*This is a user-submitted post by Jordan Hashemi-Briskin*
To say that The Lion King took the world by storm when it debuted in 1994 is an understatement. Up to that point, no animated feature had so boldly and deliberately chosen to explore the themes of leadership, responsibility, self identity, and the acknowledgement of death. In this respect, the film truly broke new ground. Add onto this the colorful cast of characters that populates it, superlative animation (which people had come to expect from Disney by now), and perhaps the most infectious soundtrack in history, and you can understand how The Lion King managed to exceed everyone’s expectations in terms of critical and commercial success. More than any previous animated feature— Disney or otherwise—it resonated with audiences on a much deeper level.
Of course, looking back on this widely-beloved film almost a quarter century later, one can’t help but wonder: How exactly did The Lion King‘s success affect the art of feature animation in the long run? Did it change things for the better, or did it somehow do more harm than good?
As everyone here knows, by 1994, Walt Disney Animation Studios had reasserted itself as the best animation studio in the world, with the enormous successes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. All of these films had validated animation as an art form and caused the public at large to acknowledge its legitimacy (with Beauty‘s nomination for the Best Picture Oscar being the best indication). But, as Jeffrey Katzenberg noted in the retrospective featurette on the Diamond Edition release of the film, “The Lion King took animation from being a respected sort of niche world, and really brought it into the mainstream.” Taking this statement into consideration, it’s reasonable to suggest that its runaway success helped raise public awareness and interest in the art of animation.
Inevitably, though, when a film is so well-received by both critics and the public at large, it becomes the yardstick by which all subsequent films are measured. It’s in this regard that I have come to think that maybe The Lion King hurt the animation industry; people started constantly comparing the later features to it (no doubt you’ve read reviews proclaiming one animated feature or another as “the best since The Lion King” or “ranking with The Lion King“), instead of judging them for their own merits, causing filmmakers to trip over themselves trying to meet such unrealistic expectations. And, as any animation lover knows, very few films even came close to matching The Lion King in terms of overall quality. On the flip side, however, one could argue that the warm reception that Lion King received actually helped motivate filmmakers to try to make the best films that they could.
In the long run, I, personally, think that the sheer enormity of The Lion King has both helped and hurt animation at the same time, for the reasons I mentioned above. And given all of the related material it has since spawned—two direct-to-video sequels, two spin-off TV series, a stage musical, an album of songs inspired by the film’s score, more books than one can count, and, of course, the upcoming CGI remake—it’s safe to say that it will never go away. It will always remain one of the most powerful animated films ever created, and it will no doubt continue to capture the hearts and imaginations of generations to come.
What do you think? Did The Lion King help or hurt the animation field? Sound off below!
Edited by: Kelly Conley