Nobody really knew Matthew Broderick could sing, back in the early ‘90s. Still, it’s a little bit of a surprise to recall that Disney used somebody else to do his crooning in 1994’s “The Lion King.” A year later, Broderick would storm Broadway in the musical revival “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
“Lion King” was the movie that Disney insiders regard as a high-water mark for traditional Disney animation, the exclamation point on the success story that began with “The Little Mermaid” and continued with “Beauty and the Beast.” That cell-animated (with some digital sequences) classic earns a nice 3-D dressing up in “The Lion King 3D,” Disney’s two-week re-issue of the film, opening Friday. That’s to be followed by an early October release on BluRay.
It still looks lovely, with beautifully drawn lions and hyenas — plus a warthog, a meerkat, a mandrill and a hornbill, and assorted other denizens of the African savannah. The wildebeest stampede is almost as novel and breathtaking as it was when the film was new.
And those voices — Nathan Lane’s career had a major uptick after his turn in this, and Lane and his “Guys and Dolls” co-star Ernie Sabella made Disney’s greatest comic team — pre-Buzz and Woody.
“So kid, what’s eatin’ you?”
“NOTHING! He’s at the top of the food chain!”
Jeremy Irons must have worn a mustache into the recording booth to voice Scar, the villain. There’s a mustache twirl in every treacherous line. James Earl Jones, as the king, Mufasa, gave the story’s message weight: “Being brave doesn’t mean you go looking for trouble.”
Maybe “Hakuna Matata” has become a musical cliche, but the Jackson Five-ish “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” still tickles. And Elton John’s anthems “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “The Circle of Life” are likewise so much a part of the culture as to seem worn, but still soar.
The 3-D doesn’t add much — only depth — to this film, which won a couple of Oscars upon its release. A wildebeest or hyena almost falls into your lap, here and there.
Once upon a time, pre-video, Disney reissued its classics to theaters for short runs so that a new generation could experience them the way they were meant to be seen. That makes this “Lion King” revival part of a grand tradition, 3-D or not. Some who were just children 17 years ago have the chance to make this the first Disney film their kids see in a theater.
THE LION KING 3D
3 1/2 stars
Cast: Matthew Broderick (Simba), Jeremy Irons (Scar), Nathan Lane (Timon), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Moira Kelly (Nala), James Earl Jones (Mufasa)
Directed by Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers, produced by Don Hahn. A Walt Disney Pictures release. Running time: 1:29
MPAA Rating: G