Audiences embrace ‘The Lion King’ in 3D

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By Courtni Kopietz, Contributor

“Hakuna Matata—what a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata—ain’t no passing craze.” As theaters filled up last weekend to celebrate the re-release of one of Disney’s classic movies in 3D, it’s clear “The Lion King” is also not a passing craze.

Whether motivated by nostalgia or the desire for some more family time, moviegoers piled into theaters, shattering box office expectations and grossing over $8.8 million on Friday alone. It is expected to gross nearly $20 million by the end of the weekend.

The huge and unexpected popularity of this re-release may keep it in theaters longer than its intended two-week release.

The showing of this classic animated film in 3D was intended primarily to promote the HD Blu-ray and DVD releases, Oct. 4 and Nov. 15 respectively, but it has become a phenomenon itself. “The Lion King” to date is still the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated film, and was the beginning of what many believe was the “Disney Renaissance.”  Its popularity has clearly not flagged over the years since its 1994 release date.

As the sun begins to rise over the African landscape, the beginning notes of the “Circle of Life” filled an otherwise silent theater.

The anticipatory tension breaks when King of the Pridelands, Mufasa, comes onto the screen and the auditorium applauds his appearance. Voiced by James Earl Jones, the deep tone and deliberate pacing of words make for a commanding presence of the respected leader.

We are taken through the journey of Simba, a young lion and son of the king (voiced by Jonathon Taylor Thomas). He deals with the pressure of trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and living up to others’ expectations.  

Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons), Mufasa’s scheming brother and Simba’s uncle, sets the stage to kill the king and take the crown from Simba, with the help of his hyena cronies.

We see Simba as he wrestles with the grief and guilt associated with his father’s death, (the whole theater getting misty-eyed at the fall of Mufasa), and how he decides to adopt the “no worries” philosophy of life rather than deal with his past.  

And audiences are with him as he reflects on his past, the passing of his father, and decides to live up to his responsibilities and take back his rightful place as the heir to the throne. It’s a collection of fairly adult themes for a children’s movie.

As we have seen in other movies converted to 3D, the quality is not nearly as good as those that were originally filmed using 3D technology.  The picture of “The Lion King” in 3D is reminiscent of the old technology—while audiences are wearing digital 3D glasses, the image is similar to that of the cardboard frames with blue and red filmy lenses.

But while the quality isn’t the best, it’s not distracting, and the joy of seeing a beloved film in theaters again outweighs the negatives. Revisit your childhood, embrace nostalgia and see the “Lion King” while it’s still in theaters.

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