DARKER BUT DEEPER: My Review of The Lion King

The circle of life spins on, and eventually brings us back movies of our childhood. I have to admit, before going to see The Lion King with my wife, two of her sisters, and a nephew and niece who are young kids, I wondered why bother. Sure, I knew that the new version would use “real” animals as opposed to animated, as was done in 1994. But I thought that other than that, the movie would be the same. It wasn’t.

But before I go into detail about my thoughts, I wanted to note the experience of obtaining audio description so that I would know what was going on. You can read a prior post I made with this title if you want a deeper sense of what audio description is. I was aware that most movie theaters nowadays would have it, so as we arrived at the Holly Springs AMC Dine-in 9, I asked my wife to speak with the customer service rep at the counter about obtaining the device. He hadn’t really known of what she spoke, but the manager did, and that manager also educated him so that future transactions would go more smoothly. I was not surprised at the rep’s lack of awareness, as I would guess that few customers need this. But I was pleased with their willingness to learn.

They asked which film we would see, and programmed the little box accordingly, then I clipped it to my pocket and took the little pair of headphones that come with it. Then we entered the auditorium, wherein there were reclining seats with tables attached. Instead of a concession stand, one orders food straight from the seat by pressing a button. Because we had eaten breakfast only a couple hours earlier, having gone for a 3:30 showing, my wife and I were not too hungry. So we just got popcorn and drinks, and smuggled boxes of raisinettes. As we settled in with our grub and the movie started, I realized that the audio description device was not working. This was rectified by simply locating and pressing the power button.

The quality of the description was pretty good. It was done by a woman with a British accent, which can be a bit challenging for me to follow, but I just sort of concentrated on digesting the more visual scenes and slid the set off of my head during dialog-heavy sections. The audio was presented in two channels: the left ear got the description, while the right ear was fed the movie. This would work wonderfully for one with normal hearing I suppose, but unfortunately my right ear is insufficient with regards to hearing. But that was ok. I think my pie-in-the-sky dream would be that somehow a text-based description app would be brought into existence that would allow me to follow the movie with my Braille display. Amazon’s x-ray is actually not far from this as it shows the scene title and who plays in the scene. I would think adding an extra line of description to that would not be too complicated. This would allow even deaf blind people to follow the action in a movie. My wife informed me that they do have a device that can be placed in a seat’s cup holder and allow a deaf person to read the closed captions, so that’s pretty cool too. It is great that we live in a world where access is being extended to everyone.

The movie began as one would expect, with the Circle of Life song. The elephant hole portion and the part where Scar outlines plans to take down the king were notably darker though, and especially as they basically removed Scar’s Be Prepared song and replaced it with a more march-y beat that made slight reference to it. That song had actually been one of my favorites in the original, but perhaps it was less necessary in a non-animated movie.

I have to say though, I was less a fan of Scar’s voice in the newer iteration. It just lacked the gravitas brought to it before. Nala’s older voice, played by Beyonce, was also less impassioned. On the whole though, the movie was more effectively tied together: with elements like a lead female hyena who tussled with Nala; a more developed relationship between Timon and Pumba, the outcasts Simba meets when sent away from Pride Rock; and a more sensible return by Simba in the end. It seems some effort was made to be more culturally sensitive as well.

This version in many respects felt less like a kid’s movie overall, not that kids wouldn’t get into it, but just that without some of its wimpy, Youngers folks might not connect with it in quite the same way. As an adult 25 (TWENTY-FIVE!) years later, I pretty well enjoyed it, and given that there were some fairly lengthy visual portions where nothing was said, I was happy I had opted to get the audio description box. The movie-going experience was so different from what I remember of my last attendance, which I think was in 2004? That sounds like a long time, but I can recall no more recent ones. I may well go to the movies again soon.

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