There is officially nothing that can stop the Disney remake train as it steamrolls through a large portion of its beloved back catalogue, and with plenty more where that came from. Back when the “live action” remakes first started, I’d always considered The Lion King to be one which was untouchable. There are many personal reasons for this – it being my childhood favourite is the principle one – but also that it wouldn’t be possible to do as a “live action” film, unless of course you had some very well-trained lions!
2019’s The Lion King is a CG animated retelling of the beloved Disney classic, and whilst the trailers managed to tap into all those nostalgic feels, this latest version of the film fails to capture what made the original so magnificent. The thing I feared the most about this film would be that it would feel soulless and empty, and unfortunately that is exactly what we have. That isn’t to say the film is completely without merit, and it is obvious that it has been made with exceptional care and passion, but like so many of the remakes that came before this one, the whole exercise just feels like a pointless cash-grab. I am fully prepared to die on this hill, but the best Disney remake for me has been 2016’s Pete’s Dragon. It took a lesser known story and completely reinvigorated it, taking the sub-par (and painfully overlong!) live-action/animated 1977 hybrid and crafting it into a beautifully told and exquisitely rendered tale of friendship and adventure.
We could argue until the end of time on the merit of remaking films which are already, in many people’s opinions, completely flawless, but that doesn’t do anything to change the fact that we now have this new version of The Lion King. Whilst many would consider it unfair to compare this film to the 1994 classic, Jon Favreau’s film has painted itself into a rather difficult corner. It is, for the most part, a shot for shot remake of the original. The script rarely veers off course, the songs are all present and correct, and indeed many of the visuals are straight lifts from the animated blueprint. It is therefore near impossible to view it as a film on its own merits, when it is a film which simply wouldn’t exist were it not for the original film.
Of course, there are some differences here; principally the look of the film, and of course the majority of the voice cast, with James Earl Jones being the only returning actor. Whilst James Earl Jones’ voice is synonymous with that of Mufasa, it is a somewhat confusing decision that the rest of the characters are completely recast excluding that one, and on the whole, the voice cast is a bit hit and miss. Chiwetel Ejiofor is on menacing form as Scar, and his voice is very well suited to the iconic villain, even if his big musical number does fall incredibly flat. Undoubtedly the shining light of the film, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are wonderful as Pumbaa and Timon, and their adlibs helped to inject some much needed joy. Whilst Donald Glover and Beyonce’s singing voices are fantastic, they are unfortunately both not great fits for their characters, and I say this as a big fan of both, Glover in particular. Beyonce is horribly miscast as Nala; she’s just not a voice actor and it really shows. You can’t help but think that casting decision was made in order to get a big name draw, rather than being the best possible person for the role.
The standout thing about this film are the visuals and of course the score. Hans Zimmer’s iconic music somehow sounds even more epic, and it really helps to hammer home the emotion at the times that the CGI characters fail to do so. Whilst a computer is able to create photorealistic landscapes and breathtaking vistas that completely astonish, it is not able to create characters which can emote properly, and this is where the film ultimately fails. It is perhaps harsh to describe a film as soulless, but this is exactly how it feels. The animation is completely stunning, and the characters all look so incredibly lifelike that it almost defies possibilities. However, you can make a photorealistic lion, but you cannot make a photorealistic lion look real and sing at the same time, and the lack of emotion gives this film an overall feeling of emptiness; something that the original film never had a problem with.
At times, it is easy to forget that everything the light touches has been created by a computer, and for all its visual spectacle and technical merit, the end result is one which feels empty and, like so many of the new Disney remakes, pointless. As an exercise in what is possible with the new technology available, this film is unparalleled, but overall it fails to capture the magic and the emotion that made the original so special.
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, James Earl Jones, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Chiwetel Ejiofor
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