The Lion King falls into Disney’s recent endeavors to remake their most popular animated films for a live-action setting. Many of these are remakes hail from Disney’s animated Renaissance from the 90s. These films include: Beauty and the Beast (2017), Mulan (2020), and The Little Mermaid (TBA). Following the success of Jungle Book (2016), Jon Favreau returns as director to bring Disney’s vision to existence. Not only will this review evaluate this film for its own merits, but will also seek to uncover the film purpose in being a remake. Coming into this film the question I was most interested to find an answer to: what the purpose of this film?
The story follows Simba’s (voiced by JD McCrary as a child and Donald Glover as an adult) journey to becoming King. After his father death, he runs far away, never to look back, until Nala (voiced by Beyoncé) brings him to face off against his uncle for the throne.
If you are familiar with Hamlet or watched the 1994 original then you’ll be right at home because I’d say this film borrows 95 percent from the original; not only in the story but also in dialogue. I’d be more forgiving of this fact if it didn’t feel so lazy. By this, I mean that the only changes in the script that could identify were improv lines done by Seth Rogen’s Pumba, Billy Eichner’s Timon, and John Oliver’s Zazu. For the majority of the runtime, it feels like they’re just reciting the script from the original. Even highly anticipated performances from Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, and Beyoncé just felt off.
Audiences might find it hard to separate their voices from its speaker when you are hearing it coming out of CGI lion. Every time I heard Nala or adult Simba speaking it was difficult not picture actors inside of recording booth doing their lines. This aspect kept taking me out of the experience. This isn’t to suggest that they had bad performances; actually hearing childish Gambino and Beyoncé performing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was one of the film biggest highlight. It just felt like actors and actress delivering lines rather than voice acting. Although the music is still great, the musical numbers failed to reach the same level of gravitas as the original.
However, the visuals have the potential to save this film. From start to end, this film is beautifully crafted with not a single sequence out of place. All the animals look hyper-realistic, for it feels like Simba is ready to bounce off the screen and onto your seat. The visuals are by far the film’s greatest asset. But alas, even the visuals are not infallible. When making a hyper-realistic movie, you have to let go of some of the more exaggerated facial animations because these animals are supposed to resemble something “real.” This would not be a problem if it doesn’t take anyway the emotional weight of those scenes. Sadly, these scenes are not far and few between.
The Lion King (2019) despite being technical and visual spectacle fails to add any sort of meaningful addition to the “Lion King” story. At least The Jungle Book was able to add additional characterization for some characters that haven’t received the same attention. And it’s not as if there isn’t anything that couldn’t be improved from the original. Greater emphasis could have been put onto Nala’s or Sarabi’s character. Just as a small suggestion, why couldn’t we get a small scene of Nala and Sarabi mourning the death of the king and the decimation of the kingdom? Despite this version being around 30-minutes longer than 1994 original, I expected the filmmakers to have more time to flesh out some of the other characters apart from their original counterpart. This leads me to conclude that The Lion King is gorgeous but ultimately, a completely unnecessary remake of a beloved classic.
So, were left the question I proposed earlier: what was the film’s purpose? Was it to push the boundaries of special effects? Or was it just another cash grab from money hungry Disney? Honestly, it is a bit of both which is why this film left me disappointed. However, you might feel differently than I did, therefore I still recommend seeing the film for yourself and deriving at your own conclusion.
The Lion King roars into theatres on July 18, 2019