YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SUMMER SNEAKS '94 : You Can't Hide His Lion Eyes : It's no coincidence that Disney's latest jungle villain bears a wicked resemblance to Jeremy Irons; just ask the animator

May 15, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | Chris Willman is a frequent contributor to Calendar. and

Those lips. Those eyes. That dry English disdain. It may be a mane instead of a hairline that's receding, but the ironic lion who is the standout villain in this summer's Disney extravaganza is still a dead ringer for Jeremy Irons, in voice and in subtly animated facial caricature.

As the scheming, murderous Scar, who'll stop at nothing in his quest to steal the throne of the animal kingdom, Irons is all claws . . . Claus von Bulow, that is.

Irons' frosty turn in "The Lion King" obviously isn't the first time the studio has used a celebrity voice for a major role, but it's not often a primarily dramatic actor has stepped back to the drawing board, as it were, so soon after winning an Academy Award.

Disney didn't waste the opportunity. Not only was Scar's character design modified to appropriate some of the actor's facial characteristics in nearly imperceptible ways, but the very role was retooled to better incorporate the insinuating sarcasm Irons dripped so eloquentlyin "Reversal of Fortune," the picture he won the Oscar for.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 22, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Page 83 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
An article last Sunday about the creation of the villain in Disney's "The Lion King" omitted the name of one of the film's two directors. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff are the film's co-directors. Also, the name of the supervising animator who created Scar the Lion was misspelled. He is Andreas Deja.

For grown-ups paying attention, there's even an amusing allusion in "Lion King" to one of Irons' signature quips in the earlier film.

Of course, his Von Bulow was a character whose vaguely sinister quality remained ambiguous. (How strange was he? "You have no idea," you'll remember.) But his Scar is a more clear-cut threat: The bad cat did indisputably kill one of his closest relatives, does pose a clear and present danger to the entire food chain, and might deter even Alan Dershowitz from rising to his defense after bragging in the midst of a big, predatory musical production number that "my teeth and ambition are bared--be prepared!"

A star is born. . . . Scoot over, Cruella.

"The Lion King," which opens at the El Capitan June 15 and goes wider a week later, is Disney's 32nd full-length animated feature. Unlike the last few, there's no heavy romantic element, so the bad guy's prominence in driving the plot becomes even more significant. And as the latest and not least in a six-decade-long line of classic Disney villains, Scar naturally spends a lot of screen time stealing the show from his moral betters; like most of the more recent animated baddies, this power-mad aristocat is blessed with a compensating sense of morbid humor to match his menace. His laconic lion-readings drip veritable ice across the African veldt.

Irons' co-conspirator in "performing" Scar is the character's supervising animator, Andreas Dejas, a German-born artist who, by virtue of his villains, has emerged as one of the studio's best-known animators. Dejas is the uncontested contemporary king of cartoon creeps: Scar represents his third successive Disney scoundrel, following Jafar in "Aladdin" and Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast."

The rest of us may have no idea. But by now Dejas knows badness--having from behind the boards bullied assorted princes, beauties and the nation's collective young for three straight movies.

"I think villains work really well when they're subtle," he says. "And then you wait for that moment where they explode, maybe, and lose it. But to see them think and scheme and plot is much more interesting than showing them beating somebody up.

"And there was a lot of subtlety with Scar. In many cases he doesn't move very much--where we just tried to do something with a look , the way he tilts his head as he's literally talking down to this kid," Dejas says, raising his eyebrows, lifting his chin, cocking his eyes to one sinister side.

A patronizing quality is key. And Scar gets ample opportunity for that, biding his time with corrosive asides--most of them flying over the head of his unassuming little nephew, the movie's hero, Simba--while awaiting chances to ambush anyone standing between him and the throne. Once again, homicidal tendencies notwithstanding, kids and adults alike may have a hard time rooting for the inevitable demise of the guy who gets most of the best lines.

But Scar does more than just condescend to his innocent young nephew, Simba. In a twist tailor-made for the dysfunctionally conscious modern age, he shames him, convincing the young cub to shoulder the blame for the tragic death of his father, King Mufasa, in a stampede ("If it weren't for you, your father might still be alive").

This sets in motion a cycle of guilt, flight, denial and redemption, as the hero goes into self-imposed exile before finally reconciling with his father's memory, returning to face his wicked uncle and generally coming of age.

So if "The Lion King" might be read as a modern fairy tale whose allegorical subtext centers on the emotional damage of child abuse, does that make it the "Tommy" of feature 'toons?

"When Scar puts the guilt trip on Simba, that's an intense idea," allows one of the film's two directors, Rob Menkoff. "That's probably something that is not typical of the other Disney pictures, in terms of what the villain does."

Los Angeles Times Articles