See It Instead: The Lion King.
Disney’s live-action Lion King may be the only action in theaters, but we gather a pride of lion films to see instead.
The Lion King is perhaps Disney’s biggest money maker, between films, shows and even Broadway. It was a no-brainer that it would hit the live-action adaptation circuit sooner rather than later. The original film came around just as I was exiting my Disney phase, so all of the hoopla went over my head. I’m also not a fan of these carbon copy adaptations that Disney is churning out like a production line, especially when worthier material is out there. Seriously, we’re not even done this year as Lady and Tramp looks to be headed to theaters before 2019 is done. Therefore, I’m a prime candidate for wanting an alternative to this week’s big release.
Luckily, there’s no shortage of great movies about lions out there. We even found two Disney films if you want to capture the feel without paying ticket price. Hakuna Matata your way over the sofa and plug in these three lion-friendly flicks.
The Lion King (2019).
Simba is the son of the King of the Jungle. Unfortunately, his evil uncle wants the throne to himself, so he gets rid of the king and Simba is forced to run for his little life. He grows to maturity far from the serious life of the lion pack, but a childhood friend seeks him out to retake the throne and restore order to the animal kingdom.
The Serious Pick: Born Free (1966).
Born Free follows wildlife warden George Adamson is forced to kill a pair of wild African lions. This orphans a trio lion cubs, who Joy and George Adamson raise. Two of the cubs are eventually sent off to live in a zoo, but the youngest, Elsa, remains a constant companion for Joy. An elephant stampede that damages a local village is blamed on the lion Elsa, and demands are made to ship her to a zoo or release her back into the preserve. Joy and George set about teaching Elsa how to live in the wild, eventually leading to her becoming the first captive lion to successfully reenter the wild and bear a litter of cubs. It is based on the true story written by Joy Adamson.
Born Free was a cultural touchstone all throughout my childhood. The music (which won two Academy Awards) was a favorite of music teachers throughout my elementary schooling. The film spawned a TV series that was ubiquitous in re-runs, itself spawning a sequel series in the 1990’s. Born Free features beautiful, on location footage, and cinematography that blends documentary imagery into the dramatic narrative deftly. The cast is strong. Starring real life couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers as the Adamsons, you get a real sense of familial care. The two would go on to become animal advocates, so the story touched them as deeply as the audience. The film touches on deep issues and doesn’t treat its animal stars in a saccharine or sentimental way. It’s a fantastic film for those looking to get up close and personal with some amazing lions.
The Lighthearted Pick: The Lion King 1½ (2004).
We see the story of The Lion King through the eyes of Simba’s two lackadaisical friends, Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog.
Wow. Disney actually made a good sequel? Doubling down on the “Hamlet, but with Lions” angle of the first film, this outing feels a bit like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but with a meerkat and warthog.” The story fleshes out the comic sidekicks effectively, justifying the elevation of the two to starring roles. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella step back into their old roles with aplomb, like an animated Laurel and Hardy. Not only are their adventures entertaining, but the script cleverly illuminates the original film, providing depth and characterization for many smaller characters that only previously had minor roles. It also takes a decidedly cheekier outlook on the grave and momentous events of The Lion King.
While the antics of the two got a bit overplayed when Disney turned their adventures into a TV series, this outing with Timon and Pumbaa was filled with humor and solid music, and gave fans of the first film a fresh perspective to enjoy it all over again.
The Unconventional Pick: Lambert the Sheepish Lion (1952).
Lambert is a lion cub who is mistakenly dropped by the Stork into a herd of sheep. His mother longed for a baby, so she dutifully loves and raises Lambert, despite the fact that he doesn’t fit in at all. In fact, many of the other sheep and lambs make Lambert the butt of all their jokes. This all changes when a cunning wolf sets his eyes on the herd and the normally gentle Lambert must step in to save the day.
I love Lambert. This short film from Disney works on every level. It tells a nice variation on the Ugly Duckling/Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer story, in a charming and funny fashion. The animation is vibrant, colorful, and each character is super expressive. The animators handle the minimal dialogue ingeniously. The animation carries much of the content and the few words spoken become strong punctuation to the storytelling.
The characters are fantastic. Lambert is such a lovable goof, you’re always rooting for him…even when he’s too timid to stand up for himself. Lambert’s mother ranks right up there with Dumbo‘s mom as one of Disney’s best mothers, warm and affectionate but also protective. The other lambs are such complete jerks, it makes Lambert that much more relatable. And the wolf…wow. He’s all skin and bones and teeth, pathetic and terrifying at once. When Lambert finally remembers that he’s actually a lion and roars, he shows his true colors and wilts like a flower. The look on his face was one of the funniest things I’d seen in a Disney cartoon, and all these years later I still crack up when I see him basically wet himself when faced with somebody willing to fight back.
Lambert is my favorite Disney lion, so you can keep your Lion King 2.0. We’ll just be over here chilling.