I've always been a fan of Disney movies. There was a time when I used to go to the American Bookstore in Amsterdam every month to see if there were new books about Disney and their movies and themeparks, and would buy anything I could get my hands on. It was the time of movies like Aladdin, The Lion King and Hunchback of the Notre Dame, three great Disney movies that I still rewatch every now and then, enjoying them every bit as much as during earlier viewings. But while I really love The Lion King, I cannot claim to be as big an enthusiast as Brian Tiemann, a man who has been making the premier Lion King site on the web for 13 years now and who can speak of the movie with a passion that made me want to dig the DVD out of my collection and re-watch it again.
Q: An obvious question to start with: what is it that makes The Lion King so special to you?
A: It's hard to say, and I've spent the last thirteen years trying to figure that out. You could ask anyone else in the Lion King fandom why it's special to them—and, for that matter, why there's a Lion King fandom, and not a Pocahontas fandom or a Mulan fandom—and they probably wouldn't be able to give a pat answer either.
I think a lot of it has to do with it being in the right place at the right time. It was released in June 1994, just as I was graduating from high school, and when I entered college in the fall of that year I found a brand-new world opening up in the form of the Internet and the Web. People were all writing their first Web pages for the first primitive browsers, and everyone was publicly expressing their interests for the first time in the way that we've all become accustomed to in the years since. After my site took off and became the anchor point for the Lion King fandom, I found myself wondering how I ever got to that point, and why I was still interested in pouring time and money into supporting and expanding that fandom. By that point it had long since ceased to be purely about the movie, you see. At this stage of my life I can hardly even remember a time when The Lion King wasn't a big part of it.
But that doesn't address the question of why I got into it in the first place, which is just as difficult a thing to answer. People have been flocking to the fandom ever since, even people who weren't yet born when it came out in theaters, so it can't be about the circumstances under which they first saw it—otherwise I'd think it had something to do about the movie's coming-of-age themes and how it spoke to me just as I was graduating. I think that's part of it, but it's only a small part. Ultimately it has to be something intrinsic to the movie itself, not just its circumstances or its interpretations: the music, the characters, the story, the setting, the way it transcended the formula of the Disney musical to become something that I, a newly minted college freshman, was willing to fling myself into consuming and replaying and analyzing down to its last frame of animation and note of music.
That's all a needlessly wordy way of saying "I have no idea, but it's got to be some intangible thing about how it all came together like nothing else ever has." I'm afraid that's the best even I can do after thirteen years; but I'll bet anyone you ask would tell you more or less the same thing.
Q: What did you feel when you saw the Lion King for the first time? Had you already been excited about seeing it beforehand, or did it hit you right there in the theater?- How many times have you seen the movie?
A: The first glimpse I had of the movie was a brief "Making Of" trailer that appeared on the Aladdin VHS tape, which I'd seen at a friend's house the previous year. One image in particular stuck in my mind: the up-angle on Mufasa in the beginning, as Zazu flies toward him. Just a brief snippet of animation, but something about it just grabbed hold of my mind, something about the visual style that I'd never seen out of Disney before. I'd seen a fair amount of Disney animation by then, especially the more recent features such as Beauty & the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but while all of those contemporaneous movies had animal characters, they weren't executed with the same kind of solid, squared-off, confident style, or with that kind of near-anthropomorphic quality to the facial expressions. Previous movies' animals were either caricatures or domesticated pets; this time out, though, they seemed to be people.
So although I'd never before seen a Disney movie in the theater, I made plans to catch this one when it came out. I even asked out a girl from my graduating senior class, who—oddly enough—showed me a sketchbook of hers at the graduation party the week before we went, in which were charcoal drawings of the Beast, which absolutely floored me with their life and energy. (Looking back, I'm almost positive they were copied from some existing "Art Of" book, but that was the first moment when I really thought of animation as an art form.)
The first time through the movie, I pretty much just sat there, not reacting much to it; part of me didn't want to show too much outward emotion, since after all I was on a date—and part of me just couldn't anyway. I was too busy sucking it all in. The first four minutes, the "Circle of Life" sequence, which was used as the movie's trailer in front of other movies, was so unbelievably unlike anything I'd ever seen in an animated movie before: no silly comedy, no obnoxious narrator, no song-and-dance number... Just this supremely naturalistic, and yet somehow human, montage of grandiose African scenery and realistically rendered animals all moving with a sense of purpose and optimism, creating this amazing sense of mystery and anticipation. Birds flew by the camera in multi-plane flocks, the sound effects of their passing wings whipping around the theater. Rack focus effects moved from a line of carpenter ants to a herd of trotting zebras. There were even little bits of visual comedy tucked in here and there, like the birds trying to avoid the elephants' feet. And then, about two minutes into it, as the song segues into the first chorus, came the point where I knew for sure that this experience was going to be something that I'd remember the rest of my life.
Most people, when talking about the emotional impact of The Lion King, talk about the death of Mufasa, or the ensuing expulsion of Simba, or one of those other plot elements that's overtly emotionally charged. Now, I don't know if I'm just a freak, or if these other people are just redirecting their visceral reactions into other parts of the movie; but the scene that choked me up—and continues to do so to this day, even during something as far removed from the movie experience as typing this paragraph describing it—was where the zebras splash through the river, followed by the elephants with their tusks covered with birds, striding along with the beat of the music ("And the sun rolling high, through the sapphire sky," etc). Somehow all the visuals and music just suddenly come together at that moment and create some kind of implosion in my brain, where suddenly the mystery that the whole sequence has been alluding to becomes revealed, and you find yourself looking at a natural world all brought together by a single event, and treating it with the triumphant pomp even human ceremonies can't muster, only in a purer, wilder way, with exuberant music crashing over the scene and the camera flying over the gathered crowd in a bird's-eye view designed to give the audience a sort of virtual-reality experience of the joy of flying, in much the same way as had been done a few years before in The Rescuers Down Under (which I hadn't yet seen at the time). The song quiets down at that point, after the first chorus; but then there's the anointing scene followed by a new buildup to a second chorus as Simba is presented and the beams of light shine down through the clouds—and if the previously described moment hadn't already done so, that's the point at which my eyes involuntarily well up.
It's what I imagine a spiritual experience must be like, and it's probably not unintentional, considering that the visuals at that point have the gathered crowds of animals all bowing down, and the clouds parting to bless the scene with that same wild spirit that had motivated the entire sequence, and a royal family and all the other implausible but highly satisfying components of magic kingdoms that humanity has a deep-seated and repressed yearning for. By the time the camera trucks back over the scene and the last stroke of the song brings the title on-screen, I realized in that first time through that I hadn't breathed in over a minute. And for the rest of the movie—though it was great—I was trying simultaneously to take in what was going on and to rewind my brain to try to process what I'd just seen. It was an overload in every possible sense of the word. I don't know how the creators of the movie pulled that thing together, but it's quite possibly the most remarkable thing I've ever seen on any screen, ever, and it's something that I believe will last a hundred years. At least.
I don't know if my date had the same kind of experience as I did, or anyone else in the theater; but I know I went back to see it again a few days later, with some of my buddies, and on the way out to the car they told me that I—a soundtrack junkie already—was going to be buying the soundtrack so they could all listen. (It wasn't a suggestion, or a question. It was more like an order.)
It might surprise you, but I think I've only seen the movie nine more times since then, mostly within the first two years—usually once each time it became available in a new format, such as being projected as the student-body-sponsored film in 1995 (three showings that night), or on laserdisc, or in IMAX. I think the last time I watched it was when the Special Edition came out on DVD, and that was mostly for academic interest, to see what's different about the experience; I don't necessarily like watching the movie just for fun, the way my brother and I used to wear out VHS tapes of Robin Hood when we were kids. Somehow I feel like it dilutes or degrades the movie to watch it too often—or else I feel like the longer I go between viewings, the more likely I am to recapture the feeling I had when I first saw it. Yet I seldom need to worry; it always hits me the same way.
Q: What is your favorite character from the movie? And your favorite moment?
A: Asking me which is my favorite character is like asking what geological feature in Yosemite is the best: they all have their place in the ensemble. This isn't one of Disney's typical focus-group-tested vehicles, with certain characters thrown in to please the kiddies and others to fill common stereotypical roles; I could say, for instance, that the gargoyles could have been jettisoned from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the movie wouldn't have suffered a bit, but that's not the case with The Lion King. It all fits together like a jigsaw. But then, maybe that's just because I'm so used to it the way it is and so invested into it. Changing any of the characters would be like seeing buildings getting knocked down and rebuilt in your hometown. I can't say any characters are more or less integral to the overall experience than any others.
That said, I do have plenty of affinity for Simba—he's just an appealing character, well designed, well acted, and satisfyingly more mature in emotion and character by the end of the movie than at the beginning, so you really feel like you've changed along with him in the process of watching the film.
I don't know if the opening sequence that I've already described counts as a "favorite moment"—in a way, it transcends enjoyment or approval, and I almost feel it's not something that ought to be tagged with such a label. There are plenty of moments throughout the movie that I look forward to, though: Timon's hula song, the sequence where Rafiki discovers that Simba is alive, the scene where the rain washes over the landscape while the "This Land" theme plays. And I can't overlook the end, with its triumphant recapitulation of the opening scene, where that same overwhelming feeling wells up in me and I find myself unable to get up out of my seat until all the credits have rolled—I need that much time to really recover.
Q: The music has been a very important aspect of the movie's success. What do you think of the music from the movie? Any songs that stand out in your opinion?
A: It's absolutely key. Hans Zimmer's score, far more than the songs in my opinion, are what makes the movie's atmosphere what it is: larger than life, and at the same time completely different from the frenetic, faintly comedic tone of Disney's traditional Alan Menken soundtracks. Zimmer wrote a symphonic score for The Lion King, with multiple encapsulated movements and recurring themes that build and feed into each other and underpin all the great dramatic scenes. Only a few of these tracks are available on the soundtrack CD, which bugged me no end for years; finally, just a year or two ago, fans on the Hans Zimmer message board unearthed and posted a set of tracks from the original and unreleased recordings, and posted them under the title "The Lion King: The Complete Score." It has all the musical cues in their original forms, not chopped up and rearranged like they are on the CD. Granted, the arrangement on the CD is actually a bit more cohesive as a musical presentation, and easier to listen to straight through, because the Complete Score's tracks contain a lot of little comedic frills and allusions to punctuate visual gags here and there, and they sort of distract from the flow of the pieces they appear in if you're just listening to the music and not watching the movie. But it also contains a ton of great music that you immediately recognize from many memorable scenes, like Simba playing with his dad under the stars, or the seeds flying on the wind back to Rafiki bringing the news of Simba still being alive. Finding these "lost" tracks was like finally closing a book that had been sitting annoyingly open for many years.
As for the songs by Elton John, I'm a lot more lukewarm. I've long been fairly unusual in the fandom in that I don't particularly enjoy them, with a few exceptions ("Circle of Life", naturally, being one—Hans Zimmer arranged that one, taking it from the antiseptic and lackluster Elton John version that appeared on the radio and transforming it into the Carmen Twillie-voiced, exuberant, pounding wonder that scores the opening sequence). For the most part, the songs are things I sit through, vaguely wishing they hadn't been considered necessary.
I applaud Disney for going out on a limb and hiring Elton John for this project, but at the time, everyone was used to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman working the magic that only they together could perform, creating Broadway-style musical scores for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, and half of the songs in Aladdin—including the marvelously constructed tapestry called "Prince Ali", with delectable wordplay and counterpoint verses making it probably my favorite of all Disney songs of all time. But Howard Ashman tragically died of AIDS halfway through writing the Aladdin score, and Broadway lyricist Tim Rice took over—and I never thought he measured up to Ashman's greatness. His songs in Aladdin are notably less inspired ("One Jump Ahead", "A Whole New World", and so on) than Ashman's; and before anyone who happens to share my tastes noticed, he'd been retained to write the lyrics for Elton John's songs in The Lion King. The result is a set of songs that are musically plenty engaging, but lyrically just don't ever seem to click. I think I remember hearing (probably on the Deluxe Laserdisc Edition's special features) that the version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" that made it into the movie was something like the fifteenth stab at the lyrics, which explains why they're so vastly different from the original version (the one everyone's familiar with from the radio). Honestly, has there ever been a song with a more labored title? And the lyrics just don't have any art to them: "The truth about my past—impossible! She'd turn away from me"... those aren't lyrics worthy of being written on Howard Ashman's dinner napkin.
And the less said about that atrocious Elton John version of "I Just Can't Wait to be King" on the soundtrack CD, the happier I'll be. No, while the music was indeed a very critical part of what made The Lion King the success that it was, I think it's owed mostly to Hans Zimmer. I shudder to think of the incomplete vision that the movie would have been if they hadn't had the stroke of inspiration, fresh from seeing his score to The Power of One, to hire him and his collaborators, Lebo M., Mark Mancina, and Nick Glennie-Smith. They made the movie, no question about it.
Q: There have been several sequels made to the movie, as well as a TV-series. What did you think of those? Did you think they were able to get at least close to the quality of the original movie, or do you see them more as just ways for Disney to more or less cash-in?
A: They vary. The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, in my opinion, is very squarely in the "cash cow" category. It's a cheaply made, tawdry shadow of the original, with a plotline that would embarrass a piece of fan-fiction. If you think I'm being harsh, it's because the movie could honestly have been a whole lot better. I had the opportunity to see a work print of the unfinished animation before the movie's release, and there were scenes in it—brief little expository snippets, barely seconds long in some cases—that would have made the movie edgy, exciting, and enigmatic. For example, in one of the cut scenes, Nuka, crushed under falling logs, tells his mother, "Well, I finally got your attention... didn't I?" And in another, toward the end, Zira voluntarily commits suicide by hurling herself backward off the cliff rather than accept Kiara's help—shouting "Never!", she falls into the water with a demonic smile on her face. In the final movie, because suicide is apparently too charged a topic, they hastily animated a shot of her losing her grip and falling off the cliff by accident, robbing the whole scene of any significance or character development. And they dubbed out the "Never!" and spliced in a scream of terror—but, hilariously, they left in the maniacal grin. In other words, the movie that reached video stores wasn't even the mildly interesting concept that was originally pitched and animated—it was a watered-down, focus-group-tested, compromised product of a company harvesting what money it could from the biggest animated movie franchise in history with as minimal a cash outlay as possible. I don't blame them for doing this—it would have made no business sense not to try to take some of the money that was clearly still on the table four years after The Lion King was released. But I do blame them for consciously rinsing out even the minor bits of spice that this uninspired Romeo & Juliet tale was conceived with.
(That The Lion King is essentially based on Hamlet is a widely acknowledged fact, by the way—and I think it just goes to show that it was conceived better in the first place, since Romeo & Juliet really isn't much of a story compared to Hamlet.)
Now, I have quite the opposite feeling about The Lion King 1 1/2, the "midquel" that was released a couple of years ago. I actually loved that one. Why? Primarily because it didn't take itself so seriously. It wasn't an attempt to extend the original movie's storyline into an indeterminate future, the way TLK2 was. The makers of TLK1.5, a completely different team from the TLK2 people (and made up in large part of people who had helped bring the original movie to fruition, not the instant-sequel tag-team from TLK2), conceived it as a comedic reimagining of the original, a tongue-in-cheek retelling that you're not supposed to treat as canon. It's an homage to the original, bordering on good-natured parody. It plays off of the original's well-known scenes, like the slow-motion montage of Simba running home over the desert, with visual gags that blend cornball humor and some genuine emotional moments in fleshing out some of the history glossed over by the original movie. TLK2 was too overwrought, too overdeveloped, and yet managed to completely miss the texture and atmosphere of TLK, in everything from the vocabulary the characters use (the TLK lions don't say "feel the ground beneath your paws"—yeugh!) to the stylization of the acting in the song scenes ("Testify!"). But TLK1.5 was always highly conscious of what it was they were paying tribute to—they studied it, they gave it back-rubs, they brought it coffee, and then they made fun of it behind its back. But they did it in a loving way, the way you'd imitate the way your favorite old professor walks. In the end, the product they came up with managed to be funny, injokey, original, and a better and more faithful companion to the original than any number of perfectly executed "straight" sequels. The scene at the end, where all the classic Disney characters in silhouette gather in the darkened theater to watch TLK1.5 again and again, has the feel of a timeless and endless cast party—they'll be reliving the memory of The Lion King over and over, never growing tired of it. I get the same feeling listening to the "Digga Tunnah Dance" track on the TLK1.5 CD: it mixes in new music with chants from the first movie, making me feel like it's 2AM and the wrap party's just winding down, and yet will be going on for hours after I go home. "Is it over already?" asks Pumbaa at the end of the song; and that always gets me right here: no... no, it isn't. It'll never be.
I've never seen the TV series, but I figure it's a generally harmless sort of weekday-afternoon thing Disney created to fill up time slots, just as they now have series based on everything from The Little Mermaid to Lilo & Stitch. I can take it or leave it, and I won't consider my life incomplete if I never see any of it.
The Broadway show, though, I have very mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it's a great piece of stage work, very innovative, and a thrill to watch. But some of the songs I find to be forced and labored ("Chow Down", for example), and the acting, though necessarily stylized, makes the story's premise seem implausible through sheer dint of moustache-twirling dialogue and stage pratfalls. But my biggest problem with the Broadway show has to do with how they wrecked the character of Adult Simba, turning him from the amiable but troubled soul I loved in the movie to a frenetic, prank-pulling, crazy-eyed coward who one minute is threatening Timon quite convincingly with eating him, and the next is fecklessly unable even to do anything but stand and stare in terror at the audience while Timon is dangling helplessly from a branch over a waterfall. I have no sympathy for the character on stage, especially after he sings his "Endless Night" song—an artless, slapdash lyricization of Hans Zimmer's instrumental "Lala" theme (which was reworked originally for the "Rhythm of the Pride Lands" CD with lyrics by Lebo M. which have nothing to do with the English lyrics in the Broadway interpretation). I feel the whole thing is in many ways a slap in the face of the integrity of the movie, though I'll still stand and applaud for it when it's over.
And one final note: I fail to see the reason for adding the "Morning Report" song sequence to the Special Edition DVD release that came out a couple of years ago. It's clumsily animated, voiced by a noticeably different kid from the original, and faintly embarrassing to watch, because it's overly cutesy in a way that even the original's songs never were. If you look at "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", it's a narrative piece that actually flows with the existing dialogue—it's a stylization of Simba just letting his imagination run away with him as he describes his royal future. But "The Morning Report" is just a gratuitous song that gets dropped like an anvil right into the middle of a character-building scene. It was never intended to be there, like the "Human Again" scene in Beauty & the Beast that was scripted and storyboarded but ever animated until the Special Edition DVD release. In The Lion King, it's a sore thumb, and a rather shameless ploy to get people to buy a DVD that Disney apparently thought nobody would go for if it didn't have "new unreleased footage". I'm unimpressed.
The Lion King fandom: Still going strong
Q: You mentioned that the Lion King online fandom has been going on for 13 years, and strongly too, while many other movies' online fanbases seem to have dwindled. What do you think is the appeal of the Lion King, even after all these years? Well, apart from the fact that it's such a great movie of course!
A: Over the years, I've posed a number of theories about this. I generally like to think it's because the universe of The Lion King is so limitless that anybody can extend it in any direction, imagining themselves a part of it and writing fan-fiction and drawing fan-art that's every bit as convincingly original as the movie itself was. It's a unique and freshly created universe that belongs to the fans in a way that well-known stories like Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast don't.
But you could make the same argument about Brother Bear, which I notice has all the same hallmarks of a hit as The Lion King, all the same plot and setting components and character appeal and all the same originality, and yet it doesn't have a fan following. Why is that?
If I had to guess, I'd say it's got to have something to do with the movie itself, the way it's executed—some perfect storm of music as large as the land in which it's set, a tale of timeless royal-family intrigue, a cast of appealing animal characters, the texture of dialogue and plot elements, and so on. I think a lot of it also has to do with the recurring theme of the "circle"—seemingly going against my earlier theory that the universe is boundless, part of the movie's theme is that it's actually structured very formally, with clear boundaries that "feel right" to us. It ends where it begins, in a recapitulation of the "Circle of Life" song and royal Presentation sequence. It actually doesn't lend itself to being extended—stories that try to pick up the next day and go off in a new direction, like Simba's Pride, fail to click in the same way, or to fit into the harmony of the circle of the story (what's it saying—it takes TWO generations to really resolve the cycle?). But then, Brother Bear ends where it begins too—and all the new fans of The Lion King seem to love Simba's Pride too, often even more so than the original, so what do I know. Maybe people just like lions more than bears...
Q: Have you been involved with the online Lion King fandom from the beginning? How has it evolved from the moment you first became involved?
A: It's been a part of my life since Day 1. I put up my website in January 1995, about six months after seeing the movie in theaters, and I've never looked back. But the fandom has gone through many generations of complete turnover, evolving with the fans who discover the movie anew.
In the beginning, it was all college students—me, the friends I met online discussing the movie, other fans with rival websites, animation buffs who'd been following Disney for years and for whom The Lion King was a weird upstart breaking from the traditions established by its predecessors. Mostly male, mostly 18 years or older. For us at the time, it was an academic pursuit: something we obsessed over in our off hours, like some kids did with Star Trek. It was "our movie". In some ways we reveled in its success, and yet in others we felt jealous and threatened when it became so popular that everybody in the world wanted a piece of it. We felt it was somehow "ours", by right, because we'd discovered it first. It was irrational and we knew it, but we managed to live with it somehow.
At the time, the TLK fandom existed primarily in newsgroups and mailing lists—both features of the old-school Internet that have all but vanished nowadays, with the advent of Web message boards and online role-playing environments. Eventually the members of the original crowd dispersed and moved on to other things, though from time to time the TLK-L mailing list will spring to life when someone posts a new message out of the blue, and a handful of familiar names from ten years ago will respond in surprise and bemusement that the list is still there and active.
Today, the Lion King fandom consists of a much different demographic: nearly all female, nearly all between the ages of 13 and 15. I know this from the user stats on the sister site to lionking.org, The Lion King Fan-Art Archive (fanart.lionking.org), which currently has over 5,500 active artists and over 260,000 uploaded pieces of artwork. I'm 31 now, which makes me feel like an old man knowing that I'm over twice as old as the people in the middle of the fandom's bell curve today; but I like to think that there are at least a few things that they and I share in our perceptions of the movie and its universe. It can't all be a coincidence that they keep flocking to this movie that came out before a lot of them were born. It's got a hold over people that transcends time and age.
Q: How far does your love for the Lion King go? Do you have the website and for instance the dvd-editions that you watch a lot, and that's it, or does it go further than that?
A: Well, I have the website (lionking.org), and I pour most of my administrative efforts and money into it, keeping it running happily and serving all the users who have their primary e-mail service and Web hosting on it, not to mention all the visitors who show up daily. But as I've mentioned, I also have fanart.lionking.org, which is a full-fledged Web application that I use as a playground for developing my database and Web development skills. I think I've probably spent around $50,000 on infrastructure and hosting over the years keeping the site running. But you know, I can't help but think that if I were to disappear tomorrow, the Lion King fandom would keep going as strongly as ever—it's not me, or even my websites, that new fans are coming to find. It's a shared community for love of a movie that they all discovered on their own.
That said, I don't know if I even "love" The Lion King these days. As I said earlier, it's been a part of my life for so long that I can't even remember was it was like without it, or imagine not having it there following me around. It's like a family member, or a house with a mortgage. I've got a lot of emotional history invested into it, and a lot of my professional reputation, but it's been years since I just sat down and—you know—watched the movie, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. One of these days I should do just that.
Q: The Lion King is a wonderful movie. Do you think it's maybe the pinnacle of Disney animation, and there has never been anything better, or are you still confident that one day Disney will be able to make a movie that can equal how great The Lion King was, or maybe even better?
A: "Better" is a loaded word. I'm not at all convinced that The Lion King is "better" than any particular Disney film before or since; certainly I think it has qualities that work together to make it an experience that hits me (and apparently many other people) in a way that other movies don't, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's objectively a better piece of animation art, or a better or more original story. Frankly, the story is a little bit weak. It's pretty linear—there's nothing like the twist-after-twist that you'll find in most Pixar movies, such as Monsters, Inc. or Toy Story 2, or in non-Disney masterpieces like The Iron Giant. Personally, I find a lot of the same fulfillment watching movies like Brother Bear as I did when I first saw The Lion King—just as an example, while The Lion King inspired me to make these websites and do what I could for the fandom, Brother Bear helped inspire me to drive to Alaska, which I did in 2005, and which is now something I relive with as much obsessive attention as I once focused on every intricate detail of The Lion King.
Unfortunately, Disney's traditional Feature Animation department closed its doors after producing Home on the Range, and while there's now talk of starting it up again under Pixar's John Lasseter, it's going to essentially be rebuilding its decades-long history from the ground up, with a whole new tradition of animated excellence. If anyone can do it, it's Lasseter; but I feel that whatever comes out will probably be of a very different style from the movies that formed the backdrop behind The Lion King: no more of the five-song musicals, for example. We'll be seeing more stuff like Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove: lower-budget, lower-key, yet hysterically funny and inventive stories that make apt use of the animated medium. I don't think the big-budget extravaganzas have a future, largely because all the public-domain stories that lend themselves to that format have all been used up, and also because the animation industry has irreversibly changed.
So yes, I am an animation fan, and not just of Disney's stuff. I study the classic cartoons from Warner Brothers, the Fleischer studio, and early Hanna-Barbera whenever I want to see how the artistry of animation has changed—generally for the worse—since the Golden Age, when lavish backgrounds and richly drawn, 24-frame-per-second animation was not only commonly seen, but the only way anyone could conceive of doing it. These days a lot of shortcuts are made possible by computer animation—in part pioneered by The Lion King, with its computer-generated wildebeest herds, but also by other movies dating back to The Great Mouse Detective and The Rescuers Down Under. You'll see a lot of poorly-deployed, badly-conceived CG effects in movies that overestimated the value and capabilities of such effects, like Anastasia and Hercules; but only just now are the studios finally starting to figure out how to leverage the strengths of CG without having them overpower the 2D visuals and shoulder their unwelcome way into an otherwise beautifully drawn traditional 2D scene.
I'm looking forward to what Lasseter makes of the new Disney. I'm not convinced that he'll be able to pull out another Lion King; but then, I'm not so sure he should. He'll almost certainly make better movies (he has in the past already). But I don't know if he'll stumble upon the magical convergence of factors that made The Lion King the unparalleled social phenomenon that it is, and that I've been privileged to have been some part of.
Q: In closing, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: I'm a software engineer by profession, working in Silicon Valley in the field of networking security. I also write books on operating systems, iPods, and other such topics; search for my name at Amazon.com and you'll find five or six titles to my name. When I'm not hacking on my websites or writing books, I enjoy driving, blogging, skiing, and working on my house, where I've got two dogs, one of which runs me ragged chasing a laser pointer all evening, and the other of which does a fine job keeping the couch from floating away. Someday I hope to dabble in a career in animation; but if that never happens, I'll be content with the meager experience I've had so far in contributing to something that'll very likely outlast me and my impact on the great world of animation.