As a nine-year-old cub myself when I saw it the first time in the summer of 1994, The Lion King hit me in that sweet, magical spot of childhood where movies become enshrined as idols for a lifetime—sometimes regardless of their quality. But I would have plenty of backup arguing that The Lion King is a serious contender for Disney’s best animated film, despite my biases. Shakespearean drama and excruciating loss are acted out by memorable, endearing characters, couched in some of the studio’s most lavish animation since the days of Pinocchio.
The final layer elevating the film to greatness is its music: classic songs written by (arguably) the greatest pop songwriter of the 20th century, and a serious, dramatic score by a young and explosively talented Hans Zimmer. The sum total is a powerhouse of a “family movie” I don’t think has ever been rivaled.