening myself and echo your sentiments about the 3-D technology. Disney put more effort into creating depth than I expected, but the overall I found the technology distracting. At times I found the original rendering adds quite a bit of depth seamlessly.
I will say, one of the scenes I was looking forward to and was not disappointed by was the stampede scene. My understanding is the impressive waterfall of Wildebeest was originally CGI, unlike the traditional flat cel animation of the rest of the film. The technology there was definitely more true to the eye, heightening the tension of the moment without taking you out of the story.
There were definitely other weird things going on – in a lot of the transitions or sweeping shots it looked like they used pan and scan to add even more depth to the space. I feel like they messed with the resolution of the original artwork and it was really distracting.
Watching numbers like “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” really made me realize how much work went into storyboarding the first time around. Dynamic camera movements, the way the characters move through the space… All the great skeletal structure is there to render it in 3-D.
All-in-all, I think it’s worth a watch to experience “Lion King” in the theater again, but definitely not worth replacing the DVD at home as the definitive incarnation of the film.