Live-action remakes are in the firing line as we speak, but The Lion King is different – bigger, much bigger. There is no doubt that the success of this film will determine what happens next for Disney. Recreations are a tricky thing to get right, tonally, visually, narratively – there are countless hurdles that need clearing in order to just appease viewers. But a battle is being waged; Disney is fighting a war against itself, a long and fierce battle against its own films and their legacy. So that begs the question, does The Lion King (2019) succeed in winning this battle against the original? Well if the intention is to earn more money, then perhaps. Financially this film will soar as high as the sun rises, bringing in floods of movie-goers to bow beneath The Lion King’s legendary legacy. But the original cost a mere fraction ($45 million) of what this behemoth requires to satisfy movie-goers curiosity.
Leading us to what I felt about this film. First and foremost, this film is what I can simply describe as a menial attempt at recreating The Lion King in live-action. It does its duty by recreating events in a digital format – a digital reflection of hand-drawn animation, albeit not as creatively, but an accurate recreation nonetheless. Secondly, this film does not extend or build upon the original story; those who are going in and expecting to witness something new will not be granted it, unless they’re in search of a new Beyonce single. Thirdly, this film is significantly longer than the 1994 original (by 30 minutes), but as I mentioned above there is nothing new within this story – so where do these extra 30 minutes come from? To put it bluntly: Everywhere. Shots that took 2 seconds in the original, take 5 seconds here. Scenes that were 30 seconds, are now 2 minutes. This comes at a cost – its pacing. The energy this film has constantly switches, narcoleptic in its rhythm – I often found myself staring into space as the scenes dragged on.
But beyond the dragged out carcass that is its pacing, there lies perhaps the films largest problem — its emotion. The live-action formula restricts incalculable levels of emotion, moments that carry weight and sorrow in the original feel lifeless and artificial here. In a stroke of irony, taking us toward a more visually realistic Lion King in-turn made it more artificial than ever before.
What’s a Lion without its roar? Just like Simba, The Lion King (2019) struggles to find it. The role of young Simba being the most critically poor decision – as child singer JD McCrary voices this young cub he provides essentially zero form of emotional weight in his performance, providing only clean vocals – a minor component that could have been fixed with two voice actors tackling the tasks separately. The moments that needed emotion were an empty void voiced clumsily by a child singer who has no experience in the world of voice acting – sad to say, but brutally true. While Childish Gambino certainly provides quality the vocals, his real voice bleeds through too much, making Simba suddenly sound too distinct in accent. The other major misstep lies with Beyonce being cast as Nala, a young female Lioness that in no way shape or form represents the older voice that Beyonce provides. Though the likes of John Oliver, Seth Rogen, and Billy Eichner all provide enough of an antidote to relieve some of this voice acting torment. They also stand as the films most entertaining aspects — with Eichner and Rogen both nailing Timon and Pumbaa.
The VFX work in this movie is outstanding as all of the character designs are touched with incredible amounts of detail. The results achieved in the animation is beautiful as the first keyframe-animation shot on a virtual set manages to pull off impressive naturalistic animation. While this impeccable amount of detail is shown on-screen, one noticeable feature makes this film feel lifeless and dull which is the absence of colour. The visual component of this film lacks colour which is one of the great features of the original film, it gives the film intense energy while adding to the films tone, mood and emotion.
While Favreau and his team deliver on the technical front, the music and sound quality also delivers. Hans Zimmer builds upon his orchestral score developed in the The Lion King (1994) and it supports the film nicely even if it isn’t felt as impactfully. The soundtrack brings back the beloved songs from the original – Hakuna Matata, Can You Feel the Love Tonight? and Circle of Life – which are produced and performed excellently. Two original songs are given including Beyonce’s Spirit which was jarringly injected into the film which doesn’t not gel nicely inside the movie.
Disney tries its hand at recreating the legendary vigor that the 1994 original film emoted with such ease. But like the desolate plains of Pride Rock, The Lion King has a similar sense of emptiness – a false sense of originality, what can only feel like a usurper that is attempting to dethrone its original material. Had director Jon Favreau spent those extra 30 minutes developing Simba’s trauma, properly color-grading, and selected the right voice cast – I may have less conflicted feelings. No matter how audiences feel, one thing is clear; The Lion King (2019) will always live within the shadow of its older brother.
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