Predigested heroic myth to do with a lion cub called Simba, rightful heir to the paradisiacal pridelands, dispossessed by a Machiavellian uncle, and — no need to go on. The apotheosis of Joseph Campbell into a household name has not been a boon to the fictional imagination. The prince in exile, the army of occupation (goose-stepping hyenas, so as to drive the point home), the supernatural intervention, the enlightenment, the return, the redemption — it's all here. All, and little else. What brings the thing partway to life is of course the famous anthropomorphism of the Disney animation team. And what brings it farther, farthest, to life is a villain of almost Shakespearean stature (with suitable elocution by Jeremy Irons). We are well accustomed to seeing Disney villains going in for a lot of Grand Guignol snarl and glower without ever doing any actual harm to anyone. The act of fratricide and regicide on the part of Scar (same name as the rampaging Comanche from The Searchers) is strong stuff, and his physical weakness, his cowardice, his bumbling comic-relief accomplices, make it all the stronger. They don't deserve to do anybody any harm. The morbidity isn't lingered on for long, but that's not so much a measure of squeamishness as of the uniformly nimble pacing. Even the obligatory songs (Elton John, music; Tim Rice, lyrics) don't slow things down as much, or stop things as cold, as sometimes. Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. (1994) — Duncan Shepherd
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