“The Lion King” stars Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and James Earl Jones. Released on July 19, 2019, the film is about a young lion who is destined to be the next king of the Pride Lands.
The film is directed by Jon Favreau, who also directed films such as “Elf”, “Iron Man”, “Cowboys & Aliens”, and “The Jungle Book”. It is a remake of the 1994 animated film of the same name. The “Disney Live-Action Remake” train is still chugging along despite a couple of setbacks. Its next destination is a remake that actually isn’t classified as “live-action” according to the folks from Disney. Out of all of the Disney remakes that are releasing this year, Jon Favreau’s version of “The Lion King” is the one that I was looking forward to the most. “The Lion King” has been a part of my childhood ever since it came out in the same year as my birth, impressing me with its unforgettable characters, its gorgeous animation, and its African-inspired score. Seeing these things again in photorealistic detail from the trailers made me hope that the remake will be another bonafide hit for Disney. Yes, I did say “photorealistic detail” because Favreau is using the same type of technology that made his “Jungle Book” remake a smashing success in terms of box office and critical reception. That is, in fact, another reason why I wanted to check the film out for myself. Based on my experience with the other live-action adaptations of Disney’s animated classics, these types of films usually have the tendency to fall short from its cartoon counterparts, with the exceptions of “The Jungle Book”, “Cinderella”, and “Christopher Robin”, of course. However, they also provided some pretty good moments to make them tolerable in their own right, including the visuals. Does “The Lion King” fall into that category? Let’s head on back to Africa and find out.
The “Lion King” remake follows the same story step-by-step from the original 1994 film. It tells the tale of Simba (Glover), a lion who dreams of being a king like his father, Mufasa (Jones). His dreams quickly shatter when his treacherous uncle Scar (Ejiofor) plots to rule the Pride Lands by killing his brother and scarring Simba for life. With the help of his childhood friend Nala (Knowles-Carter) and the bug-eating duo Timon (Eichner) and Pumbaa (Rogen), Simba must face his past in order to save the Pride Lands from Scar and take his rightful place as king. Aside from some minor changes that may or may not impress everyone, it’s definitely what you would expect from “The Lion King”. The only difference is that it’s not a cartoon. It’s a photorealistic CGI cartoon that looks like it’s live-action, but it’s not. If you go into this movie expecting something new out of its storytelling, chances are you’ll wind up feeling as grumpy as Scar when he loses his lunch. However, if you’re hoping that it recaptures the spirit of the timeless story for a new generation of kids, I would say that you’ll be mostly pleased. It didn’t quite match the emotional impact of the original, but it shows that Jon Favreau really cared about staying true to the classic that inspired millions of people around the world. In fact, he cared about it so much that he decided to remake the original’s iconic scenes frame-by-frame from his own vision. What an honorable guy. This narrative reminded me of what Disney did to the “Beauty and the Beast” remake. They used the iconic scenes and dialogue from the original and added some extra material to make the recent version longer. While it did help the remake stand out a bit compared to the 1994 film, it doesn’t mean that it’s narratively flawless. Like I mentioned before, the film is a by-the-numbers remake, so people will immediately figure out how it’s going to turn out the second the Disney logo starts appearing on the screen. It’s fairly predictable, but in terms of the execution, I was OK with it. Sure, it wasn’t as energetic and colorful as the 1994 version, but it still retained the major themes, the memorable musical numbers, and the charm that were present in the animated classic while maintaining its sense of realism in the process. To me, that’s all that really matters. It’s not perfect, but it got me smiling all the way through. Another thing I want to talk about is the cast, and by that, I mean the people who voiced the animals. Their voice acting can be a big rough from time to time, but they showed some sort of effort in bringing these characters to life in their own way. Donald Glover and Beyoncé were both solid together as Simba and Nala, respectively, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen definitely stole the show as Timon and Pumbaa. Chiwetel Ejiofor also did a nice job at voicing Scar, who is much more aggressive and egotistical in this version. He didn’t come close to rivaling Jeremy Irons’ performance as the villainous character, but again, he brought him to life in his own way, and what he did was pretty decent. James Earl Jones was once again great as Mufasa. There’s absolutely no one else that can capture his remarkable voice better than Jones. The characters were pretty much exactly what I expect from a “Lion King” remake. However, there’s one character that I was disappointed with when it comes to the execution, and that’s Rafiki, who is voiced by John Kani. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Rafiki and Kani did a good job at voicing him. It’s his relationship with Simba that I thought could’ve been developed a bit more. That scene in the remake felt a bit rushed to me and it lacked the heart of this type of relationship that teaches kids about confronting their past mistakes. So, that’s one thing that could’ve been better for me. The main highlights of the film would have to be the visual effects and the animation. I went into this film to see how they turn out, and I came out feeling satisfied. They’re just as beautiful and breathtaking as the animated version, from the African sceneries to the detailed live animals. It’s almost like I was actually in Africa myself. These people really did their homework when it comes to something like this, and I really hope that they get some recognition during awards season. If there’s one thing that I don’t mind pointing out in terms of the animation, it would have to be the animals themselves and their facial expressions, whether they’re talking or showing emotion, which happened to be one of the major criticisms that the film is facing. I can admit that the characters’ expressions weren’t…expressive enough, but I can also admit that they’re real-life animals and they don’t behave like the cartoon animals from the 1994 version. In other words, I didn’t mind their expressions.
Overall, Jon Favreau’s take on “The Lion King” may not be as majestic as Simba’s roar, but it is a visual treat that recaptures the charm and heart of the animated film’s timeless story about adolescence and kingship. It’s another Disney remake that delivered what it set out to do despite falling short from the original version. The new cast was suitable in their roles, the visuals were fantastic, and the story had enough entertainment value and cuteness to overcome its predictability and its lack of energy and color. It’s not as “soulless” as people say it was, but it’s definitely far from a perfect reimagining. For people who love the original version, it’s a nostalgic and stunning trip down memory lane and nothing else.