The Lion King 2019 (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 118 Minutes
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen, Billy Eicher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones
Jesus Christ, am I the only one who’s tired of talking about the Live-Action Disney Remakes at this point? This is the 3rd one this year that I’m talking about and we’re getting so much at this point that it almost feels like Disney is trying to dig a hole for all of their animated classics to lay in as though they lost faith in the animation craft as a whole. But regardless, we have The Lion King, the 2nd Remake from Jon Favreau. He made a significantly huge splash in 2016 when he directed The Jungle Book, one of the few remakes I actually love. Using the revolutionary technology at his disposal to bring a giant jungle to life with photo realistic animals to tell Rudyard Kipling’s timeless tale in a new light made it such an enjoyable experience. But looking back at the film now, it only makes me feel a bit sad since it looks as though the film was only produced to see if making an entirely CGI photorealistic film could work, which is why they seem to be now banking off of the 1994 classic that’s been loved to death by practically everyone on the planet. It’s like the film was factory produced from the outset to be the most lucrative piece of media on the planet by banking off of the nostalgia of every human being in existence. But to be mature regarding this situation, is The Lion King 2019 a good attempt at readapting this classic movie for a new generation or is it a genuine cinematic dump-heap?
For the whole 2 of you who aren’t familiar with the classic story, it follows a lion named Simba who is one day destined to be crowned king of the African Pridelands much to the dismay of his uncle, Scar, who was initially 1st in line before Mufasa and Sarabi had given birth to him. As an act of revenge to claim his role as king, he pulls off a plan with the hyenas to kill Mufasa and guilt trip Simba into thinking he was the one responsible, forcing him to run away and exile himself from his kingdom. Growing up on the other side of the jungle with his new parental figures, Timon and Pumbaa, Simba finally begins to rediscover his rightful place as king as he returns to fight back Scar and save his pack from extinction.
Now before I start properly talking about The Lion King, I think it’s fair to talk about the aspects to the film I think truly work. For one thing, from a visual perspective, I have no other words to say this but the film looks absolutely gorgeous. This movie essentially has an updated use of the technology that Jon Favreau used on The Jungle Book and the way he was able to digitally recreate practically everything you see on screen is a sight to behold. Everything from the animals to the sets, locations and materials are all entirely computer animated to the purest photo-realism, which not only looks scarily lifelike, but also makes many iconic shots and moments from the classic movie look vibrant and a true beauty to look at on the big screen. With that said, if you’re a fan of the original’s soundtrack, this film will be a blast for you. With the exception of “Be Prepared” which is shortened down and honestly sounds terrible, the rest of the songs are redone very well. Donald Glover and Beyonce bring a lovely edge to “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, and other tracks like “Hakuna Matata” and “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” are able to build on their original works to provide new tracks that recapture the same sense of fun, whilst also feel somewhat different based on the new vocal deliveries by the cast. It’s all for the most part great stuff and along with the updated music score by Hans Zimmer along with the new track in the film by Elton John, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy the film’s soundtrack. It’s excellent all around.
With that said though, while I feel I can praise The Lion King (2019) for its own merits, it doesn’t stop it from feeling like one of the most unbelievably shallow and dull remakes that I’ve seen in a long time. And that’s also when compared to Aladdin which if you ask me has a lot of similar criticisms. The first of which comes down to how the film readapts the iconic storyline. Everything from the 1994 film is basically presented here, but in a way, that’s sort of a major problem. I’m not kidding when I say this film is basically a Beat-For-Beat recreation of the original film, with all the original’s plot points being covered to the tiniest of details, almost to the point where around 50% of the film feels practically shot-for-shot. While I could imagine something like this wouldn’t mind some of the Disney Purists and nostalgists because they are basically getting the same movie I’m sure they are asking for, a part of me can’t help but find it kind of lazy and unprofessional. When I re-hear a lot of this film’s classic lines and see everything come at basically the exact same order, it basically cemented what I feel was The Lion King (2019)’s biggest issue: a true lack of creative integrity. Because the film focuses on so many of the exact same elements that made the original film so strong, a lot of my viewing experience of film came from guessing all of the plot points and where they could come instead of how any other movie-viewing experience should be where we’re supposed to naturally find out what’s going on with the feeling of surprise and some suspense. Not only that, but the film has some weird pacing problems, meaning that many scenes go on for way longer than necessary, and some scenes like the “Be Prepared” song number and even the iconic death scene featuring Mufasa feel sort of brushed over, which feels unfortunate because those are some of the most memorable highlights when people talk about anything related to The Lion King. The film does try to add some stuff by extending some scenes and adding two new scenes not from the original film, but because neither of them add anything unique or crucial to the storyline at hand, it only feels like padding to extend an 88 Minute film into a 118 Minute film pointlessly which makes an already plagiaristic film feel prolonged and very boring.
Even with the plagiaristic writing, despite my praises towards the VFX artists and their work to bring the Pride Lands to life, even the overall photo-realism aesthetic they go for feels somewhat like a crutch to the film. Let me put it this way, part of the charm of the original 1994 Lion King film was that it was able to exaggerate the facial expressions of the lions so that we are able to read what each character was feeling in every frame of film. With this new movie, because the film wants to go for a style where the lions emote like……well actual lions, there is inevitably going to be a MASSIVE disconnect between the viewers along with their own personal journey. I wouldn’t feel like complaining about this that much, but when SO MUCH of the original film relied so much on you required to empathise with these lions during moments of joy and turmoil, when these scenes are recreated with no concept of human expression placed upon their face, you’d be surprised at how much of the energy and emotion that should really be there just fades away. This also accounts for many of the songs getting somewhat butchered by this art style, since many songs like "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" which featured a ton of kinetic frantic energy in the original film, now only really amount to seeing an emotionless lion, warthog and meerkat just walking along in a savanna whilst unnatural lip sync covers their mouth while singing. Something like this wouldn’t need to be necessary in a film like Jon Favreau’s previous film, The Jungle Book, because the use of photorealistic animals was a creative intention made to have the audience feel some disconnect between Mowgli and his surroundings similarly to Rudyard Kipling’s original creative intentions. But when they disconnect is apparent for the entire film and for a story that requires complete connection to its characters, then the art style just proves to be an absolute failure despite the clear amount of love and effort put on screen.
But to lean a bit more positively here, the overall cast is quite good for The Lion King overall. Tons of the actors they acquired for the film were basically pitch perfect for the roles they were given. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen share a lot of solid comedic chemistry as Timon and Pumbaa, and others like Donald Glover and Beyonce are basically the perfect pairing as Simba and Nala thanks to their evident strong acting and singing abilities on both sides as shown in their own musical careers. Despite the bland visuals which don’t help to give their characters much personality, they do at least try their best to give good vocal performances which capture the essence of these characters rather well. But then there are other casting choices which may seem good on paper, but in reality just don’t seem right, Chiwetel Ejiofor is a remarkable talent and not a bad choice for Scar, but since his design and general character has been so washed down to the point where he feels like just a generic bad guy with little wit of cunning personality, Ejiofor is only able to give out his best performance when there’s an opportunity to be loud or dramatic. During most normal scenes, he’s just a bore, which is less his fault and more about how his character was written and how he had to adapt to it. But for the help of me, I have absolutely NO CLUE what the hell happened to James Earl Jones as Mufasa. Reprising his role for this film for mostly obvious reasons since his voice is practically incomparable, but it’s quite clear mostly due to his old age that his voice just simply doesn’t have the same sense of strong emotion of authority that should come from the legendary king. My favourite scene from the 1994 film where Mufasa confronts Simba for his brash actions at the Elephant Graveyard no longer has that same emotion to it because Jones simply doesn’t have the voice or the general gravitas anymore to make you feel the impact of his anger, where you could understand the fear that Simba is feeling at that moment in time. It feels mostly out of obligation to bring him back, not because of his talents, but more so because his role was too incomparable to even be replaced, and that’s a shame because when he puts in the effort, he’s a voice acting god.
But at the end of the day, what else can I really say about The Lion King (2019)? It’s exactly what it sells itself as in the trailers: a shallow, beat for beat remake of an all-time classic that definitely has some aspects to commend like the amazing VFX work and the great soundtrack, but when everything else just feels like the exact same film but without any of the heart, wit, emotion or general soul, then what we have is clearly what I can only describe as Disney’s own Creative Bankruptcy. They have finally reached a point where they seem okay with rehashing their same work to an audience which really rides off of that feeling of nostalgia, to make back such a lucrative profit, that it only feels like wasted potential for both the studio and the general film industry as a whole. Films like The Lion King just sort of piss me off, not only for what they represent, but with how they also don’t even try to match that same quality knowing that MILLIONS will flock to see it anyway with money in hand. I don’t feel as though I want to bash the filmmakers here, because I have a deep respect for Jon Favreau because of how much I adored his take on The Jungle Book, but it seems as though the only thing he evolved from that film was some of the visuals and even that was at the expense of the facial expressions of the animals in a story where we need to buy into their emotions. I’m sure that those who did work on this film had a great time, and many of the VFX team should definitely be recruited for work that’s of better use of their time than this, but as a whole, I REALLY HATED The Lion King (2019). At least with the 2017 and 2019 remakes of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, they at least tried to add some new stuff and recapture some of that same magic and artistic flair. This is just by every sense of the word a product, and one that will make so much money and only enforce bad habits for the industry and Disney as a studio in general. If you’re curious about seeing, there’s no stopping you, but you are voting with your wallets here. If you want to see Disney take risks and tell new stories again, just don’t see this. It’ll give them the wake up call that’ll do them a world of good.
FINAL RATING: 3/10 (BAD)