The 2019 rendition of “The Lion King” was directed by Jon Favreau and stars Donald Glover, Beyoncé, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner. The film is a CGI remake of the 1994 original, which is about a young lion named Simba who must learn how to become the next king under his father, Mufasa, while also dealing with an uncle who wants nothing more than to take the throne from his brother.
I will be spoiling “The Lion King” in here. You’ve had 25 years to catch up, I’m sorry.
The original “Lion King” animated film is one of the best animated movies of all-time, shining through with outstanding emotion, characters and a beautiful animation style filled with loads of color and excitement. The trailers for this remake had me, well, nervous, but Favreau has proven his ability in films like this with “The Jungle Book,” so I came in hopeful for similar magic to the ‘94 classic.
Occasionally, the movie does succeed in getting some of that magic back. The opening circle of life is still as great as the previous effort, and I still love the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” song, and how energetic it comes off here. The storyline is still great 25 years later, and it still makes for some great moments of heartbreak and wonderful humor.
Visually, “The Lion King” is incredibly impressive. The hyper-realistic CGI is unbelievable to see, and the characters all look brilliantly brought to life. These new effects help to add to the scope of the land, and make for some beautiful moments along the way.
The vocal performances that stood out from the bunch were the comedic ones, mainly Oliver, Rogen and Eichner. These three gave the roles of Zazu, Pumba and Timon, respectively, some new life that made them each branch out from what was developed in 1994. This trio has the most success with laughs, and never take the film they are in too seriously, which works well in their favor.
As soon as Glover and Beyoncé started singing, you see why they were cast. The vocals are terrific, and their harmonies work wonders. Glover’s entrance into “Hakuna Matata” gave me some chills, and the pair’s long-awaited duo was a strong success.
But unfortunately, this rendition of “The Lion King” should not have been made, there is no doubt about it.
This film will make Disney a lot of money. This film will probably please fans enough to not cause a riot. But this film takes a classic, beautifully-told story and does not a thing to improve on it, strictly profiting off the merits of the 1994 movie.
Obviously the CGI was impressive and very expensive, but even with that in mind, this movie feels like a lazy, borderline slimy cash grab, and that is a downright shame. Let’s go into why.
For starters, this is as close to a shot-for-shot remake of a classic movie that we have seen since Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” in 1998, and that sucked. “The Lion King” is an amazing telling of Hamlet, and sure, the story is iconic, but if you are making a new version, it has to be a little different. Instead, aside from a few short scenes, this is the exact same thing, and just a weaker version all around.
As impressive as the CGI is, my goodness is it bland. 1994’s version was filled with beautiful colors, distinct character designs and a simply gorgeous artistic vision. This movie is just yuck, regardless for how realistic they look. Every lion looks so damn similar, it is hard for me to tell apart Simba and freaking Scar in the final fight.
This dullness ruins some terrific moments from the original, especially with Scar’s “Be Prepared” song. Chiwetel Ejiofor overall feels off for the role, but his singing can’t help a gray, lifeless moment that is missing the fun hyena army and beautiful green lighting that made the moment so memorable over two decades ago.
The colors aren’t the only thing that’s bland, though: comparing to the original, most of the damn film is just a muddied-down version of one of my favorite movies ever. Everyone just feels a little less strong than the ones before them. Hell, even Glover doesn’t really improve much over Matthew freaking Broderick.
Jones is again good as Mufasa, but with new characters all around him, it just feels like Simba’s dad is 80 years old, which is weird. But with all of this, it all goes into the pivotal Mufasa death scene, which has such a lesser impact than in the original. The stampede feels less scary in live action, the character’s actions feel less earned, and the gut-punch of “long live the king” does not hit the way it should.
The final Simba-Scar fight feels the same way, all hurt by the fact that almost nothing was changed in this remake.
It’s hard to say 2019’s “The Lion King” sucks, because it is working with such great material that a lot of it is still pretty enjoyable. But when taking those high standards and lofty expectations into account, oh yeah, “The Lion King” sucks. There are a few voice performances that feel improved, but aside from that, there is nothing to take from this movie that is better than the original.
Favreau went from terrific modern changes in “The Jungle Book” to a lazy, shot-for-shot rehash here, and it made for an experience that, again, was not bad, but just felt so unnecessary. The movie is a fine watch, but it is annoying how little it feels like everyone here cared to make something exciting.
Enjoy your billion dollars, Disney. Please make something with some effort in the story next time.