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Movie review

For the IMAX 'King,' bigger is better

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Read Billy's movie reviews on his special archive page.

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 16, 2002

Movie: The Lion King (IMAX)

Rating: G

Summary: This animated Disney classic that made its big screen debut in 1994 is being re-released as a large-format film shown only at IMAX and other large-format cinemas from Dec. 25 to March 31. It's the story of a young African lion cub, Simba, who is learning about the circle of life from his proud father, and king of the African plains, Mufasa.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas does young Simba's voice and Matthew Broderick then takes over as the voice of the adult lion. James Earl Jones provides the voice for Mufasa. Simba is quite anxious about his destiny to one day become king, but Mufasa instills his wisdom in the young cub. Into the picture steps his evil and jealous Uncle Scar (voice of Jeremy Irons), who thinks he rightfully should become the next king of the land -- the sooner, the better.

Unknown to Simba, Scar causes Mufasa's death, but leads Simba to believe it was all his fault and forces him into exile. Feeling shamed and guilty, he runs away, planning to never return, and is befriended by an enthusiastic meerkat named Timon (voice of Nathan Lane) and a hearty warthog named Pumbaa (voice of Ernie Sabella). They introduce him to the concept of Hakuna Matata, or "no worries," and strive to live life in harmony. (This song, written by Tim Rice and Elton John, went on to become one of the most popular, catchy movie tunes ever written.)

Meanwhile, Scar has taken over the plain lands, and led the remaining lions to believe that Simba was killed along with his father. One of Simba's childhood friends, Nala (voice of Moira Kelly), stumbles upon him in his jungle abode and tells him of Scar's evil plot to rule the animal kingdom, practically destroying their homeland in the process. Simba is reluctant to return, but he must stand up for himself and gather up the courage to return home and take his rightful place in the circle of life.

My view: Since I was only 7 when The Lion King first came out, I didn't think I remembered much about it beforehand. As I watched though, the memories flooded my mind, and I realized I knew the words to all the songs! This movie has what is probably Disney's best soundtrack. Tim Rice wrote the songs in collaboration with Elton John, and the phenomenal musical score was the work of composer Hans Zimmer.

This time around, I noticed more of the subtleties that had previously gone over my head. Much of the humor in the film is directed at an older audience. The difference between a 7-year-old's perspective and a 15-year-old's is considerable.

A truly admirable visual effect shows up tremendously well on the super-size IMAX screen. Early in the production of the original film, a creative team actually went to Africa and came back with sketches, photos and videos to help the artists create an authentic view. It's obvious that their trip was worthwhile. Each of the 1,197 backgrounds is hand-painted, and all 119,058 frames of film are individually colored. This gives the movie a painted look, like an artist's oil rendering of life in the Serengeti. When they began reformatting the film for the large-format screens, artists touched up a lot of the artwork and added details that would hold up better on the bigger screen. They had the opportunity to go back and fix things they weren't completely happy with the first time around. This was a totally amazing film in 1994 that just got better.

The IMAX experience provides for one heck of a good time and brings this film to life in a whole new dimension. When the animals are stampeding, you feel like you are right in the middle of it. The sights and sounds overwhelm you.

Favorite part: I loved a lot about this movie, but the character of Rafiki the baboon (voice of Robert Guillaume), who is the local medicine man of sorts was probably my favorite. His crazy chants -- "Asante sana. Squash banana" -- and quirky mannerisms were quite entertaining and amusing.

Recommendations: This movie can make a teenager seem as easily enchanted as a happy-go-lucky little kid. All ages will absolutely love it. A warning, though -- the youngest viewers might be disturbed by the scene in which Mufasa dies.

The film opens on Christmas day and is playing locally only at the IMAX dome theaters at MOSI in Tampa and Channelside Cinemas in Tampa. Tickets are selling like mad, so if you want to experience the thrill of The Lion King on IMAX, get your hands on some tickets quickly.

Grade: A+

- Billy Norris, 15, in the ninth grade at Seminole High School, is a former member of the Times X-Team.

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