After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
The latest film off the conveyor belt of Disney’s live action remakes is ‘The Lion King’, one of their most popular and acclaimed movies, although to call this a live action film is to somewhat misunderstand what it’s attempting to do. There are no actors on screen, nor are there any actors in motion capture mimicking the movements of the characters, as this is a film entirely created via computers and it’s both the film’s greatest achievement and the film’s biggest problem. The visuals are supremely impressive and it’s like watching a documentary at times, but the technology isn’t quite capable of emoting the animal’s faces in the way traditional animation can, and the heightened realism only served to make me ponder how silly the whole thing is. It’s hard to suspend disbelief and be swept up in the drama when it looks like you’re watching a David Attenborough documentary where the animals spontaneously burst into song!
This is essentially a frame for frame remake of the 1994 animation and it brings nothing new to the table besides the visuals, with almost every element a downgrade on that film. The one exception is Timon and Pumbaa, the comedic sidekicks who are voiced in this film by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, and they are a breath of fresh air when they appear in a film that’s been depressingly clinical up until that point. Their dialogue feels natural and improvised and they’re funny in familiar but different enough ways from their animated counterparts. In a film that is as mechanical with every other element of its plotting and production, they really stand out. There are bright sparks scattered around besides those two, namely John Oliver as Zazu and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, whose take on one of Disney’s finest villains is better than the material surrounding him. James Earl Jones, back as Mufasa, is as imperious as ever. As our protagonist, Donald Glover doesn’t get a lot to do as Simba, but he’s fine, which is more than can be said for Beyonce, who bundles in like a bull in a china shop and threatens to ruin a film that didn’t have much credit in the bank to begin with. Her stilted line delivery ruins virtually every scene with Nala (why not cast an actress who can sing, as opposed to a singer who can’t act?), and the less said about her overly dramatic attempt at ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ the better. I mean, we know she’s a terrific singer, but this is a song that relies on restraint to work and in this version, it’s the exact opposite.
‘The Lion King’ is still a good story and the film isn’t the disaster it’s being made out to be in some quarters, but like most of these Disney remakes the biggest feeling I came away with was how unnecessary it all was. My cynicism at this large scale money making endeavour increasingly outweighs my nostalgia to revisit these childhood classics so maybe I should just stick to the originals going forward…
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Starring: Donald Glover, JD McCrary, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyonce, James Earl Jones, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard, John Oliver, John Kani, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre and Keegan-Michael Key