The Lion King (1994)

Genres - Children's/Family, Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - Animated Musical, Children's Fantasy  |   Release Date - Jun 24, 1994 (USA), Dec 25, 2002 (USA - IMAX), Sep 16, 2011 (USA - 3D)  |   Run Time - 88 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - G
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Arriving in theaters with a roar, The Lion King quickly became the ruler of Disney's vast jungle, far outgrossing any of the studio's previous releases (a whopping 312 million dollars domestically) and assuring itself a timeless legacy through its incarnation as one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. A fairly simple tale is told with sweeping visual brush strokes of verdant Africa, and an Oscar-winning score (by Hans Zimmer) and songs (by Elton John and Tim Rice) to match. It's noteworthy that The Lion King represents Disney's anomalous return to entirely non-human characters; whether this was key to its success or not is uncertain, but the studio did not try to duplicate this formula until it was basically forced to with Dinosaur in 2000. Because The Lion King hews fairly closely to Disney's usual patterns in all other respects, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why this film struck viewers so much more profoundly than others. It exists as a testament to clean, straightforward storytelling featuring proud heroes and hissable villains, as well as numerous lessons to be gleaned by its younger viewers. Even so, the film was not without controversy -- some critics and watchdog groups decried the fact that Scar's seedy hyenas, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin, were played too ethnically to come across as anything but vicious stereotypes of blacks and Latinos. Ultimately, however, concerns like this were lost in the multitude of accolades heaped on what was, at the time, Disney's most successful animated feature ever.