Alright, boys and girls, before we get started we need to address the elephant, or other large jungle creature in the room: unless Jon Favreau has discovered the dark magic necessary to make wild animals speak and take stage direction, there’s no way the latest iteration of “The Lion King” can be considered “live-action.”
So why don’t we just go ahead and stop referring to it as such.
Featuring the voices of James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and JD McCrary as Young Simba, Disney's "The Lion King" is directed by Jon Favreau. (© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Favreau’s “Lion King,” is an animated (although in a much different style) update of the 1994 animated classic of the same name. It’s also, if I’m being totally honest, the latest in a string of revamped/re-imagined Disney animated properties that falls flat in virtually every aspect aside from the Disney marketing machine.
Simba (Donald Glover) is a precocious young lion cub who’s eager to show his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), that he’s more ferocious and powerful than his pint-size figure leads him to believe, and that he’ll a respected leader when his time on the throne comes.
Simba’s eagerness and naivety make him a prime target for his jealous, conniving uncle, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Wanting the throne for himself, Scar uses Simba to get rid of Mufasa, and then tricks the young cub to running away, so that he can claim it.
Later discovered in hiding by childhood friend/love interest, Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter), Simba must return to his home to rescue his friends and family from his uncle’s treachery.
Featuring the voices of John Oliver as Zazu, James Earl Jones as Mufasa and JD McCrary as Young Simba, Disney's "The Lion King" is directed by Jon Favreau. (© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
My initial reaction was, “that wasn’t too bad – it was true to the original, and it’s actually a pretty worthy remake.” It’s visually stunning, and plays like a tribute to the original, more than a remake/reboot.
But as the days passed and I thought more about it, as I saw the trailers popping up more frequently, I started to realize that in my mind it simply wasn’t aging very well. That wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that I saw it 8 days ago.
To its credit, it’s a really, really safe movie. Unless you’re in the “any remake ruins my childhood” collective, there’s nothing here to worry about – this feels like they took the storyboards from the early ’90s and simply freshened them up with modern animation and voices.
Rest easy … your childhood is safe.
It’s also, however, not going to be enhanced. Because for as much as it’s true to the original, it lacks a lot of the heart and fun that was present 25 years ago. Beyond the initial “look how cute that CGI lion cub is” moment, it’s almost entirely devoid of emotion.
The worst part is, I can’t decide why it felt – or, I guess, didn’t’ feel – that way.
Featuring the voices of JD McCrary as Young Simba, Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, Disney's "The Lion King" is directed by Jon Favreau. (© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Generally, when an animated film feels empty, I place the blame on the voice actors. Here, though, that’s not entirely accurate. James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa was the best call they made; Glover (who I am not a fan of in any of his endeavors) is a clear upgrade over Matthew Broderick; Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and Billy Eichner (Timon) are equally as entertaining as Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane were in the same roles, and were the clear highlights; and, while not nearly as menacing or villainous as Jeremy Irons, Ejiofor was more than adequate as Scar. In fact, my only issue with the cast – and one that will almost certainly draw the ire of Twitter – is Beyoncé. Her voice is “too Beyoncé” to play voice anyone else. In that, I mean her voice is uniquely hers and quite distinguishable, making it nearly impossible to hear anything else.
With no real answers as to what I feel is missing, I’m left with the idea that maybe they played it too safe. It’s a scary proposition to imagine what could come from giving anyone carte blanche to re-imagine a classic, but when it’s simply paint by numbers with flashier colors, you get what we got.
Simply put, “The Lion King” feels like little more than a remake for remake’s sake … or fodder to deepen the Disney+ catalog.
★★ of ★★★★★