EW Staff
May 27, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

THE LION KING
With the voices of Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Nathan Lane, Rowan Atkinson. Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff.

Conceived four years ago as a sort of Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa, Disney’s 32nd animated feature has endured more than its share of story-development growing pains. Jones says that when he first growled his lines as patriarch Mufasa, the tale’s serious tone ”threw me for a loop.” He won’t be the only one. Moviegoers expecting the usual cuddly Disney-animal sensibility may be surprised by a film that uses nature tooth and claw to drive a psychologically more adult story. Not that there’s any blood, but there’s plenty of predatory behavior: Mufasa’s murder at the paws of his evil brother, Scar (Irons), sets his young son Simba (voiced by Home Improvement‘s Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a cub and Broderick as an adult) on the path to maturity. The final picture is leavened with five Tim Rice-Elton John songs and comedy that’s leaving preview audiences roaring, especially in scenes with Goldberg as a saucy hyena and Lane as a dinky meerkat (think squirrel crossed with ferret). But parents may want to prepare very young children for ”Be Prepared,” the villain’s big number, featuring spooky, Leni Riefenstahl-style imagery and Irons’ singing. (June 15 in New York and L.A.; June 24 nationwide)

Buzz: Irons walks away with the picture, which should walk away with at least $100 million by Labor Day. Look for Simba’s catchphrase, ”Hakuna matata” (Swahili for ”No worries”), on a zillion T-shirts before summer’s end.

RENAISSANCE MAN
Starring Danny DeVito, Gregory Hines, Ed Begley Jr., Lillo Brancato Jr., Kadeem Hardison, Marky Mark. Directed by Penny Marshall.

Instead of finding a tweedy fop for her classroom comedy, director Marshall (A League of Their Own) went against type, casting meatballish DeVito as a teacher who reveals the glories of Shakespeare to rowdy Army recruits. Cracks Marshall: ”I got tired of seeing English guys play those roles.” Tired of tough guys, too, she chose laid-back Hines to play the drill sergeant who doesn’t see a place for iambic pentameter in basic training.

The cast worked alongside real grunts at Fort Jackson, S.C. ”We were up at 4:30 running,” says Hines. ”For a week and a half, we did everything they did.” Even temperamental Marky Mark had to snap to. How did he take to regimental life? Mark won’t say, but Hines hints: ”(He’s) not the kind of guy who’s ready to take orders.” (June 3)

Buzz: Marshall may be the only woman to direct two $100 million-grossers (Big and League), but unless DeVito is as likable as Robin Williams, this won’t make three.

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