Animated films are really costly and time-consuming to make. Filmmakers must look for a way to tell their story in the least runtime possible. Such difficulty requires problem-solving in storytelling. How to convey ideas in the most efficient manner?
Disney’s 1994 animated classic stands probably as the greatest animated film of all time. Hell, drop the “probably”. It is my favorite film of all time. The one I have been the most connected with since my childhood. It makes me cry like a baby girl and laugh like I’m still 7 years old. Upon my recent rewatch in anticipation of this year “live-action” remake by Jon Favreau, it struck me how well the story was told in 88 minutes. It is such a short runtime for telling an epic. The remake is about half an hour longer and, so far, looks like it won’t diverge that much from the original. I can imagine Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, the directors behind the classic, scratching their head to find the most efficient way to tell their epic. How can you build a father and son relationship in about 30 minutes? Because if you don’t succeed, the audience sure won’t be moved when the father dies. And, well, all the kids from the 90s can affirm that Mufasa’s death had the biggest impact in, probably, any Disney film. Let’s go through a few scenes together to see how the directors manage such a wonder in storytelling.
Could you imagine Disney actually depicting Nazis in one of their
All the kids from the 90s can affirm that Mufasa’s death had the biggest impact in, probably, any Disney film.
Once I picked that, it became very clear that the whole film was conveying ideas all the time through its storytelling. The story being an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it goes trough mandatory stages of introducing, characters, motivations and so on, so that the ending has gravitas. Like I said, the story goes very fast, and we spend little time with each character (except Simba, of course). But, I’m sure you feel like Mufasa, Timon and Pumba are main characters that do not lack characterization. Mufasa dies after 35 minutes. Timon and Pumba both appear at 40 minutes. Nala is barely in the film. How do they manage? For starters, every scene counts. You remove one, the story won’t make sense. Relations between characters won’t make as much sense. And then, they made the most of Simba’s journey. I very much like that short scene in which Simba runs after Rafiki who promised to show him his father. He goes through dark woods that echo those of Snow White, falls and rises immediately after. That few seconds perfectly illustrated his whole journey as a character.
Working with drawings, they pretty much controlled what was printed on film. They used colors to convey ideas as well: red, for whenever Simba is in danger and fighting for his life. The first time in the elephant graveyard when he escapes from the Hyenas with Nala and Zazu. The second time when he flees the canyon after Mufasa’s death, once again pursued by the Hyenas. And third and final time when he fights Scar for Pride Rock. Desaturated color and sometimes green for Scar. Notice who Pride Rock looks dark and desaturated, but when Simba appears and the fight starts, a fire starts burning around to bring that red color. In that same idea, light represents safety. Darkness, danger. And nights, reflections. The fire during the battle for Pride Rock is light coming through the darkness. And what better idea than fire? Thee who destroys everything before a new beginning? All of those ideas are cleverly put who the audience to not notice. Why? Because it’s the job of the filmmakers to tell a story without its strings showing out. We didn’t notice any of it, but we sure were moved. Big time.