Twenty-five years since Pride Rock first graced the big screen, the timeless story of The Lion King makes a strangely perfunctory return in Jon Favreau’s (The Jungle Book, Iron Man) reconceptualization of the 1994 classic. Once again, the narrative follows Simba (Donald Glover/JD McCrary) through his early years under the tuition of his father, King Mufasa (voiced by a welcome return from James Earl Jones), right up to his adult life living in isolation with Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), as he learns to “take his place in the circle of life”.
Yet remove the unquestionably stunning visuals from the equation, and what’s left is a shameless re-skin of the original masterpiece, executing everything with a bizarre sense of confident mediocrity. It never wavers in its vision to provide constant photo-realistic spectacles, and it is undeniable that The Lion King is an incredible display of masterful CGI filmmaking. However, for a film which is possibly the greatest achievement in visual effects this year, it is rather curiously one of the least satisfying in general.
This new iteration strips the original of all its heart and soul to the point where each and every shot in this remake – no matter how aesthetically appealing – feels hollow. Favreau’s version also adds nothing new to The Lion King story besides unnecessary, time-filling exposition, resulting in a dull, oft-times boring viewing experience. Indeed, Hans Zimmer’s score is just as spine-tinglingly epic, though he’s barely had to change a thing, since The Lion King is more of a shot-for-shot, word-for-word copy than a reimagining. It’s therefore easy to feel slightly cheated by the shoddy façade of this visually striking retelling.
Emerging coincidingly is the inescapable truth that 2019’s The Lion King proves Disney is in full ‘cruise-control’ mode with its re-released material, and the magic so commonly associated with animated Disney films is dwindling as a result. What’s more, unlike the distinctly ‘live-action’ format of remakes such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin separating them from the original, The Lion King is not ‘live-action’, yet nor does it feel animated; instead, the blank-faced, high-definition CGI talking animals replace the relatable humanlike expressions of the original. Consequently, the ability to convey emotions from these characters is fundamentally weakened. Coupled with the largely unconvincing voice-acting from this new cast (bar a couple of stellar performances from Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen) and the outcome is a bitter pill to swallow.
Never before has such an expensive nostalgia-instilled blockbuster felt so nauseatingly cheap; what Jon Favreau’s The Lion King lacks in heart, emotion and integrity, it attempts to make up for in photo-realism and cinematic spectacle. In this ambition, The Lion King loses its focus on the aspects that made the source material so downright brilliant; the dynamism of the characters, the challenges of morality and duty, and – most importantly for an animated family film – its sheer fun.
This interpretation of The Lion King quite simply isn’t as exhilarating, funny, or as headily enjoyable. Thus, the 1994 original masterwork continues to reign supreme. Long live the King.
Image Credit: Movie DB