The Lion King was a massive success upon its release in 1994, and to this day remains one of the best-animated stories ever told. The film was praised for its animation, memorable songs, and the talented voice actors that brought it all to life. Now, an updated take on the story has been released for a new generation to enjoy. However, the same emotional impact isn’t there.
Directed by John Favreau (The Jungle Book) and written by Jeff Nathanson, the film features a star-studded cast consisting of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Beyonce, and many more lending their voice talents. Just like the original, The Lion King follows Simba, a young lion prince tricked into leaving behind his birthright after a tragedy occurs, but later discovers who he is and returns to claim his rightful place as king. The film doesn’t have its own identity, as it stays very close to the original. While that is probably for the best, it also proves that The Lion King didn’t need to join in on the rising trend of remakes in Hollywood.
Even though most of them are underutilized, the vocal contributions are impressive across the board. Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, are resurrected in a manner that almost outshines the original. Jones’ reprisal of Mufasa lacks the enthusiasm he possessed the first time around, and it more than likely is due to how realistic this movie ended up being. Glover’s portrayal of Simba was an unexpected delight as well, but a lot of the supporting cast was acceptable at best or just not giving it their all.
Despite that, The Lion King is a visual spectacle, and the circle of life has never looked this awe-inspiring. Favreau’s immersive landscape, combined with its loveable inhabitants and their infectious singing, makes for a fantastic experience from start to finish. After his success with The Jungle Book, it isn’t surprising that he has created a sensational depiction of Pride Rock, which many would consider a masterpiece. However, the realism of our animals is the film’s most significant detraction.
While the visual effects are a remarkable component, they also strip the on-screen characters of anything that resembles an emotion. The voice acting can’t be executed or delivered in a manner that was present in 1994. Most of the lines feel downplayed and nonchalant. These animals are supposed to be “live-action” and in our own real-world now. So because of that, some if not all of the animal’s expressions do not match with what is being said, it’s as if they couldn’t care less, which is what a real-world animal would appear like.
The beauty of The Lion King wasn’t merely in its story or catchy tunes; it also relied heavily on the animations of the animals, which made the content more impactful to viewers. The anguish, and heartbreak in Simba’s eyes after he finds Mufasa is no longer present, so the moment doesn’t hit home the same way. Luckily, Nathanson’s screenplay doesn’t go off the rails, and he plays it safe by telling a frame-for-frame story that millions can adore. There’s even some refreshing banter added between Timon and Pumbaa, which is one of few extra additions to this far too familiar tale.
Adding to that, the iconic opening sequence featuring “The Circle of Life” is present, Simba gets his expected solo, and of course, “Hakuna Matata” outshines them all. Scar, who is magnificently voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, has his iconic song “Be Prepared” stripped down to a waste of time sadly. With a near thirty-minute extra runtime, it’s a bit disappointing that the song wasn’t given a proper spotlight. Hanz Zimmer returns to compose the score, as he should, and delivers all the same tunes for a new generation to join in on.
While not a horrendous reimaging, The Lion King is the year’s risk-free remake that tries to avoid upsetting an entire generation by staying close to home. Substituting animations for a photo-realistic Africa landscape, the film loses out on recreating lively animals. It does retain the charming characters though, which is enough for some moviegoers. Since this is so similar to the original, the overall story isn’t bad by any means, it just isn’t as impactful and feels like an unnecessary rehash.