The Lion King: Film Review

The Lion King is not just another Disney live-action remake to me, it is THE Disney remake – the one I’ve been waiting for with a mix of excitement and trepidation. As you can probably tell from my previous articles, the 1994 original means a lot to me so the remake had a lot riding on it – so I’m pleased to report I was satisfied, although not completely won over.

I’ve seen The Lion King more times than I can remember, I know most scenes word for word and I can hum along with the score, so I came at the remake with a very critical eye, as I could tell what tweaks had been made, no matter how minor.

The storyline – Simba (JD McCrary and Donald Glover) being blamed for his father’s death and being made to run away from home – is exactly the same. The scenes basically follow the same order and sometimes are even remade practically shot for shot – like the Circle of Life opening sequence – while a couple have been lengthened/shortened. The script borrows heavily from the original – I sometimes mouthed the words – but a lot of dialogue changes have been made for the comedy characters like Zazu (John Oliver), Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), and not always for the better.

The hyenas have been completely overhauled – Shenzi (Florence Kasumba) is the only original one to remain and she has more to do and is way more menacing. They aren’t the major comedy characters anymore – stupid Ed is out of the picture and the trio is rounded out by new characters Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key) and Azizi (Eric Andre), who have a light, amusing banter. I actually welcomed this change, I liked the new Shenzi was more badass, just like Nala (Beyonce) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard).

Because the film is going for photorealism – which it does so, so well – it has dispensed with some of the silly stuff that couldn’t realistically happen with real animals, such as Zazu being put in the birdy boiler and Timon dressing in drag and doing the hula (“are you aching, for some bacon?”) which makes it less fun and entertaining as the original.

In that regard, the animals’ mouths don’t always sync up with what they’re saying and they can’t express emotions, which really has a negative impact on some of the film’s saddest moments. I was fully prepared for Mufasa’s death to hit me harder, given that it looks more realistic this time, but it didn’t, and I think that’s purely because I couldn’t tell how devastated little Simba was.

The Circle of Life, Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Hakuna Matata sequences are very faithful and similar to the original, but I Just Can’t Wait to Be King sadly had to change visually because it contained fantastical elements that don’t work with Jon Favreau‘s realism mission. Be Prepared has been totally changed into something basically unrecognisable and I don’t like it at all, though it has thankfully been cut quite short. The only new addition is Beyonce’s song Spirit, which appears as Simba is racing back home, and I’d have preferred the original score during that moment. The film uses Hans Zimmer‘s original score a lot throughout and so I cried many, many times. I can’t explain why, but that music has the ability to reduce me to tears within seconds.

I’m really glad James Earl Jones came back to voice Mufasa, you just couldn’t do it without him, while Beyonce and Glover do well voicing Nala and Simba. Oliver didn’t work for me as Zazu, he wasn’t quite as funny, and made me miss Rowan Atkinson, and Chiwetel Ejiofor wasn’t a patch on Jeremy Irons‘ Scar (I didn’t like how Scar looked either). My favourites were actually Rogen as Pumbaa, his voice works perfectly with the warthog, and Eichner as the camp and bitchy Timon, they make a good comedic duo and were the funniest members of the team.

The main draw for this version is the visuals and they are breathtakingly stunning, beautiful and cub Simba was so cute and fluffy, my heart just melted. I sometimes forgot I was watching a digital animation because it looked so real. But that’s the only new thing the remake brings to the table really – it doesn’t add or expand upon much at all, which I suppose is a relief, although I appreciated a couple of the new scenes.

It is very faithful to the original, so I was satisfied that it didn’t ruin my beloved movie and I certainly enjoyed watching it for nostalgiac reasons, but it lacked that magic, that entertainment value, and so it is nowhere near as good as the original, as predicted. I can’t imagine myself ever choosing this one over the old one.

In cinemas from Friday 19th July

(Rating: 4/5)

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