There are very few movie watching experiences that I can recall with severe clarity. One of them is my first viewing on The Lion King. I was 16 and a sophmore in high school, it was one of those lazy days, right before a long break, where the teachers didn't want to teach and the students didn't really want to learn. The class was chemistry, and for the life of me I cannot remember the teachers name, just that she was new to the school that year.
I walked into the class room and took my seat at the back, smiling when I saw the TV set up in the front. When everyone had taken their seats she pulled out two videos, I haven't the foggiest what the other one was, but every girl in the class demanded to watch The Lion King. I remember thinking this was going to suck.
I'd rather have done some school work than spend the next hour watching a movie about a bunch of singing, dancing animals. A Disney movie, where nothing ever really happened, Disney was only ever good at maintaining a status quo in a majority of their films, especially their cartoons. I hated most of them with a passion. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, all of those were the films I associated with Disney. I just didn't think they had it in them to make a truly excellent piece of film anymore.
So, it's fair to say I went into The Lion King determined to hate it. I hate being wrong, usually, and usually I'd continue to hate something I'm wrong about out of spite. It's been ten years (well, a little more) since I was wrong about The Lion King.
That summer I borrowed the film from my cousin. I can't tell you how many times I watched it. In fact, I still have it, I never gave it back to him. I stole it, you might say. Don't worry though, I shelled out my money eventually, and am now the proud owner of the Limited Edition Box Set, complete with book and drawings.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. We didn't get to finish the movie, of course, but we did make it an hour into it. I say without reservation that the death of Mufasa is the most heart-wrenching piece of film I've ever had to sit through, and it came as a complete shock to me. It's a Disney film...no one ever dies in a Disney film, at least not like that. It was cold-blooded murder.
The Lion King is, without a doubt, one of the finest films ever made. There are plenty of accusations about where the plot is derrived from, and about how it's all stolen and what not, and the stupid little "sex" thing with the weeds, but none of that detracts from its glory.
It's a movie that works on more levels than anything before it or since, and on any given day, if you put a gun to my head I just might tell you it's the greatest film ever made. It's a love story, a comedy, a drama, there's action and adventure, it's a family film, it's everything you need in a movie. It's the best-selling home video of all time (55 million copies)! It's not even something you can argue with.
The most impressive thing about the film, visually at least, is probably the stampede, which too the CG department at Disney three years to do. THREE YEARS! On one scene, and it holds up as well today as it did in 1995. There's an instant sadness that comes afterward though, where young Simba is calling for his father and finds him dead, it's a scene that I still have trouble watching to this day.
So, when I heard that Joe Ranft of Pixar had died today, that scene came to mind. You see, Ranft was a writer at Disney before he went to head up the story department at Pixar. While some of his credits are of movies I can't stomach, one of them is The Lion King. It would be my extreme pleasure to shake the hand of everyone ever involved in that masterpiece and tell them just how wonderful it is, but I think they all know that, at least I hope they do.
Joe could probably be best remembered for another film that touched my heart and tickled my funny bone, and particularly for a scene that both my father and I found endlessly entertaining. Joe pitched and storyboarded the opening sequence for the timeless Toy Story film. That's right, The Green Army Men.
Toy Story, like The Lion King before it, opened my eyes to something I once though of as useless,and Joe Ranft was a part of that, a part of both of them. I'm sure he will be missed by his family, friend and collegues, and as a lover of all movies I mourn his passing. His worked has touched lives, there's not many that can say that. He helped create an industry, there aren't many who can make that claim either, but most of all he made movies, good ones, and for that I'm forever in his debt.
Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to go salute him the best way I know how, that Lion King box set looks like it hasn't been cracked open in quite a while.