As you may have noticed, Disney has been on a bit of a remake frenzy, adapting all their animated classics into live-action versions with mixed results. So it was only a matter of time when the House of Mouse decided to set their sights on one of (in this reviewer’s personal opinion) their most beloved films, The Lion King.
The original 1994 movie is considered by many as the pinnacle of the Disney animation renaissance. The beautiful hand-drawn animation, the perfect balance of comedy and heart-wrenching emotion, songs by Elton John that were instant ear-worms and an incredible musical score by Hans Zimmer, all boiled down to a perfect recipe that everyone in the audience could enjoy.
It was so perfect in fact, that when news broke of the live-action adaptation, many questioned if there was any need to this to be done. It was hard to imagine that there was anything the live action version could do better than the original. Disney had a lot to prove.
And with The Lion King 2019, director Jon Favreau has managed to create a stunning technical marvel. For while this adaption is called “live action”, everything in the film is fully computer generated. Not that you would know it, as every frame is just oozing with realism. Every twig, blade of grass, and the numerous fauna that inhabit the African vistas, all rendered in loving detail, making it hard to differentiate this from a nature documentary. With this adaptation, Disney has set the benchmark for photo-realistic visual effects.
Alas, with all its technical prowess, the film just falls short of capturing the emotion and heart of the 1994 original. The hand-drawn classic’s characters were expressive and managed to convey a whole host of emotions that sadly their computer generated brethren cannot match. Where 2d versions of Simba, Nala, Zazu and the rest of the supporting cast instantly wrangled their way into our hearts, the 3D renditions are realistic to a fault, their facial expressions inert and often not conveying the exuberance or energy needed in the scene.
Of the new cast, the only two characters who manage to live up to their 2D counterparts are Timon and Pumba. Played by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen respectively, the two comedy sidekicks manage to elicit laughs and kick things up a gear when they are on screen. The two voice actors are obviously having fun, and ably carry on the legacy left by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, the original iterations of the sassy meerkat and the gassy warthog. The rest of the cast are adequate in their roles, but seem to be missing something. Even James Earl Jones, reprising his role of Mufasa, doesn’t have the gusto he had during his first pass at the character.
The biggest victim of this realistic take are the film’s songs. The original songs were stylized animated set pieces, popping with colour or choreographed with creative flair. It’s hard to imagine “Can’t Wait to be King” without the psychedelic backdrops or “Be Prepared” with is foreboding fascist stylings. However the 2019 versions, with their focus on realism, feel neutered, never really reaching the bar set 25 years ago.
The feeling that the film just doesn’t match the original is hammered home by the fact that this is almost a shot for shot remake, even down to the dialogue for the most part. Seeing the same shots rendered in 3d, you can’t help but compare the scenes, and somehow, even though the 2d versions were often simpler, you get the feeling that they were still more effective. There are iconic moments in the film that don’t pack the same emotional punch and in some cases, feel completely flat.
But for all that, the underlying story of the Lion King is still the same, and even if the 2019 version is a pale imitation of its predecessor, it’s still a decent piece of entertainment. The impressive visuals make this a must see movie on IMAX, just to revel in the attention to detail. But if you want to see the best version of the Lion King, chuck on the 1994 classic 🙂
I give The Lion King 2019 a 7 out of 10.