Should you see the Lion King in 3D?


Something really strange happened to me last week: something entirely unexpected and frankly unpredictable given my own personal history. I sat down in a movie theater, put on a pair of 3D glasses, and watched The Lion King.

Everything about this is bizarre. When The Lion King originally came out in 1994, the only cartoon I thought was cool was Beavis and Butt-head, and my only exposure to the film was singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” in school chorus. Sure, I saw the film many times between then and now, but never in theaters and, obviously, never in 3D. Now I’ve done both.

But the real question is this: should you see The Lion King in 3D? You, who has already seen the movie either one or countless times, who doesn’t necessarily care about 3D experiences, and who has to struggle with the prospect of paying full price to see a nearly twenty-year-old film. As much as I’d like to give you an easy answer, I don’t have one for you. Let’s bang it out together, shall we?

Animated films in 3D have dug themselves a bit of a hole. Toy Story 3 in 3D is a good example: I don’t think many who saw that film in 3D felt that it added anything at all to the film. Sure, it put the film in 3D, but shouldn’t there be some sort of overarching purpose for doing that (that is, for the viewer; I think we all know what the real purpose is.)?

Lion King

The Lion King has the immediate disadvantage in this pursuit: it’s an older movie converted to 3D after the fact. There’s no argument that, “This movie was made for 3D.” That extra dimension was shoehorned in. It’s an afterthought, a way to make more money off of The Lion King and get people back into theaters.
Without the advantage of having specific scenes designed for 3D, the actual results of the implementation of 3D are mixed. Surprisingly, the only scene that seems truly made for 3D, the stampede scene, is one of the worst looking parts of the entire film. Rather than making the animation jump off the screen and heightening the tension of the action, the 3D here serves only to soften and even blur the images. For my money, this scene actually looks worse than the original.

Some scenes, however, look pretty fantastic. Perhaps the most impressive implementation of 3D came during the scene where Simba is following Rafiki through thicket and the film shifts briefly to a first-person perspective, showing Simba’s progress as he passes leaves and dives through tight spaces. It’s about ten or fifteen seconds of the movie, but in terms of justifying a 3D presentation, it’s the best few seconds of the movie.

Lion King

As for the average scene, whether it’s a fight with hyenas or Simba and Nala playing, 3D gives the film what can only be described as a nice look. This vague sentiment should tell you this: you’re not going to be totally distracted and annoyed by the 3D any more than you are with other 3D movies. While it’s unfortunate that some scenes with a lot of movement didn’t look as clear as viewers will expect, most scenes are perfectly functional. Some even look better than the original film.
All of this is likely going to tell you whether you want to see The Lion King in the theater; honestly, those are the two most important elements. Do you want to watch The Lion King again (who wouldn’t want to)? Did you have the chance to see it in a theater before? If you belong to the rare breed that wants to watch everything in 3D, that just makes the decision even easier, and if you avoid 3D like the plague, you can just grab the new Blu-ray release of the film.
Of course, if you’ve never seen the film, this theatrical release is the way to do it. Then buy the Blu-ray.