The Lion King, 2019.
Directed by Jon Favreau
Featuring the voice talents of Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, John Oliver, John Kani, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Eric André, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Amy Sedaris.
After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
Does a live-action/CGI hybrid remake of The Lion King (an animated classic held in such high regard by many that it’s the greatest of all time) need to exist? Absolutely no, none of these movies do, but Disney is going to bleed the well dry. Does that mean the movie is bad? No, because it’s also nearly impossible for a shot-by-shot remake of such a masterpiece to be a failure. However, this new version is just going to have to keep waiting (eternally) to be king.
Director Jon Favreau was a no-brainer selection for this having brought to photorealistic life a similar adaptation of The Jungle Book (except that movie shied away from the alternative to feel like something refreshingly different), but it’s basically copyright infringement as to the lengths this remake borrows everything from its superior roots. The majority of the dialogue remains the same, the plot itself is untouched, and even the shot selection is symmetrical right down to the silhouettes. And that’s what makes The Lion King feel downright unfair to review; you’re watching a good movie but one you have probably already seen before. At the same time, if there is one Disney property to remake without changing a thing, this is the one
Typically, I would dismiss the movie as boring, pointless, and part of the ongoing scummy tactics from Disney to cash checks without actually making new material. Comparing this to Aladdin (another mirror remake, although one with around 40 minutes of unnecessary new material), I must admit I found myself drawn in and emotionally captivated; credit the entire cast (they walk the line between mimicking the performances that came before them and occasionally making the role their own) and the special effects department that have essentially used computers to render lifelike animals. The Lion King goes beyond the uncanny valley; if you told me the filmmakers trained real animals to do all of this I would probably believe you out of nothing more than utter disbelief at the technological prowess on display. Far more freakishly stunning is that the movie is surprisingly expressive with a decent amount of color. It’s nowhere near as vibrant as the animated version, but for a much darker tone (the most noticeable change is that outside of Timon and Pumbaa, there is not much comedy here, and that includes the no-nonsense hyenas) it still flourishes with beautiful aesthetics. They can be inconsistent from time to time (there are definitely some scenes that look much blander than the rest of the gorgeous craftsmanship), but the film has got to be a lock for the visual effects Oscar.
There’s also the sensation that The Lion King was just never meant for photorealistic CGI, becoming apparent quickly on when John Oliver’s first set of jokes as Zazu don’t land and come across awkward. There’s nothing to laugh about this time, especially considering the film was always a rather unforgiving and violent retelling of Hamlet, but with animals and their philosophical circle of life approach to society. Do you know how every time a remake comes out bleaker and grimmer than the original and people online joke that it must have been directed by Christopher Nolan? Well, that’s another thing if you told me, I would have believed. It’s puzzling that this version has even maintained a PG rating, so keep that in mind if you do plan on bringing children.
It’s also difficult to outright knock the film; I came close to crying multiple times. The Lion King is a love-hate watch; you love what you’re seeing but simultaneously you just want Disney to stop it with the laziness and greed. The Lion King also, unfortunately, has the most unfair release positioning of these remakes so far, not only coming a few years into the roll-out but also a little over two months after the disappointing Aladdin couldn’t even bring some energy to its remake. This film fares better in that regard, namely the musical numbers and performances (Chiwetel Ejiofor might be better than Jeremy Irons as the lying king Scar, while Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as the classic warthog and meerkat duo end up being the only other characters that could slide right into the animated version unnoticed).
The movie does leave one question, though, and that’s how a shot-for-shot remake comes out to 30 minutes longer than the original, a fact that has to come down to a combination of the ending credits lasting around 10 minutes longer, certain scenes being allowed a little more time to breathe, and a few new scenes (there’s a short singing sequence for Beyoncé’s Nala, although it feels wildly out of place compared to the rest of the music). Nevertheless, The Lion King still feels 90 minutes, and everything you love about the original is here in some way. Whether that makes this remake any good will be endlessly up for debate, but it’s certainly an entertaining crowd-pleaser that hits all the right notes, mostly because the notes already come from a perfect movie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com