Cast: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard
Director: Jon Favreau
Well, here it is. Disney adapted one of my favorite movies of all time. Anything less than the greatness that was 1994’s The Lion King will come off more as disappointing than anything else. Unfortunately, that’s what Disney gave us this time around. The Lion King is essentially just a retooled version of the original that doesn’t add anything original to the movie. None of the voice cast stacks up to the original, the story is nearly identical, and while the graphics are obviously enhanced, it can’t save The Lion King from failing to meet the lofty standards set before it.
The film follows a young Simba (voiced by JD McCrary), a lion who is finding his way in life and is being groomed to be king by his father Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones). Not satisfied with his position in the kingdom, Mufasa’s brother Scar (voiced by Ejiofor) puts a plan in motion to claim the throne regardless of the consequences. Now, an adult Simba (voiced by Glover) must work to reclaim his rightful place in the world and deal with the consequences of the past. Naturally when Disney remakes their older classic, the main difference we see is the major upgrade with its graphics. While the 1994 film was more than impressive in its own right, the upgraded graphics help bring a sense of realism that most of the other live-action remakes have been missing. Seeing specific touches like drops of water falling off of a lion’s face is really impressive and we should expect nothing less from Disney at this point. Outside of the animation, Rogen really is the saving grace of this movie playing Pumbaa, one of Simba’s closest friends. Not only does he provide a much-needed level of comic relief to get us through the more emotionally draining scenes, but Rogen seems to be the only actor who gave a true update to the original character. Rogen took Pumbaa’s 1994 humor and updated it to make it feel fresh for today’s audience. A combination of jokes that weren’t in the original film and meta humor can make even the coldest of hearts laugh and prove that Rogen is the real star of this movie. While Pumbaa is a hit and the graphics are a nice touch, the movie really didn’t serve as an upgrade in any other area. The most obvious area where this is noticeable is in the voice acting, as many characters have taken a major step backwards with the updated cast. The biggest disappointment in this area is Jones, who understandably has lost a step in the last 25 years and can’t match the power he gave in his original performance. I had multiple moments where I was anticipating this deep, impactful voice that commands the screen, and what we got was nowhere close to what this movie needed. This is a shame, because I remember growing up and watching the presence that Mufasa had on my screen, but that’s nowhere to be found here. Outside of Jones, Nala (voiced by Beyonce Knowles-Carter) is one of the weaker parts of this movie as she doesn’t really add anything of value to the plot. There’s no sense of urgency or emotion in her tone and everything she says seems to have an almost casual nature regardless of the context of the scene. I know Knowles-Carter was brought in for her musical talent, and believe me listening to her and Glover sing, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” is absolutely magical, but her voice acting leaves little to be desired. On the other end, Ejiofor does a solid job as the new iteration of Scar, but he really couldn’t compete with what Jeremy Irons did in the original movie. There were a couple of scenes where I thought that Ejiofor started to come into his own with the role, but it still wasn’t enough to establish himself as one of the great Disney villains. Finally, the one thing I still can’t understand is how much longer the movie is without the added value of any real content. The original film’s runtime is 88 minutes while 2019’s version has a runtime of 118 minutes. With an extra 30 minutes of film, there has to be some sort of reason why the movie is that much longer right? I can recall two or three distinctively new scenes added to the movie and only one of them adds real value and could be considered important. If that’s the case, why add so much extra time? The film doesn’t feel longer because the pacing is good, but I believe what was added to this movie could easily be reduced to about a 100 minute runtime. If Disney is going to continue remaking all of their best animated movies, there should at least be something unique about the new attempt, but much like many of the others we’ve seen this year, The Lion King just copies and pastes the old ideas into an appealing new format.
Overall, if you have never seen 1994’s The Lion King, then this version will actually serve as a breathtaking piece of entertainment especially if it is seen on an enhanced screen. That being said, everyone who has seen it will just see the new film as a visually enhanced yet duller version of the previous movie. The issues that The Lion King faces are similar to the ones Aladdin faced back in May, but as long as these movies keep generating hundreds of millions of dollars we won’t see changes anytime soon. If all of these remakes were the original attempt at telling these stories, almost all of them would be considered incredible and would lead Disney into another renaissance. Considering everything involved in this movie, The Lion King isn’t bad enough to be reviled forever, but it’s incredibly disappointing considering the magic that the original movie captured that this version never had a chance at matching.
Overall Score: 6/10