There’s a saying, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” That pretty well sums up the remake of The Lion King. We’ve known since director Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book that the technology for a “live-action” meaning “really realistic CGI” version of the film was available. The question that has to be asked every time Disney adds a new remake to the slate, though, is why? In Maleficent, we got the story from the villain’s point of view. In Beauty and the Beast, we got an unnecessarily woke version of the film. In The Lion King, we got the same film over again. It just looked a little different.
You know the story. Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover), the lion cub son of King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), “just can’t wait to be king”. (I guess he kind of missed out on the whole “his father has to die before that can happen” thing, huh?) Evil Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) sets a trap for Simba that leads to Mufasa’s death. Simba, shamed by his actions, runs away, while Scar takes over as king of the Pride Lands. An adult Simba is forced to confront his past and rescue his home from Scar’s evil rule.
You can’t ignore the fact that creating the entire African setting and all of the animals in The Lion King inside of a computer is an impressive feat. The animation is absolutely stunning in so many places. This is particularly true for the sweeping, ariel views of the savannah. So many scenes look as if they were animated just to get you to say, “Wow, that looked really cool!” Where things start to break down is when the animals are talking. Things go from looking shockingly real to the uncanny valley.
The voice cast all did well enough with their parts, with one tiny exception. If the cast had a weak link, that link was Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter). Yes, I’m just as scared writing that as you might expect. Honestly, however, is required, and Nala didn’t bring a drop of emotion to the role. Also, what happened to “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” bordered on criminally bad.
If I had to pick out the one place where The Lion King really knocked it out of the park, the one place where it genuinely improved on the original, it was with Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). They were a breath of (not so) fresh air in a film that too often felt like a slave to the original. Sure, they went for a few lowbrow jokes. The funny thing here is they made me laugh instead of roll my eyes.
The main problem faced by The Lion King is its inability to step out of the shadow of the original. Sure, the warthog and the meerkat make it worth an initial watch. They just can’t make it worth a second viewing.
About The Lion King
Director Jon Favreau’s all-new “The Lion King” journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his. The all-star cast includes Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon. Utilizing pioneering filmmaking techniques to bring treasured characters to life in a whole new way, Disney’s “The Lion King” roars into theaters on July 19, 2019.