Pop Rocks: How Does The Lion King Stand Up Among Recent Disney Releases?

Box office analysts were a bit puzzled by the haul taken in by The Lion King 3D last weekend. The 1994 film was given the three-dimensional treatment and released to the tune of almost $30 million, beating both Contagion and fellow openers Drive ($11 million) and the Straw Dogs remake ($5 million). Not familiar with The Lion King? Let the noted experts in children's entertainment at MarketWatch help you out:

An unforgettable story, breathtaking animation, beloved characters and award-winning music sets the stage for The Lion King, a Disney classic that follows the adventures of Simba, the feisty lion cub who "just can't wait to be king." But his envious Uncle Scar has plans for his own ascent to the throne, and he forces Simba's exile from the kingdom.

As any parent of a child traumatized by this movie can tell you, that terse recap conveniently leaves out the fact Uncle Scar kills Simba's dad by throwing him off a cliff into a stampeding herd of wildebeest. Which, admittedly, feels like overkill.

But news stories and reviews of the re-release alike continue to refer to The Lion King as one of Disney's "classics." Is it really? And how does it stack up against the the heavy hitters in Disney's catalog?

I'll admit, I should probably recuse myself from Lion King-related discussion. Thanks to my oldest child, I have probably seen the movie upwards of 75 times. I still like Jeremy Irons, Timon and Pumbaa, and...Jeremy Irons. What I can't, and will never, accept is Matthew Broderick as a badass. I cringe every time adult Simba threatens Scar, because all I see in my mind is Ferris Bueller with a shampoo mohawk.

You know who's intimidating? Cameron. I bet that guy strangled hookers with the tatters of his old hockey jersey after high school.

Objectively, TLK isn't bad, I guess. But let's not forget, Disney refers to every animated movie they've ever made as a classic. "Another Disney classic released from the vault," they trumpet when they deign to trot one of their precious DVD releases out to the masses. A wise marketing strategy? Perhaps, but tell that to the parent forced to buy a replacement DVD of Beauty and the Beast for $45 on eBay because one of the kids stuck the only other copy in the toaster.

A few disclaimers. Naturally we're going to be talking about Disney's animated features -- much as I'd love to argue the respective merits of The Gnome-Mobile and Blackbeard's Ghost -- and not including any of the Pixar flicks, because all of them except Cars and Toy Story 3* would be in the top 20. That means no straight-to-video/DVD sequels like Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, either.

Oh, and I'll be excluding all movies released pre-1989, which was when The Little Mermaid premiered. Arbitrary? Yes, but these people have released a lot of movies, y'all.

24. The Hunchback of Notre Dame: They turned Victor Hugo's tragic tale into a child-friendly "fish out of water" story with a happy ending. Marked the last time I saw a Disney film on its theater run.

23. Chicken Little: Your main character is voiced by Garden State über-douche Zach Braff? How could this possibly go wrong?

22. Pocahontas: You knew from the "Colors of the Wind" preview this was going to be heavy-handed and awful. Or awfully heavy-handed. A low point even for Uncle Walt's masters of anachronism.

21. Hercules I remember almost nothing about this, except James Woods was in it. And then I get unpleasant Videodrome crossovers.

20. Tarzan What, you didn't know the Earl of Greystoke invented extreme sports? Plus, Phil Collins!

19. Fantasia 2000: I don't even know if the original Fantasia was all that great or I'm just channeling my love of the Rite of Spring dinosaur sequence. Whatever, this was poorly done.

18. Treasure Planet: I haven't seen this, but I'm comfortable in this ranking after reading this snippet from the plot synopsis:

In the stash of treasure, Jim comes across the skeletal remains of Flint himself, holding a missing part of B.E.N.'s cognitive computer. Jim replaces this piece, causing B.E.N. to remember that the planet is set to explode upon the treasure's discovery.

Somewhere, Robert Louis Stevenson's shade is slapping his ethereal forehead and saying, "That's what was missing: exploding planets."

17. The Emperor's New Groove: I took my (then) seven- and five-year old sister and brother to this. They fell asleep in less than 30 minutes. Not what you'd call a ringing endorsement.

16. Brother Bear: Don't judge a bear until you've walked a mile in his paws. Or something. Another in Disney's string of late-90s eco-flicks. Bonus: more Phil Collins!

15. Atlantis: The Lost Empire That'll teach you to release non-musical movies, Disney.

14. Home on the Range I wonder if Dame Judi Dench ("Mrs. Calloway"...wait, how does a cow get married?) was ever in the recording studio with Jennifer Tilly ("Grace") and if any behind-the-scenes cameras captured the expression on her face.

13. The Rescuers Down Under: This came out a mere 13 years after the original Rescuers, meaning anyone who gave a shit was already in college. Good timing, that.

12. Aladdin: I don't hate Aladdin, but I don't think anyone in the production was prepared for how much Robin Williams hijacked the proceedings. It's also pointless to watch this with kids born anytime after 1995, unless you want to spend 15 minutes explaining to them who Arsenio Hall was.

11. Meet the Robinsons I remember mostly enjoying this, and that Adam West was in it, which automatically raises its ranking by five places.

Yes, I know he was in Chicken Little as well. What part of "arbitrary" don't you understand?

10. Dinosaur At the time, this was a pretty staggering visual achievement. And then the dinosaurs start talking. Always with the talking dinosaurs.

9. The Princess and the Frog: Not a bad film, and one that wisely stays away from DreamWorks-ian pop culture crap. Too formulaic for the top tier, however.

8. Winnie the Pooh: A fine return to form. Not that anybody noticed. I'm just happy a new generation of children will grow up thinking it's okay to steal in order to satisfy their cravings, because when you get right down to it, Winnie the Pooh is just a big, furry crackhead.

7. Bolt Ah, I liked it. It was a nice mash-up of modern CGI and the classic Disney vibe. Didn't like Travolta in the title role. Or anything else, for that matter.

6. The Lion King See above. Still a solid movie if you don't mind dealing with your kids' nightmares after Mufasa bites the big one.

5. Mulan My oldest really likes this one, so I don't have the heart to tell her a woman masquerading as a man in open war likely would've been marched back to Peking across frozen wastes in nothing but her underwear. If she wasn't killed outright.

4. Lilo & Stitch I seem to be in the minority on this one, but apart from repeating the line "families stick together" every ten minutes, I really liked this.

3. Tangled Was really surprised how much I liked this. Great animation, good gags, mostly forgettable songs.

2. Beauty and the Beast My college friends and I came up with a drinking game for this. I still catch a psychosomatic buzz every time my daughter watches it.

1. The Little Mermaid: I go back and forth on whether this or BatB is better. Right now I'm in a Buddy Hackett mood.

* That's right, I went all Armond White on you.

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