The Lion King (2019) Review: A remake that takes more away from its viewers than adds something new
Man, oh man, Disney just loves pumping out these remakes of their beloved classics and The Lion King is their latest attempt at recapturing the magic of its animated counterpart for a new generation. It’s actually the third remake this year to come from Disney and it’s probably one of the most highly anticipated remakes they’ve done so far. The Lion King is easily one of Disney’s greatest animated features of all-time and when I hear most people rattle off their favorite Disney movies, it’s almost a guarantee that it’ll be in most people’s top five. Even the casting announcement was like a dream come true and the news that James Earl Jones would be lending his voice, once again, as Mufasa was just the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, The Lion King is less of a nostalgic, sweet tasting cake from your childhood or a fresh, new cake that becomes your new favorite, but more of a stale, recycled, and dry cake that you roll your eyes at upon seeing it, which is funny because it’s literally the same movie.
No, seriously, it’s mostly a shot for shot, line for line remake that doesn’t add much new to the story that pretty much everyone knows. The story of a young lion cub, named Simba (voiced by JD McCrary), trying to figure out what it takes to be king after his father, Mufasa (voiced by Jones), his killed by his nefarious brother, Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor), is changed much. Simba meets up with Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen), falls in love with a childhood friend, Nala (voiced by Beyoncé), and attempts to take back the throne in a climactic battle on Pride Rock. Most of the songs make a return and even Hans Zimmer came back to score the film. So, why is this remake not even come close to either capturing the magic of the 1994 classic or creating some fresh for a new generation of Disney fans. Well, there’s a lot to go over.
First and foremost, the big selling point to this adaptation was the use of photo realistic CGI over the original’s hand-drawn animation to create realistic animals and environment. Now, while I won’t even entertain the idea of this adaptation being live action, because it isn’t, but boy does it come close. For all of the issues I have with this adaptation, I have to say that the film’s photo-realism is something to marvel at when you first see it. The textures and details of the entire film are stunning to see, and the entire film is almost the same quality of a National Geographic or Animal Planet show. However, this top-notch quality comes at a steep price that the film can’t recover from.
Due to the fact that these characters are meant to resemble real animals, their faces and movements rarely show any kind of emotion. So, it doesn’t matter if Simba is mad, sad, happy, or scared, his face keeps the same look of indifference. There’s definitely some effort to give the characters some moments of emotion through eye and ear movement, however the effort is so minimal that you’d barely even recognize it. Even when the voice actors are trying to add emotion to impactful scenes, it doesn’t bleed through and creates a very disjointed film to watch. Basically, the only gives older fans a reason to have an emotional connection to the film is because of nostalgia and nothing much for newer fans to connect to.
Honestly, even the CGI characters affect the voice performances as, outside of Jones as Mufasa, no one’s voice really blends with their respective characters. Eichner and Rogen definitely try their best to create the same electric chemistry and humor that Timon and Pumbaa are known for. They put their own spin on the characters that ends up being funny at times and are probably one of the best parts of the movie. I’ll even say that Beyoncé almost hides her voice, but the reality is that most of the cast just sounds like themselves and it never felt as if the characters and voices blended. Glover and John Oliver as Zazu are the worst offenders of this and even them reciting the iconic lines of the original couldn’t shake how much they aren’t really trying. In the case of Ejiofor as Scar, there’s actually a unique problem that stems from how much this film wants to resemble the original. Rather than have the snarky line-delivery that Jeremy Irons brought to the character in the original, Ejiofor brings a darker, more sinister version of Scar that’s not half bad. However, because he’s still reading and saying the same lines of a different kind of Scar, his performance never matches the tone of the lines and it leads to Scar that’s both not fun and not intriguing.
What’s even more frustrating is how incompetently made this remake is, which is surprising considering that Jon Favreau isn’t some kind of amateur. Favreau clearly struggles to decide between trying to shoot iconic scenes differently and just simply recreate it, regardless it doesn’t work. In moments where Favreau attempts to recreate shots from the original, he either fails to shake the cartoony look of it or recreates something that lacks the same spirit or energy as the original. For instance, when Simba sees Mufasa fall from the cliff, Favreau still uses the same cartoony zoom out from the original, but here it just looks awful and had me laughing more than crying. Even the opening of Circle of Life lacks any sort of emotion that doesn’t just come from nostalgia and when Simba sees Mufasa in the sky later in the film, it’s the most lazy and boring way for that scene to be done and I question what Favreau was honestly thinking.
Things don’t even change when Favreau changes some shots and these changes actually strip away the emotion of their respective scenes. The scene of Mufasa’s death and Simba calling for help is shot from far away and has no personal touch to it. The original’s themes of not always looking for trouble that comes from a conversation between Simba and Mufasa and the scene between Simba and Rafiki that talks about leaving things in the past and running towards your problems are completely gone. Thus, there are no real messages for new viewers to learn from The Lion King and it just leaves an empty experience. Frankly, the entire film doesn’t feel personal, inspirational, or that it was even remarkably made with care. There’s a sequence where a piece of Simba’s fur flies off of him and interacts with other animals along the way until it gets to Rafiki that comes off as a showcase for the technology rather than a story driven moment. It almost seemed like I was watching the demo for the technology in the middle of the movie and it reflects how soulless and money-driven this film can be.
Even the iconic score and songs from the original are boring this time around and are mostly just mediocre renditions of classics. The haunting and emotionally driven score that goes along with Mufasa’s death can be heard throughout the film, except in the moments of Mufasa’s death and because of this the death lacks the emotional weight it needs. Really, most of the film’s musical moments lack any sort of energy, spirit, or joy that make them stand out. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is just lifeless, “Be Prepared” is too short and doesn’t have any energy driving it, and “Hakuna Matata” is just the same old, same old. The only two songs that are truly great are “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as you can feel the joy that Eichner has singing it and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” as Beyoncé and Glover are just magical. However, the excellence of these songs is squandered once you realize that they are sung in the day for some reason and I still can’t fathom as to how you possibly make that obvious blunder.
What more disappointing, though, is that there’s nothing in this remake to challenge or change things that maybe didn’t make sense before. For instance, why doesn’t Mufasa tell Simba that Scar killed him? Surely that could reignite his desire to return home and reclaim the throne and could lead to a more interesting confrontation on Pride Rock. Why don’t the lionesses ever just turn on Scar? He’s weaker and it’s crazy to me that they don’t expect any foul play in Scar becoming king. After all, when Scar just happens to only come back with both other male lions dead and brings the hyenas, who the lions are at war with, back as his henchmen, there’s clearly nothing suspicious. Having the lionesses rise up, could actually have made more interesting final battle and given them something to do other than the absolute nothing they do here. For film that constantly talks about its main character not needing to follow in his father’s path and find his own strength to be a great king, it doesn’t follow its own advice and its desire to reflect the original is its biggest downfall.
In its effort to please nostalgic fans and garner the attention of newcomers, The Lion King is just a flawed remake that takes away but doesn’t put anything fresh or new back. All it showcases is that everyone deserves better and if Disney keeps delivering “fresh” takes on their classics that end up having mediocre returns, I’m not sure if we will ever get anything better. Though the original was the king of animated movies for quite some time, Favreau’s remake is just the king of soulless, money-hungry intentions that show how rotten Disney has gotten.
Watch the Trailer Here: