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By Rich Cline | January 5, 2003

Disney’s Oscar-winning box office champ has been completely reformatted for Imax cinemas–massive five-story picture, surround sound–and to be perfectly honest: It’s better than ever. I wasn’t a huge fan of the film the first time around (it still has problems), but the animation is drop-dead gorgeous, and looks staggeringly crisp and beautiful blown up beyond all reason onto that gigantic screen.
The story is a mix of classic plot elements (most of it comes from Hamlet and Richard III), in which young lion cub Simba (voice of Thomas) is groomed to succeed his heroic father (Jones) as the king of the beasts. But his sinister, murderous uncle Scar (Irons) twists events, sending Simba into exile, where he’s befriended by a meerkat and a warthog (Lane and Sabella). All grown up (now voiced by Broderick), he’s finally urged to return home and rescue the kingdom from Scar and a bunch of lowlife hyenas (led by Goldberg, Marin and Cummings). Oh, and he falls in love with his childhood buddy Nala (Kelly). Can you feel the love tonight?
This is indeed a timeless classic, full of excitement, humor, witty asides and memorable characters. Yet there is a strangely awkward relationship between the exceptionally inventive animation and the compelling, involving story. The problem is that the animals are just far too humanized–transposing Western values and society onto the African animal kingdom while pretending to respect nature. It’s oddly hypocritical, and makes the entire film seem slightly off-kilter. That said, it’s still splendidly entertaining from start to finish, especially in the Imax setting, which will make you never want to watch it on video again! While not as edgy and lively as “Aladdin,” nor as romantic as Beauty and the Beast, this is Disney animation at the peak of its powers. See it again–see it huge–while you have the chance.

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