14. The Lion King (1994)
The Disney musicals of the 1990's were some of the most successful movies of the decade. They are also credited with giving the House of Mouse financial security and the studio stability they were so lacking in the late 1970's through to the mid-1980's (there are those who disagree with that assessment, but I digress). This movie was Disney's biggest financial success of that "Musical Renaissance" (and that is saying something considering the box-office booms that the studio's three preceding films produced). Released in the summer of 1994, it was the third of Disney's animated features to star an all-animal cast (the first was Bambi in 1942 and the second was Robin Hood in 1973). It also was the first film the studio tried whose story did not come from a fairy tale, legend, short story or novel. It was a completely original story (technically). Yes, the film has been likened to that of William Shakespeare's Hamlet and even Disney's own Bambi (it's production name was cleverly called "Bamlet"). But the story is an original one.
Mufasa, the King of Pride Rock (which is somewhere on the African plains), and his mate have just bore a son, named Simba, who is hailed by the entire kingdom as heir to the throne. But there is one person in Pride Rock displeased with this: Mufasa's brother, Scar. Scar, with the help of his hyena henchmen, plot to kill Mufasa (and Simba) and take over Pride Rock. In a stunning animated sequence (the wildebeests' stampede), Scar's plan is in motion and Simba, mourning the loss of his father, is convinced to run away and never return. As Simba grows in self-imposed exile, he becomes more conflicted with whether he should take his rightful place or live with the shame he has been running from. It is one of Disney's more expressive and phenomenal pieces with lovable characters and brilliant voice acting. Among the star-studded voice cast are: Matthew Broderick (as the adult Simba), Jeremy Irons (who is devilish as Scar, one of my all-time favorite Disney villains), James Earl Jones (with his booming voice as Mufasa), Whoopi Goldberg (as one of Scar's hyena helpers) and the always hilarious Nathan Lane (as Timon, the meerkat that Simba lives with in exile). The movie also features some of Disney's best songs (by the great Elton John and Evita lyricist Tim Rice) including "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata" and the Oscar-winning "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" and features a brilliant underscore by Hans Zimmer. It is one of Disney's best animated movie-musicals and it was inventively turned into a mega-successful Broadway production (by the very creative stage director Julie Taymor).
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