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Review: The Lion King in 3D

Saturday morning at the movies, watching a cartoon – what could be more reminiscent of the joys of childhood? Well, the cartoon this particular Saturday morning (September 10, 2011) was not exactly the kind of matinee I used attend back in Brooklyn when the theaters had ‘matrons’ who kept the kiddie section in line. Today I’m wearing polarized lenses and watching Disney’s upcoming 3D re-release of The Lion King.

Saturday morning at the movies, watching a cartoon – what could be more reminiscent of the joys of childhood?

Well, the cartoon this particular Saturday morning (September 10, 2011) was not exactly the kind of matinee I used attend back in Brooklyn when the theaters had ‘matrons’ who kept the kiddie section in line. Today I’m wearing polarized lenses and watching Disney’s upcoming 3D re-release of The Lion King.

The classic Looney Tunes are far from dead by the way, judging from the six- or seven-year old behind me who seemed to have all the classic lines memorized. “I’m going to blow up the Earth, isn’t that lovely...kill the wabbit…duck season/rabbit season…” (I had to remind him it’s actually Elmer season.) This kid must have cool parents who are marinating his brain with the classic LT shorts via DVD since as far as I know no one’s airing them at the moment.

Been a while since I’ve seen Simba and company in action onscreen. In fact, I think I’ve seen the Broadway show more recently than the movie. (No.2 box office champ for 1994, and the film that triggered the short-lived 1990’s feature animation craze that gave us classics like Anastasia and Quest for Camelot.)

Technical Report: the 3D is very nicely handled – not overdone or sloppy but natural looking. Most of it seems to be playing off the animation’s 2D multi-planing (like the cranes we see from above flying over a landscape) but there are impressive close-ups where the characters’ muzzles are closer to the screen than their eyes. (Duck or you’ll get clobbered by Zazu’s beak.) Superb multi-channel audio job too, at least at the tiny DGA theater in midtown Manhattan.

Early on in the film – “and blinking, step into the sun” – the camera rises over a hill to frame the approaching momma and baby giraffes; the hill in question is a flat piece of art, it looks like a flat piece of art but it floats above the animals who in turn project out from the background behind them. Looking at that shot I found myself thinking that in a CGI/3D Lion King that hill would be rendered in depth; as the camera rose over it, your perspective would shift so that the previously invisible crest of the hill would come into view, the grass and dirt would have dimension, compressing as hooves descend on it … and the visual experience would be quite different. Better, worse, or just…different? Would the moment be as emotionally affecting, the poignancy of the lyrics diminished if the viewer’s attention is focused on the image’s “realness” instead of the iconic quality hand-drawn images might convey?

As with a Tootsie Roll Pop, “the world may never know.” Then again, there’s a 2D shot I would’ve love to have seen redone in 3D: when Simba and Nala flee from the hyenas, they slide through a long-deceased animal’s rib cage. It’s just a zoom into a flat piece of art, but man, that would’ve looked nice, each rib distancing itself from the rest as the camera zips past them…

Oh yeah, anyone ever see Oscar Grillo’s 1980 animated short “Seaside Woman” set to a Paul and Linda Wings tune? (If you haven’t you can via ye olde VousTube - http://tinyurl.com/3pehhm9 - Gorgeous piece of work set on a Caribbean island contrasting the dark-skinned residents with the emaciated Caucasians vacationing therein. The LK filmmakers helped themselves to a nifty shot that shows up around 2:30 into the short – a young girl pursuing and pursued by a stray cat. They’re black silhouettes that strobe white while running  past a row of trees, but in LK it’s Zazu pursuing the runaway cubs during the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” number. (I guess Allers and Minkoff sincerely wanted to flatter Grillo.)

If anyone still wonders why The Lion King was box office gold in ’94 ($313 mil)… it’s a damn powerful piece of work that appeals to just about anyone. (Talking animals? Well then, it’s a kids’ film – no, it’s an action film – no, it’s a musical – no, it’s a romance/date movie – no, it’s a comedy… or (f), all of the above.) I was holding my breath throughout Mufasa’s death scene (not to mention several other moments) without even realizing it.

And where’s the notorious shot of dust floating into the air and supposedly, subliminally forming the letters ‘S-E-X’ when a conflicted Simba flops to the ground? (Or so Dan Brown claimed in The DaVinci Code, although the story I heard was that the letters actually spell out ‘SFX,’ a little howdy from the special effects department.) Did they get rid of it (same way they got rid of the nekkid lady in the window in the first Rescuers, or took the cigarette out of Pecos Bill’s mouth), or did it get past me while I was making a note?

If it was still there, I’m sure the very young kid leaping about the stage on all fours while roaring as the credits rolled didn’t notice it either; like I said, The Lion King is a film for everyone – or at least everyone who wants to get in touch with their inner lion.

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