Reconstructivist Art: The Lion King

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Lion King‘s premiere on Broadway (July 8, 1997) please enjoy this repost of an essay about it as an exemplar of Reconstructivist Art. Along with “The Princess Bride”, this was one of the two artworks that inspired the original theory.

Experimental theater veteran Julie Taymor was an unexpectedly bold choice to helm the musical theater version of Disney’s popular animated film, The Lion King, but the finished show was not only a commercial smash hit, but a critically acclaimed and artistically influential success as well. Largely sticking to the film’s plotline about a young prince of the lions who returns from a lengthy exile to depose his evil uncle and regain his rightful throne, the stage version featured an expanded, African influenced score, choreography by the respected modern dancer, Garth Fagan, and Taymor’s innovative staging, a winning combination that led it to be the most financially successful musical to date.

Elements of Reconstructivist Art

  1. A Nod to Artifice: The show features fully visible puppeteers, and actors whose faces show beneath their animal masks, as well as an unashamedly theatrical use of stage magic.
  2. Classic Structure: The structure comes directly from the conventional plot of the original children’s movie (which itself was loosely inspired by the Shakespearean play Hamlet).
  3. Transcontextual and Iconic Elements: Julie drew on many different sources to stage The Lion King, including the puppet and theater traditions of several different countries (notably Bali, Japan and Greece).
Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: The success of The Lion King was founded not only in its astounding visuals, but also in the emotional resonance of moments such as the birth of Simba, the death of the king, the courtship of Simba and Nala, and the climatic restoration of Simba to the throne.

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