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Forget the play, The Lion King is now in IMAX.

Hamlet on the Savannah

Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern of the SavannahMost of us know the story of The Lion King, either from the movie, the video, or the play. The king of the jungle is killed by his brother, a la Hamlet, and his young son, the rightful heir to the throne, is driven off. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are replaced by a flatulent boar and a singing meerkat. Some musical numbers are sung, most notably “Hakuna Matata,” before the young exiled Simba grows up and returns to challenge his uncle for the throne.

IMAX, You Max, We All Max

If you saw The Lion King when it first came out in theaters, you saw a 35mm print. The film used in IMAX projection is three times as big. This finely detailed image is projected onto a gigantic screen, resulting in a rich, detailed cinematography that fills your field of vision.

Disney has released other cartoons in the IMAX format. Y2K didn’t stop Fantasia 2000 from being released on 1/1/00, and last year Disney re-released Beauty and the Beast in IMAX. Because IMAX is so big, any flaws in the film are magnified. Both of Disney’s previous releases showed visible pixelation in some scenes, indicating their output to film wasn’t high enough resolution.

Either the process is improving, or The Lion King started with a less digital picture, because The Lion King doesn’t show any of those types of problems. The grand opening, a sunrise in the savannah, is beautiful, and the single, fat drumbeat that accompanies the title fills the auditorium with satisfaction. I overheard someone say “it’s better already,” meaning the IMAX experience was better than the theater, or more likely, home video. And I agree.

My only complaint with the presentation is that the movie went dead silent, just before the Academy-Award winning song “The Circle of Life” was about to play over the credits. Some glitch with the projector deprived my audience of auditory closure. No doubt the Colorado Center will fix this by opening day, but it was big emotional letdown to simply be cut off, without transitioning out of the film and back into reality.

The Wrong Message

Presentation aside, there is a problem with the morality of The Lion King.

For one thing, it presents an odd mix of deadly seriousness and slapstick humor. At the climax, Simba fights Scar to the death, and intercut with this scene is one of Poomba the Flatulent Boar doing a parody of Travis Bickel (Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver). Should children — or anyone — be laughing during a horrific moment of death? This isn’t Pulp Fiction, after all.

More importantly, the movie’s central philosophy is oppressive and disempowering. An opening number shows prey animals bowing to the lions in worship and obeisance. Even the antelope bow down, which rightfully confuses Simba, and he asks his dad about their submissiveness. His dad dodges the question by telling him that “the circle of life” is the way things are and the way things must always be.

In other words, accept your lot in life, and blindly obey your social betters. Such a hollow philosophy would never abolish slavery, and doesn’t make room for the American Dream. If you’re at the top of the heap, don’t worry too much about those beneath you because that’s just the way things are.

To put it in 2002 political terms, it’s a philosophy that lets Enron execs and pedophile priests off the hook simply because they are in positions of power. Time’s “persons of the year” — three whistleblowers who challenged the abuse of power — would not exist in Lion King World because the antelope are expected to simply accept their fate.

In short, The Lion King sends the wrong message — to anyone who sees messages in cartoon animals singing Broadway numbers.