Epic Disney Watchfest 8: Sword in the Stone and The Lion King: A Pair of Appropriately Kingly Reviews

In case you don’t remember, my buddy Brazle and I recently decided to plow through every traditionally animated Disney movie by the end of March. We watched the first film on March 11, leaving us 19 days to get through the other 35 or so films. Throw out three days because we have a Bible study on Tuesdays and that leaves 35 films in 16 days. If you’re a mathematician or perhaps a rocket scientist or brain surgeon, you might be able to realize that 35 films in 16 days is pretty much two point one eight seven five films a day. Two point one eight seven five ANIMATED films a day. Of course, that is a fantastic situation in which to be. Now, you might be asking the question “Why would you ever want to do that??” Rest assured, there is an actual reason. But, since this is neither the time or place for an explanation, I’ll just leave my response at “It’s awesome.”

Unfortunately, we were a bit too casual with our movie-watching early on, so we got stuck in a position of having to watch four movies last Monday just to keep up. We made it through three and a half before even we decided “This is ridiculous.” The movies that evening were Sword in the StoneThe Lion King101 Dalmatians, and Pocahontas; we made it through all of them but Pocahontas, which I still need to finish (I tried to finish last night after Bible study, but my internet went out right as I started watching. Massive fail.) Since I don’t want to subject you to a 4,000 word blog entry, especially with my current too-narrow-of-a-reading-column-that-forces-you-to-scroll-and-scroll-and-scroll-and-scroll theme, I’ve decided to break this review into two parts. In part 8, I’ll cover Sword in the Stone and The Lion King. In part 9, I’ll cover 101 Dalmatians and Pocahontas.

Sword in the Stone

merlin_el_encantador_1963_6

This picture depicts the last five minutes of the film.

If Sword in the Stone were released today, it would probably be the most confounding decision of all time. Imagine this movie being pitched today:

Hopeful flunkie 1: “We’ve got a great idea – it’s Merlin, a young King Arthur, lots of magical changing into animals…..”

Powerful executive: (nodding approvingly, interested)

Hopeful flunkie 2: “…………knights, castles, witches, a talking owl……”

Powerful executive: (more nodding, leaning forward, very interested)

Merlin turns people into animals.

Merlin turns people into animals.

Hopeful flunkie 3: “……..and a sword that’s stuck in a stone and makes Arthur king!! But get this – we bring the sword in in the last five minutes and spend the rest of the time showing whimsical magic scenes with young Arthur and Merlin!! The kids will love it! And the piece de resistance – we call it ‘Sword in the Stone’ and slap an epic picture of Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone on the promo posters! Of course, a more accurate name would probably be ‘From Squirrel to King: the Untold Story of How Merlin Turned Young Arthur Into Lots of Animals For 70 Pointless Minutes Before Abandoning Him Because He For Some Reason Hated That The Boy Wanted to Go to London and Then Arthur Pulled a Sword Out of a Stone And Became King In the Last 5 Minutes’, but let’s be real; we could never fit that on the poster. Plus, with ‘Sword in the Stone’, people will flood in expecting an epic tale, and technically, it’s not a bait-and-switch because he does pull the sword out. It’s like how they called the movie about the 13th Amendment ‘Lincoln’ so that everyone would think it was about Abraham Lincoln and not the passage of the 13th Amendment. Sir, we believe that if we do it just right, we won’t have to hire someone to actually write a coherent story, and this might be remembered as one of the best animated films ever! Oh, and Arthur will be called Wart!!!!!”

Powerful executive: (stands, applauds thunderously and continuously for five minutes before chest-bumping all the flunkies)

Okay, so, I don’t know how the movie gets made today. Whatever. Sword in the Stone is extremely silly. I like silly, but seriously – this movie is 70 minutes of disjointed episodes followed by 5 minutes of Arthur pulling the sword out and becoming king. C’est la vie.

Merlin and Arthur underwater is a grand adventure.

Merlin and Arthur underwater is a grand adventure.

Regardless of how weird the movie is, I really liked the scene in which Merlin turns Arthur into a fish. I found it to be incredibly imaginative, and I LOVED the cinematography inside the moat. It’s not like the images can rival Finding Nemo or some other photorealistic animation, but somehow, the artists used just the right colors/shading and nailed the look. I really, really, really liked that.

Something else I liked was the relationship between Merlin and Arthur, though it didn’t seem to go anywhere beyond student/teacher. I was expecting there to be adventure; needless to say I was disappointed. Regardless, I liked the interplay between the two characters – Arthur does a nice job of setting up Merlin for all kinds of magical moments. My favorite (besides the fish thing) is when Merlin convinces Arthur to let him do the dishes magically. Good stuff.

In closing, Sword in the Stone is a silly movie that has hardly anything to do with its strong title and epic-looking picture on the cover. I guess the lesson is, you cannot judge a movie by its cover. Still, there were elements of the movie I liked such as the underwater section and the relationship between Merlin and Arthur. In all, this feels like a lower point for Disney. Perhaps there are some who would watch the movie and find it incredibly enjoyable (I certainly would recommend it for kids), but since I’m writing this, I’m going to give my opinion, and that is a 3.8/10. Just kidding, I’m not that biased. I would give it a 3.9/10. Jk jk. Jokes!! I would seriously give it a 6.3/10. Final answer.

The Lion King

The-Lion-King-the-lion-king-32779773-1920-1080

The Lion King is a great film.

I feel like someone should make a movie called The Liger King and have the guy from Napolean Dynamite be the narrator. #amirightoramiright Anyway, so, The Lion King is amazing blah blah blah, it’s the best animated movie of them all blah blah blah it transcends the animated medium blaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh blah blah you’re heard it all before. Like, just because it has beautiful visuals, a captivating story, well-crafted characters, terrific voice-acting, a meaningful message and some of the greatest movie music ever, everyone wants to bow down before it and crown it the king of animation. I guess that means it’s my turn to praise it. UGH!

Bway poster

The Lion King is a Broadway musical.

But seriously, this isn’t just one of the best animated films ever – it stands as one of the best and most successful films of all time. As of 2011, it’s earned $951 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing hand-drawn animated movie and the highest grossing 2d animated movie of all time, not to mention the 17th highest grossing feature film. It garnered Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, and it won Golden Globe awards for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song. It spawned the 6x Tony Award-winning Broadway musical as well as the only Disney soundtrack to be ‘Diamond’ certified (1ox platinum). Basically, this movie was and is a juggernaut.

Like I said above, the movie has beautiful visuals, a captivating story, well-crafted characters, terrific voice-acting, a meaningful message and some of the best movie music ever. I want to touch a little on each of those before closing.

  • Visuals – After watching all these Disney movies so close together, I feel pretty confident in saying this film has some of the most vibrant colors of the whole bunch. The bright tropical hues and gorgeous vistas are astounding. The animation is smooth, and the CGI is integrated pretty seamlessly. Strangely, most of Disney’s top-tier animators chose to work on Pocahontas, which was also in development, for they thought it would be the higher-profile release between the two. The animators assigned to The Lion King were in some cases resentful of having to participate, many thinking the project didn’t have much potential. Still, they nailed it. 
  • Captivating Story – I’ve read the screenplay was based on the Biblical accounts of Joseph and Moses, and it was also derived from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “MacBeth”. It certainly performs like the best of epics – the young prince is driven away by a jealous family member only to return and claim his rightful throne. On top of that, Disney was on a role with their comedic timing; the interjection of Timon and Pumbaa really balances the heavy story elements with humor. I especially loved the conversation about the stars – I feel like it’s a prime example of bringing levity to an important and heavy story moment. The scene where Rafiki hits Simba over the head to explain how the past works is another great example.
  • Well-crafted Characters – Simba, Mufasa, Scar, Timon/Pumbaa, Nala, Rafiki, Zazu, Shenzi, Banzai and Ed – each of those characters is very well done. They each fill a role marvelously, and they generate the right feelings. We hate Scar for his treachery while loving Mufasa for his wisdom and power. We feel for Simba when he loses his dad and understand when he makes mistakes. We laugh at Timon and Pumbaa, and we have quite respect for Rafiki. Some movies never establish a reason why we should care about any of the characters, but in The Lion King, they all fill their roles extremely nicely. Well-crafted indeed.

    Timon Pumbaa

    Timon and Pumbaa bring levity.

  • Terrific Voice-Acting – Of course, the characters are only as good as the actors portraying them. In this case, the actors couldn’t have fit their roles any better. I particularly thought Matthew Broderick did a perfect job as Simba. Somehow, his voice still has a boyish quality while being mature. Not sure how that works, but it does, and incredibly well. Of course, James Earl Jones as Mufasa is a stroke of genius. His voice fit Mufasa’s persona just as well as Broderick’s voice fit Simba’s persona. In other words, it was perfect. And Jeremy Irons as Scar is brilliant. The only thing I remember from watching The Lion King in the theater was some guy in the audience yelling, “Scar’s an a**hole.” That audience member was and is exactly right. Scar is a complete jerk, all thanks to Irons’ great voice-acting. I could go on and on – pretty much every voice is amazing.
  • Meaningful Message – I guess this could be lumped in with the section on story, but I feel it deserves its own attention. I found the movie to be filled with wonderful messages. From Hakuna Matata to responsibility to respecting elders, the film draws attention to several key life lessons everyone would do well to learn. Of course, the “circle of life” is the over-arching message, and it is a good one too. Disney has frequently done a good job of bringing not just a story but a lesson, and this movie accomplishes that in spades.
  • Simba is analogous to Joseph, Moses and Hamlet.

    Simba is analogous to Joseph, Moses and Hamlet.

    Some of the Best Movie Music EVER – Well, I already mentioned the ‘Diamond’ certified soundtrack and multiple awards for best score and song. I feel there isn’t much more to say to establish the quality, so I want to draw attention to the three men most responsible for that success. By now, most people probably know Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the songs, and boy did hey annihilate it. ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘Circle of Life’, ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ and ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ – what a murderer’s row of tunes. I bet you can hum most of those just having heard the titles. If that’s not enough, Hans Zimmer wrote the score. What??? Hans Zimmer? Yep, Hans Zimmer. He drums up supremely awesome sonic textures in this thing, and it is breathtaking.

In all, The Lion King is an incredible film. Several great elements come together to make the movie what it is, including beautiful visuals, a captivating story, well-crafted characters, a meaningful message and some of the best movie music ever. Most consider it one of the best animated movies ever, and so do I. 8.7/10.

Next Up: 101 Dalmatians and Pocahontas

Please comment, and feel free to email me your thoughts at grant@grantstevensgroup.com.

Grant Stevens is a big fan of animated films. He is thoroughly enjoying revisiting Disney’s traditionally animated catalog, and he hopes to one day win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in reviewing these seminal films. While not watching gobs of movies, he enjoys basketball, Halo and learning about apologetics. He is also really into music. Check out his latest musical works at www.grantstevensgroup.com.

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