Back in the '90s, nobody really knew that Matthew Broderick could sing. Still, it's a bit of a surprise to recall that Disney used somebody else to do his crooning in 1994's The Lion King. A year later, Broderick would storm Broadway in the musical revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The Lion King was the movie that Disney insiders regard as a high-water mark for traditional Disney animation, the exclamation point on the success story that began with The Little Mermaid and continued with Beauty and the Beast. That cel-animated classic (with some digital sequences) earns a nice 3-D dressing-up in The Lion King 3D, Disney's two-week reissue of the film, opening Friday. That's to be followed by an early October release on Blu-ray.
It looks lovely, with beautifully drawn lions and hyenas — plus a warthog, a meerkat, a mandrill, a hornbill and assorted other denizens of the African savannah. The wildebeest stampede is almost as novel and breathtaking as it was when the film was new.
And those voices: Nathan Lane's career had a major uptick after his turn in this, and Lane and his Guys and Dolls co-star Ernie Sabella made Disney's greatest comic team, pre-Buzz and Woody.
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"So kid, what's eatin' you?"
"Nothing! He's at the top of the food chain!"
Jeremy Irons must have worn a mustache into the recording booth to voice Scar, the villain. There's a mustache twirl in every treacherous line. James Earl Jones, as the king, Mufasa, gave the story's message weight: "Being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble."
Maybe Hakuna Matata has become a musical cliché, but the Jackson Five-ish I Just Can't Wait to Be King still tickles. And Elton John's anthems Can You Feel the Love Tonight and The Circle of Life are likewise so much a part of the culture as to seem worn, but they still soar.
The 3-D doesn't add much, only depth, to this film, which won a couple of Oscars upon its release. A wildebeest or hyena almost falls into your lap here and there.
Once upon a time, pre-video, Disney reissued its classics to theaters for short runs so a new generation could experience them the way they were meant to be seen. That makes this Lion King revival part of a grand tradition, 3-D or not. Some parents who were children 17 years ago have the chance to make this the first Disney film their kids see in a theater. Lucky them.