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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

"Which is working psychological damage on the hero as a child," adds the other director, Rob Minkoff, with a blunt, hearty laugh.

"It's kind of a John Bradshaw movie!" confesses Menkoff, tongue just partly in cheek.

We see it now: Scar as poster villain for the recovered memories movement. It couldn't happen to an icier lion.

"You don't say 'no' when you get offered a villain," says Dejas, speaking for most animators in explaining why he's taken on three successive juicy antagonists. "I mean, you know, to do the princes, the princesses . . . " He chuckles dismissively at the thought, just as Scar or Jafar would.

Irons nearly said "no" to taking a comic turn as a villain when the role was offered so soon after his good fortune doing "Reversal." Once convinced and signed, his wry readings at the initial voice recordings gave a lot more suave, demented nuance to even the straighter parts of the script. And by then the screenplay had been altered a bit to incorporate shades of his Von Bulow persona.

"A lot of our actors do it, but Jeremy in particular really wanted to play with the words and the pacing more," recalls the film's producer, Don Hahn. As an example, he points out a scene in which Scar lures Simba out onto a rock and tells him to wait there, alone, adding that his father has prepared a surprise--"you know, a father and son thing." Irons' simple touch in reading was to add a brief pause, rendering it "a father and son . . . thing "; the comedy in the inflection comes from Scar sounding so disdainful he can barely summon the will to finish the sentence.

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.

Dejas subsequently animated the scene with an additional subliminal comic touch by having Scar flick his paw in a distracted way just as Irons says " thing ." This fey little paw flip was one of the few anthropomorphic touches really allowed any of the movie's animals from their necks down.

Because, as Dejas realized in a big way shortly into the project, this was the first substantial villain he'd taken on who would have to practice his roguery without benefit of opposable thumbs.

The emphasis was--within limits--on naturalism. Be they lions, hyenas, wart hogs or what have you, these critters generally walk on all fours and don't point, throw punches, put on pants or otherwise embarrass themselves by too blatantly emulating their biped draftsmen. "Lion King" is the first Disney animal cartoon feature not to have mankind as even an implied part of the story (though "Bambi" came close, with just the hunter standing in for humanity).

"There are no props or costumes or sets," says Hahn, "so it's really limiting for the animators. I remember at the story meetings pulling out our hair, because there was no 'business'! Because they couldn't get up and open a door. There were rocks and more rocks, and when you went over there, there was some grass . . . "

Not that there weren't a wealth of wildlife idiosyncrasies to work from. The key animators took field trips to the San Diego Zoo, and subsequently had naturalists bring lions to the studio for closer study. Dejas ended up adding a component to Scar that the movie's other lions don't have: The bad cat's walk seems to quicken for a split second between steps, with a low whoosh on the soundtrack mid-stride, providing that extra subliminal touch of menace.

Inspired by Irons' line readings, Dejas also took to studying Irons' films, like "Reversal" and "Damage" (or "Scar in the Nude," as the animator calls that one), to pick up facial traits and tics.

"Not that he looks like a lion," says Dejas, "but he's handsome and unusual-looking at the same time, which I thought would be an interesting combination.

"When Jeremy saw the movie, he was extremely complimentary, in terms of recognizing himself in it. He said, 'I think it's the baggy eyes that brought it out.' And all the lions do have this color separation around their eyes, which puts an emphasis on this eye unit. With most animals, like the fox, they're lighter. . . . When you go darker, that brings the white of the eye out even more, and makes it very contrasted and evil-looking. For a villain, it seemed very appropriate to go dark--therefore the eyes looked baggy and even more Jeremy Irons-looking."

Dejas also had the benefit of Irons' potentially snooty British accent to work with--which couldn't help but beg comparison with the arrogance of another jungle cat with a seductive English voice, Shere Khan, the "Jungle Book" tiger of 1967, given voice by George Sanders.

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