Disney’s highest-grossing hand-drawn animation of all time strides majestically back onto the big screen, looking more sensational than ever in the increasingly fashionable 3D format.
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, The Lion King may be 17 years old but its age doesn’t show and this loose reworking of Hamlet benefits greatly from the eye-popping technology.
The opening sequence to Circle Of Life dazzles the senses with a breathtaking aerial shot of flamingos soaring over the Pride Lands and the arrival of beasts large and small to celebrate the birth of their future leader.
The rich, lush colours of Africa shimmer while our hearts stir to Elton John and Tim Rice’s Oscar-winning soundtrack.
A potent blend of comedy, tragedy and utterly believable characters puts most recent animated features to shame and the pivotal stampede sequence is even more thrilling in 3D, dust seemingly clouding our vision as one king falls and another flees from his destiny.
Elderly lion Scar (voiced with villainous glee by Jeremy Irons) plots to usurp his brother, the majestic King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and seize control of the grasslands in a fragile alliance with the hyenas.
The scoundrel orchestrates a devilish plan to kill Mufasa and newborn cub Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), the rightful heir to Pride Rock, by luring them into a canyon during a wildebeest stampede.
Mufasa dies saving his son from being crushed under hoof.
Poor Simba is overwhelmed by guilt - inflamed by Scar’s cruel words - and he flees his homeland, finally collapsing in the jungle where he befriends the eccentric double-act of neurotic meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and flatulent warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella).
Years later, the now full-grown Simba (Matthew Broderick) chances upon his former sweetheart Nala (Moira Kelly), who tells of Scar’s despotic reign.
Filled with anger, Simba returns to Pride Rock to overthrow Scar and save his family from extinction.
The Lion King 3D is an unmissable roar from the past that effortlessly tugs the heartstrings.
The script strikes a perfect balance between laughter and tears and vocal performances are excellent from Broderick’s guilt-ridden exile to Irons’s slippery usurper, who gets all of the best lines, including that classic retort to young Simba’s question if he will like a surprise: “It’s to die for!”
Lane and Sabella provide much of the comedy - Hakuna Matata and all that - aided and abetted by Rowan Atkinson as the officious hornbill Zazu, and Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and Jim Cummings as a trio of deranged hyenas.
More than 15 years after the film’s original release, we can still feel the love for Simba and his furred and feathered friends.
Allers and Minkoff’s joyous odyssey remains the king of the animated jungle.
Review by Damon Smith
:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 9/10
Released: October 7 (UK & Ireland), 89 mins