When The Lion King came out in the summer of 1994, I was 11 years old and about to start middle school--probably a smidge too old to nerd out on a Disney movie.
But nobody told me and my best buddy Julia that. We saw The Lion King together one sweltering Tennessee afternoon and declared that we wanted to see it again. And then again. And then again. We saw it over a dozen times in the theater that summer, and our enthusiasm never waned.
I was a child obsessed. When I wasn't begging my parents to take me to the umpteenth matinee of The Lion King at the Carmike Cinemas, I was making up dances to the soundtrack, or combing the Bellevue Mall for Simba paraphernalia, or just wishing the internet existed so I could write The Lion King fanfic the livelong June. I clipped every article I could find that mentioned the movie and collected them in a file folder, like I was Simba's senile old relative.
I had all the Burger King toys and the bedding and even the coveted trading cards, which I begged my parents to buy me approximately every five minutes. There was a Lion King Trading Cards Swap Night down at Bellevue Mall one special night. I spoke of nothing else for weeks leading up to the event. Mama took me but I was too territorial over my collection to let the other children even LOOK to see if they wanted to trade. That is...not a strong negotiation tactic.
Not my bedroom but close enough
In the 17 years since the film was originally released, I have Hakuna Matata'ed my way into adulthood and eventually stopped clipping The Lion King articles. And, much in the way Simba and Nala joyfully and unexpectedly reunited, I have rekindled my friendship with dear Julia, who is now working on a PhD at Harvard but still shares my predilection for musicals and eating gummy bears.
So when we found out The Lion King was being rereleased, we knew what we had to do.
We chose Fresh Pond Theater for our Sunday afternoon viewing--it seemed fitting to go to a theater that clearly hasn't been renovated since the original release of The Lion King.
We walked into the theater and we were the only ones there.
Julia, always resourceful, had smuggled in a bottle of wine, and I had a near-endless bag of gummy bears. We had our favorite movie and an empty theater.
I let out a barbaric yawp of joy.
We sang each of the songs at the top of our lungs. We ran up and down the aisles dancing with joyful jazz hands for "Hakuna Matata" and with soulful lyrical interpretation for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Julia stood on the armrests to sing "Just Can't Wait To Be King." The wine was gone by the time Nala and Simba reunited.
We sobbed when Mufasa died but we wailed when Simba met up with Rafiki and decided to go back to Pride Rock. By the time Rafiki intones, "He lives in you!" we were holding hands and letting the tears roll down our faces without wiping them away.
We knew we'd love seeing The Lion King again but I don't think either of us were prepared for how grown-up the movie really is. This movie is positively Homeric in its scope--you deal with love, death, family, power, and a whole passel of other themes in the course of this 90-minute children's movie. We couldn't get over how unexpectedly sexy it is--Simba's weirdly anthropomorphic and masculine body. The whole "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" scene. Look at Nala's come-hither stare!
That was the night Simba became a man. Er...lion.
On our drive home, emotionally exhausted in the extreme, I asked Julia if she'd write a few words for me about the experience of seeing the movie again all these years later, now that she's armed with all kinds of information about how to interpret texts. Tomorrow I'll be sharing Julia's ridiculously insightful essay about The Lion King, so don't forget to tune in!
I leave you with this. Everyone likes to try to sing the opening of The Lion King, which goes something like NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASIBANYA BABADEEZIBABA. Here I present to you opening lyrics of "The Circle of Life" translated from Zulu into English:
Yes, it's a lion
We're going to conquer
A lion and a leopard come to this open place
The stirring opening notes of this song are basically HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY A LIONNNNNNNNNNNNNNN IT'S A LION OVER THERE! Disney, you so literal.
What's the most fun you've ever had seeing a movie in the theater?