Sort of a cross between “Richard III” and “Hamlet,” this is the story of Simba (voice of Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a child, Matthew Broderick as an adult), the cub of Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the king of the jungle. Simba “just can’t wait to be king.” But his evil Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons), bitterly jealous of Mufasa, wants to be king, so he arranges for Mufasa to be killed in a stampede and to have Simba think he is responsible.
Simba runs away, and finds friends in Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella) and Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane), who advise him that the best philosophy is “hakuna matata” (no worries). Simba grows up thinking he has escaped from his past, but his childhood friend, Nala finds him, and tells him that under Scar’s leadership, the tribe has suffered badly. She persuades him to return to take on his responsibilities as King of the Pridelands. He learns that it was Scar who caused Mufasa’s death, and he vanquishes Scar to become King.
NOTE: The death of Mufasa is genuinely scary. More troubling is the arrogance of the “Circle of Life” explanation, which is mighty reassuring as long as you are the one on top of the food chain. And worse than that is the whole “hakuna matata” idea, which is genuinely irresponsible. Make sure that kids realize that even Simba finds out that he cannot run away from his problems.
Not just a movie, but a marketing phenomenon, this blockbuster was the highest grossing film of the year. Amazingly, it made even more money in merchandise than it did at the box office, a fact for which audiences have been paying ever since, as each subsequent Disney animated movie seems to be designed primarily as a commercial for teeshirts, lunchboxes and action figures. The score, and the song “Circle of Life,” with authentic African rhythms and instruments, won Oscars for Elton John and Tim Rice, and the movie later became a Broadway blockbuster.