I think if I had a favourite animated Disney movie, it would be this one, plain and simple. While a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's from my past, and therefore provides nostalgia, there's so much more to it. It's one of the first movies I can remember successfully hitting every note with me as far as emotions go. I laughed, I cried, I felt hope, I felt dread. It's really just a wonderful story that some say is more of a present-day 'Hamlet'.
I went to the theater to check this out when I was 11, going on 12, and have held it close to my heart ever since. Sometimes you come across a movie that gets into your being so deeply that you honestly can't wait to see it again. This could have been the first time that really happened for me. There was a certain success Disney had with this one in delivering the magic - and it doesn't stop at the amazing animalistic animation, either. The songs are great, the characters are likable (and voiced by quite the all-star cast), and the overall story is really quite moving.
The film opens with the world's most culturally significant sunrise as we see all of the animals of the Pride Lands of Africa gather to celebrate Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick), the newborn lion cub of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sirabi (Madge Sinclair). Presenting him to the kingdom in that famous scene is shaman and advisor, a mandrill named Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), who isn't in this a ton, but does end up playing an important part in Simba's development. Simba eventually grows a little, and Mufasa explains the Circle of Life to him (this is where I also learned about it) as well as his responsibilities when he becomes king.
Meanwhile, Mufasa's brother, Scar (Jeremy Irons) ends up being a bit of a "Loki" about things, and wants the throne for himself. He hopes to achieve this with the help of his hyena sidekicks, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin) and Ed (Jim Cummings). Of course, most know the tragedy that this leads to by now, but spoiler alert anyway; it all eventually leads to Mufasa's murder, Simba's exile, and Scar taking over the throne as next in line. Why do the hyenas help this lion? Well, he pretty much just promises them sustenance, and that's reason enough.
The question is, however, will Simba come back to resume his responsibilities as rightful king? Or will he just chill with his new homies, Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella)? And although that's the film in a nutshell, a couple more characters worth mentioning are Simba's best friend, Nala (Niketa Calame-Harris/Moira Kelly), who plays a big influence on Simba, and Mufasa's majordomo, comic relief character, Zazu the hornbill (Rowan Atkinson). Altogether, this cast makes a pretty great balance between serious and comical with their characters, and it's nice to see a variety of comedy relief rather than just one character.
There's not a whole lot more to say about this one, but I think it will keep that "favourite" title for quite some time, all things considered. It's funny, but even after watching the incredibly animated remake, I thought that was actually dull in comparison to how much this one pops. Songs like 'Hakuna Matata' and 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King' are catchy and fun, but Scar also has 'Be Prepared' for something dark, and we can't leave out Elton John - most famous for his songs 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' and 'The Circle of Life'. The film provides a wonderful balance of everything, and still totally holds up to this day. It's one I never mind checking out again.