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Aslan and the great movie lions

By Susan King, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Not only is the magestic lion the second-largest living cat after the tiger, the member of the family Felidae is frequently a “mane” character in literature, movies, TV and even theater. From the Christ-like Aslan of “The Chronicles of Narnia” books to the young Simba in “The Lion King,” these magnificent creatures have roared into our imaginations and hearts.

With “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” opening Friday, here’s a look at some of the most famous cinematic lions.

Related: “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” reviewed (Disney / Walden)

The magical lion is voiced in “The Chronicles of Narnia” by Irish actor Liam Neeson. A central character in the C.S. Lewis books, he is the only character who appears in all seven of the tales. The son of the Emperor-Over-the Sea, he has been described by Lewis as a Christ-figure — a form that Jesus might have adapted if he was living in the fantasy world of Narnia. Though kind and gentle and a good friend to the four children, Aslan, which is Turkish for lion, is not tame. Lewis came up with the name for his character while visiting the Ottoman Empire and learning that the loyal, brave guards of the sultan were called Aslan.

There have been spoofs of Aslan. In “Epic Movie,” Fred Willard plays a character named Aslo who is anything but Christ-like. Aslan also pops up in the “Here Comes the Neighborhood” episode of “South Park” and in an episode of Cartoon Network’s “Robot Chicken,” where he ends up beheaded. (Disney Enterprises Inc.)
“The Lion King”
Simba and Scar

Simba is the cub born to Mufasa and Sarabi in Disney’s 1994 animated blockbuster “The Lion King” who loses his father at an early age. He lives a carefree lifestyle with his friends Timon the Meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog in exile only to return to Pride Rock to take on his evil uncle, Scar (wonderfully voiced by Jeremy Irons), who had caused the death of his father. “Lion King” has spawned two made-for-DVD movies and a long-running Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. (Walt Disney Co.)
Alex the Lion

Alex is perhaps the first animated metrosexual lion. Voiced by Ben Stiller in the popular 2005 animated hit “Madagascar,” Alex is the king, not of the jungle, but of the Central Park Zoo. Not only does Alex have a steak every day, he performs “New York, New York” for the throngs of visitors. But his perfect life abruptly ends when his best buddy, Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), decides to escape from the zoo and check out New York. Alex, Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) set out after Marty only to end up captured, crated and shipped to a wildlife refuge in Africa. But they end up shipwrecked in the wilds of Madagascar after the penguins on the ship stage a mutiny. Soon Alex starts feeling his inner-lion and begins to think that Marty looks just as good to eat as his steaks.

Alex and his gang will be back in a new adventure: “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” which opens in November. (DreamWorks Animation)
Leo the Lion

The lion logo was created in 1916 by ad executive Howard Dietz for Samuel Goldwyn Pictures Corp. and was based on the Columbia University fight song, “Roar, Lion, Roar.” When Goldwyn merged with Metro and Louis B. Mayer in 1924, Leo became the logo for the new studio. Audiences could hear his mighty roar the first time on July 31, 1928, for the debut of the movie “White Shadows of the Seas.” Because it was a silent movie, the roar was heard via a phonograph. Slats, who was born in 1919 at the Dublin Zoo, was Leo from 1924-28. Jackie was the first lion to be heard growling. The most famous of the Leos was Tanner, who was used on all Technicolor films and MGM cartoons. He was the logo for 22 years. (Nick Ut / AP)
“Born Free”

This beloved lioness was raised from a cub by Joy Adamson, the wife of Kenyan game warden George Adamson after he had to shoot her mother during a safari in 1956. At the age of 27 months, Joy set Elsa free after spending a year teaching her how to hunt. After she gave birth to three cubs in 1959, Elsa started bringing her babies to the Adamsons’ camp. However, she quickly died from a parasitic infection and the Adamsons took her cubs to the Serengeti game reserve. In 1960, Joy Adamson wrote about Elsa in the best-selling novel, “Born Free,” which she followed up with “Living Free” and “Forever Free.” In 1966, the film version of “Born Free” was a commercial hit and the song picked up the Oscar. ()
Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion

The adorable feline was discovered at Africa, USA, a training facility in Soledad Canyon, by producer Ivan Tors. Tors was so taken with Clarence, who supposedly was a sweetie, especially with children, that he created the 1965 family film, “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion,” just for him. The tagline read: “He’s the King of Beasts ... who just couldn’t quite be ... Beastly. “ Clarence then reprised his role in the 1966-69 CBS series “Daktari,” which starred Marshall Thompson from the 1965 film as the doctor who lived with Clarence on the Wameru Study Center for American Behavior in East Africa. Cheryl Miller played his daughter and assistant, Paula. ()
“The Wizard of Oz”
The Cowardly Lion

Bert Lahr brought L. Frank Baum’s sweet and fearful “dandy” lion beautifully to life in the classic 1939 MGM musical version of “The Wizard of Oz” that starred Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Man and Terry as Toto. His seminal moment: when the Lion summons up his courage and sings “If I Were King of the Forest.” Of course, he shows incredible bravery when rescuing Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West and is awarded a badge of courage from the wizard himself. (MGM / UA Home Entertainment)
“Kimba the White Lion”
Kimba the White Lion

In this Japanese anime series from the 1960s — the first color TV animation in the country — Kimba is a powerful white lion who wants to bring peace between animals and humans. The story of Kimba was originally told in a 1950 “Manga Shonen” magazine. Besides the TV series, there also have been several Japanese films starring Kimba, including “Jungle Emperor.” After the release of “The Lion King” in 1994, petitions were signed in Japan by manga and anime artists and fans stating that Disney should acknowledge that its film based situations and characters in “Liong King” on “Jungle Emperor,” though Disney stated that no one had heard of “Kimba” until after “Lion King” was released. (Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times)
Kitty Kat
Kitty Kat

The cowardly lion is the family pet of the oddball “Addams Family” on the 1964-66 ABC sitcom (OK, technically he’s not a movie lion). Though he was just a pussycat at heart, he would scare any visitors to the decrepit family manse. ()