A lion cub is fooled by his ambitious uncle, who is next in line to the throne, that he has killed the Lion King, his father and flees their land in shame. As an adult he is persuaded to return to try and claim the throne that is rightfully his.
We must assume that The Lion King is the first Disney animation to contain a fart joke, albeit one aimed over the heads of the younger members of its audience and towards their Baby Boomer parents. There's also a moment when you could swear that our leonine lovers are about to make the two-backed beast, as they no doubt would if this were live action. Before the end of the century something similar will occur; the recent string of Disney animations have not become the biggest successes in movie history without understanding the importance of ensuring that parents don't come along reluctantly.
Here the computer animation that made Aladdin too frenetic and pleased with itself meets the vanished serenity of The Jungle Book (still the one to beat) and gets maximum spectacle out of Africa's landscape and livestock. The wildebeest stampede that kills the hero's father, thereby attracting much criticism in the US, looks like treated film footage rather than the work of human hand, and the drama throughout hits very hard indeed. The Elephants' Graveyard sequence in particular may well have very small children watching through their fingers, although they are never too far from laughing like drains at the antics of Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the flatulent warthog. The sequence where the pair of them break into a Hawaiian dance to distract a whole bunch of hyenas is funny, big time.
The Lion King really scores on the soundtrack, with outstanding characterisations from Jeremy Irons as the evil Scar, wrapping threats round his tongue like long notes on a cello, Rowan Atkinson sardonic and pompous as the courtier bird Zazu and Whoopi Goldberg at the head of a trio of hyenas, 90s descendants of the crows in Dumbo. Elton John and Tim Rice's chart-topping music matches the movie gag for gag, sob for sob, African choirs swelling as the sun rises over the savannah and soupy lurve duets accompanying the canoodlings of the mating pair. This being 1994 you are never far away from the terrifying thwack of a synthesised bass drum, included as much because it's feasible as because it's appropriate. It's that kind of picture.
This is more a favourite of the children than adult Disney fans. It has a few memorable songs and has spawned a very popular stage production