The Lion King is the third and final Disney remake to come out in 2019, the other two being the previously reviewed Aladdin and Dumbo. And for the first time since these Disney remakes began we have a returning director in Jon Favreau, who previously directed The Jungle Book remake, of which I also reviewed. Now, I did actually re-watch the original Lion King in preparation for seeing this new version and to be honest, as much as my opinion is that the old film is a little bit overrated, I think it still holds up on a lot of levels – the animation is still excellent; some of the voice acting is great; it’s generally quite a good film.
The Lion King doesn’t exactly warrant the idea of a live-action adaptation but alas, Disney’s strategy to remake as many classics as possible is clearly going well, and it’s a good business strategy considering that they are obviously making a boatload off this. I would give you a plot synopsis but let’s be fair, you all know the plot of The Lion King by now; there’s no point going over it. Besides, it’s exactly the same movie and I mean exactly. This new movie is really not interested in doing anything remotely different. Which makes it all the weirder that this exists in the first place.
The screenplay’s been written by Jeff Nathanson, a Bafta-nominated screenwriter whose credits include Rush Hour 2 and 3, and Catch Me If You Can. If you’re thinking that’s a good sign, I’d like to also remind you that he developed a story for Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well as writing the screenplay for the last Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, and lest we forget Speed 2: Cruise Control so, patchy career to say the least. And I’m seriously not sure he deserves a writing credit considering he only wrote parts of this film – so much of the script is copied and pasted. In fact, I’d even say it’s more of a carbon copy shot-for-shot remake than Beauty and The Beast was. Some of these scenes are line-for-line, dialogue-for-dialogue, action-for-action one to one, except all the performances are incredibly inferior to their original counterparts. It’s a thinly veiled redo of the first one. Dear God.
Nonetheless, the casting in this film is surprisingly good. Yes, there’s a decent cast but man are they not given much to work with. I like Chiwetel Ejiofor and he’s a good choice to play Scar but he simply isn’t given the room to cultivate that same eccentric nature that Jeremy Irons gave to the role. I know a lot of people say they found his Scar more menacing than Jeremy’s but I just don’t see it. His performance really doesn’t sell that. Then you’ve also got James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa, and oh man, how weird must this be for him to be re-speaking the same lines 25 years later. When you listen to James Earl Jones now, it becomes all the more evident that there’s definitely been a 25-year gap between the films. I don’t think it’s anything to do with James Earl Jones getting older – he has reprised his role as Darth Vader for several productions in Disney’s currently expanding Star Wars projects and has been doing a very good job of getting back into that role. But his Mufasa sounds so bored and tired.
Still, as I said, some of the casting is very fair – Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen make a good Timone and Pumba respectively. The hyenas are well casted, in particular Florence Kasumba as Shenzi, as well as the pretty decent pairing of Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre as the other two main hyenas (though that being said, they’re only given one joke to work with). The actors playing young Nala and Simba work very well. Donald Glover tries his best as adult Simba but I’m not feeling it when compared to the original’s Matthew Broderick, and Beyoncé’s casting as Nala feels like a marketing stunt more than it does a decent choice. (Oh, and by the way, points off for having Can You Feel The Love Tonight? taking place during the daytime.)
The only other major casting decision to discuss is John Oliver as Zazu. Now, I really like John Oliver but his casting is a bit of a reference to a self-deprecating joke he’s made during his late-night programme for years that he looks a bit like Zazu. They probably insisted on getting a well-known British actor in the role considering Rowan Atkinson played it in the 1994 movie. But John Oliver plays Zazu like a really neurotic worry-wart, which works in and of itself, but unfortunately it just comes across as John Oliver himself in the recording booth, not him embodying the character of Zazu. Hell, the obvious joke I was hoping they were going to make they didn’t even do. Remember in the first film when Zazu sang It’s A Small World After All to annoy Scar? I thought they were going to replace that with Let It Go.
The whole film is of inferior quality because everything feels like it’s not quite delivered the same or right way. The actors are trying their best but the technology is screwing them over. While the technology that’s been used is simply astounding, the 3D CGI that’s been made for the film does make the animals look incredibly realistic, it’s come at a price. You see, the problem is that by making the animals look so realistic, the actors can give the performances they want but the animals have no expression to manifest them. If you look at the original movie, the animation really does a good job of creating the movements and mannerisms of each of the animals in question, and blending that with cartoony expressive faces, which allow them to deliver their performance – you see the full range of emotion which the actors were giving to the roles. In this film, there’s no expression behind the animals, so the actors performances don’t hack it. There are so many scenes to point out where this is the case, and of course they’ve gotten rid of a lot of slapstick so as result you don’t get as many interesting moments, including Rafiki’s lecture to Simba about facing the past. Rafiki doesn’t even use his walking stick for most of the film, though I will say the casting of Black Panther’s John Kani was a genius idea, though I wish he’d been allowed to play the more playful side of Rafiki.
The whole film overall is rather paint by numbers but also in an effort to make everything more realistic. One of the prime examples of this is the sequence for I Just Can’t Wait To Be King. The original film is an explosion of colour with the animation going nuts, and it provides one of the most memorable sequences of the film. This one can’t do that because it’s aiming for “realism”. Yeah, realism in a film about a talking, singing lion cub. Go figure. And that’s the film in a nutshell.
If I want to speak about the songs, they’re all pretty well-done for the most part. There are a few exceptions to the rule, however. See, the biggest issue by far is one that I knew about beforehand. To make sure they got Beyoncé in the film, it was announced that they would be taking out the villain song Be Prepared, which annoyed a lot of people as it’s commonly regarded as one of Disney’s best villain songs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the backlash meant that they backtracked themselves, as they did put the song back in the movie, albeit cut shorter than the original track. And man, it is terrible. Chiwetel Ejifor has to just talk-sing his way through about a quarter of the song, and it loses that amazing visual effect that was there. Good God, way to take one of the best scenes in the original and totally ruin it.
I’m not the biggest fan of the original Lion King soundtrack (I think out of all the Disney renaissance films I wouldn’t put it too near the top – I much prefer the Aladdin soundtrack, for example) but man, did this feel like a let-down. And there’re a lot like it. That being said, when the songs do well, they’re actually alright. But the thing is, Be Prepared was taken out for Beyoncé’s new song Spirit, which takes place after Simba’s realisation. And man, do I hate it. This song, rather like Speechless from Aladdin and Evermore from Beauty and the Beast, it feels crowbarred in. And what’s worse is that it replaces what was a really good piece of music from the original.
Here’s something I’ve noticed about the film when I started watching it and really paying attention: there’s almost too much music in this movie. The Lion King 1994 has an amazing music score – if you go back and listen to it, the score in that movie is really damn good, but it also knew how to build moments by having less music or even no music at all, like in the early confrontation between Mufasa and Scar. This film seems to not only want to play music constantly in scenes where it should have been silent (silence in order to build and heighten the tension in particular scenes), it also has the issue of taking several parts of the score from later portions of the film and adding them in earlier when they don’t belong there. That music should have been developed to go with that scene only; it’s meant to be associated with that moment. The only other thing to mention music-wise is that Elton John has a new song in the closing credits, but honestly I was so checked out by that point that I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention.
The Lion King is an inferior tread-for-tread remake of the original film. It actually comes in at 30 minutes longer and I really don’t see what they’ve added to make up that extra time, as it seems like the movie speeds carelessly through plot points. The actors can’t deliver the performances they need to because they’ve been screwed by the technology, and the lines are simply not delivered to the same extent. It’s further proof that they should have gone a different direction and done something more original this time around. I wouldn’t be surprised if John Favreau comes out to say there was some major studio interference.
Still, it’s obviously struck a chord with original fans. I’ve seen so many positive testimonies on twitter of people stating that they’ve really enjoyed this film and I just don’t get it! Why would you want to see the exact same movie but with barely expressive performances and mediocre renditions of long-cherished songs? The film is a mess, pure and simple, and yet I still don’t think it’s as bad as either Dumbo or Beauty and The Beast. With Beauty and The Beast, granted it was another shot for shot remake, the things they added actually made the film worse. Hey, at least they tried to do something new. This time they couldn’t even be bothered to do that. But maybe the laziness worked in their favour as I don’t feel like it takes away from the original concept as much as Beauty and Beast did.
Overall, this really is one to skip, in my opinion. It’s not like Aladdin where I just had a general sense of apathy and felt that the film was okay. This one I actually felt was bad, and I stand by that opinion.
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