The Lion King (2019) is directed by Jon Favreau and it is the “live-action” remake of the 1994 animated classic with the same name. In case you’ve never watched the animated movie which is highly unlikely, this movie is about Simba, a lion who we see grow before our very eyes and learn about the Circle of Life and how to be a successor to the great King of Pride Rock, Mufasa who is also his father. This movie stars Donald Glover, JD McCrary, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner and John Oliver.
I’m not the first to say this and I’m not going to be the last to say this but The Lion King, the animated version that is, is basically untouchable. It is an icon in the animation industry, it’s like the Avatar or should I say Avengers: Endgame of animation. There is so much love and praise for the movie that the idea of a remake is literally screaming cash grab. The gorgeous hand drawn animation is just as amazing today as it was back in 1994. The script, characters and music are all great, there are no areas where you think, ‘that needs some work’. A remake is supposed to improve on the original work but in this case there is no need for improving anything making this remake a dry, exact copy of the animated movie.
Often in reviews for Disney remakes, it is said that the remake actually reminds them of how great the animated movie was. This thought would usually occur if a scene was dialed down in the live-action version but never did I have this thought throughout an entire movie. The script is almost the exact same, there are shots ripped straight from the animated movie, there are no changes to the story whatsoever. The movie felt very much like a checklist, they got that shot, they said that line and it goes on and on. Because of this the movie felt very rushed as if it knew we were craving something different. The worst part of all this was that they didn’t even carry the same emotional weight those shots and those lines. They even skipped some of the most important lines in the movie, it’s all very confusing and frustrating to see Disney, a company swimming in billions and billions of dollars getting this desperate for money.
The only thing that separates this “remake” from the animated movie is emotion. This movie tried to be as realistic as possible which to it’s credit it is. This movie looks incredibly realistic, it actually took me out of the movie wondering how every shot was animated on a screen. Unfortunately the movie’s selling point becomes the movie’s strongest weakness. This emotion is stripped away from the faces of these characters. It makes the movie sometimes cringe-inducing to hear the emotion from the voice-acting but to see a blank face delivering it. The musical score is relatively the same and it is in fact composed by Hans Zimmer once again but even that felt a little watered-down. However hearing the score during the wildebeest stampede scene gave me chills.
The performances are a mixed bag, some are energetic and elevate the movie and others are just dull. For example, JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph are great as Young Simba and Nala, they bring some energy to an otherwise dull movie. James Earl Jones is literally back to repeat his lines from 1994. Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Adult Simba and Nala are good. I do feel that Glover could have added some more energy in his voice-acting. My biggest complaint however has to do with Scar. I love the animated Scar, he was evil but he was also smart and had a flair to him that was added by Jeremy Irons’ great use of sarcasm, energy, dark humor and cruel playfulness. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar is the movie’s weakest performance. His performance was confused and all over the place. There are scenes where he is trying to replicate what Irons did by being playful with his voice or at least he tries to, then there are scenes where he is completely serious and boring. He tried to make this characters his own which is great but he just couldn’t find a balance between playfully evil and serious evil.
All of that being said, this movie does have some redeeming qualities. Visually this movie looks gorgeous and sonically it sounds beautiful, it’s when those two aspect meet that problems start to arise. While it isn’t as funny as the animated movie, Eichner and Rogen steal the show as Timon and Pumbaa. They got so many laughs from my audience. Unforunately they didn’t do the “dress up in drag and do the Hula” scene but what they did instead was such a funny surprise. It was clever and easily the best scene in the movie, for me at least. The musical numbers were also dialed down, understandably but they were still fairly entertaining however “Be Prepared” was done wrong and the problem goes back to the way this Scar was written.
Overall The Lion King (2019) is an unnecessary remake which to be frank I don’t think anyone can defend. It doesn’t add to the story or build upon it in any way. This movie was purely a cashgrab and clearly no one thought that the animated classic needed fixing. While the performances are decent and the effects are beautiful, you won’t get the same amount of emotion and satisfaction you’ll get when watching the original. I don’t like being harsh on movies but this movie is literally the 1994 movie without the emotion and energy, it’s a dull remake with no identity. Do yourself a favour, skip this movie and rewatch the original animated classic.