Before going into this movie I had to think about what I wanted out of it. Of all the ‘live action’ remakes of these classic Disney movies so far, The Lion King is the first that I had a real connection with from my youth. I’ve always considered 1994’s The Lion King to be one of Disney’s finest pieces of work, so to say I was skeptical about a remake is an understatement. I didn’t go in expecting or even wanting something better, just something a little different but still remaining faithful to the original source material.
Jon Favreau is no rookie to these remakes, having already taken on the directing job for The Jungle Book (2016), which was appreciated by many audiences and critics alike. Favreau and his team seem to know how to get the most out of the photorealistic animation. The imagery is crisp with both the detail of the animal characters and the gloriously photogenic scenery popping out of the screen. Regardless of how you feel about the remake as a whole, the cinematography is something to be in awe of.
The opening sequence is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original, but after that the movie does enough to create its own identity. There are some changes with the development of characterisation and story to suit the upgraded technology, making the experience feel more fitting and updated, although some decisions could upset the die hard fans out there (“What do you want me to do, dress in drag and do the hula?” is no more, but replaced with a joke towards another Disney classic).
Part of the reason this movie was facing an uphill battle was due to how charismatic and memorable the original voice actors were. With only the return of James Earl Jones playing his original part Mufasa, the likes of Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson and Jeremy Irons were all replaced. Of those characters I felt most fell on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s shoulders. Taking over the role of Scar was never going to be an easy job, especially when Irons gives arguably the best performance of the original, but Chiwetel does fantastically and feels the most enthusiastic and authentic of the whole cast. You could argue it doesn’t quite have the gravitas or Shakespearean tone that was delivered by Irons, but Chiwetel provides a more darker, sinister approach that fits better with the more realistic direction the remake was going for.
Most of the other cast members either equal to that of the original cast or fall short on expectation. Simba, Timon and Pumbaa (Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogan) do great jobs brining the energy into their roles, whilst Zazu, Rafiki and Nala (John Oliver, John Kani and Beyoncé) are a little flat in comparison, although the case with Rafiki, is simply that the character isn’t as developed or important to the story this time around.
Hans Zimmer returns as the composer, unsurprisingly doing exactly what you would expect of someone with such experience in the industry, even improving upon the original soundtrack. There are a few new musical numbers added as well, whilst others are stripped down or removed completely (‘Be Prepared’ to be disappointed). One of which is an original by Beyoncé, that would have maybe been better suited for the credits especially when they have a song like ‘He Lives in You’ in their arsenal, which was only given the credit treatment despite being a clearly better choice for such scene.
As already mentioned, the approach of this film was for a more realistic, up-to-date tone. Some of the characters are given a vastly different makeover, most noticeably the more menacing hyenas. The comedy is heavily reliant on Timon and Pumbaa’s back and forth, banterous behaviour, which gladly there is no shortage of. This film was never likely to be without its warts and if you can accept that fate, then like me, you might feel there is more to enjoy here than what most critics care to actually realise. ‘Slimy (in places), yet satisfying’.
What did you think? Was it a disservice to the original, or did it exceed your expectations? Drop a comment below.
Nice review. Having seen the film today, when I reflect upon it, you are right that Rafiki is largely on the edge of the story, unlike before. I think Zazu fell flat because of the realism – the constant jerking head movements are typical of birds, but don’t translate well when emoting a character.
What do you make of young Simba and Nala? I completely forgot to give them credit in my own review. I think JD McCrary did a great job, and Shahadi Wright Joseph didn’t disgrace herself either.
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He Just felt unutilized and not as funny or charismatic as the original, which is a shame as he was one of my favourite characters. Makes sense, I do feel he tried to be Rowan Atkinson too much though instead of trying something new. The kid actors were fantastic, both of which had the singing chops to do ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ which was great.
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