The Lion King (2019) – Film Review
Cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key
Director: Jon Favreau
Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of the king of a pride of lions, who prepares his son to become the future king, while the King’s brother plots to usurp the throne for himself.
Review: It is unquestionably, one of the most iconic openings to a film ever. The sun rises, and the unmistakable intro to The Circle of Life starts playing. The 1994 version of The Lion King remains to this day, one of the finest animated films ever made. Hence with Disney seemingly intent on remaking its entire animated back catalogue, Jon Favreau, after going into one Jungle with his live action reinterpretation of The Jungle Book, this time goes into the mighty jungle, where the lions sleep tonight.
After working wonders with Jungle Book, Favreau once again produces some visual magic with the recreation of these animals and the habitats in which they dwell. It all looks and feels as though the film was shot somewhere on the blessed plains of Africa. There’s not much deviation in terms of the story, as it sticks closely to its animated predecessor, as young Simba (JD McCrary) is being prepared by his father Mufasa (voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones) to rule the Pride Lands one day. However, in the shadows, the King’s dastardly brother Scar (Ejiofor) is secretly scheming, with his hyena chums, to depose Mufasa and seize the throne for himself.
Given that the animated film ran at just shy of 90 minutes, Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, have tweaked certain elements of the story to make it a couple of hours. There are some alterations to some of the dialogue, and some extra scenes have been added. However, it is by and large, the story you know and love. Much of the original’s music and songs have been recreated, but the results are decidedly mixed. Most regrettably though is the fact that there’s a serious dearth of emotion with the film’s more emotional, heart-breaking moments (if you have seen the original, you know the ones). It just goes to show that while something may well work in animation, it doesn’t always translate perfectly to “live action.”
Apart from James Earl Jones, no one else from the animated film reprise their roles, which does help the film stand on its own four paws, to a certain extent. The standouts of the new additions are Seth Rogen’s Pumba and Billy Eichner’s Timon who, as they did in the animated film, give the film an injection of much needed humour. Though they have strong support in that department from John Oliver’s Zazu, who gives his own snarky, hilarious interpretation of the little Hornbill. Donald Glover and Beyoncé give solid leading performances as Simba and Nala, but disappointingly, no one really outshines anyone from the animated film. Though Chiwetel Ejiofor comes close with his very intimidating interpretation of the villainous Scar.
The trouble with these films is that no matter what they do, they are always going to be compared with their animated counterparts. This can be a problem for this film when its animated counterpart is cinematic perfection. Yet, even if one has (somehow) never seen the 1994 flick, there’s still enjoyment to be had, even if it all feels a bit hollow. For those who were born in the 1990s and grew up loving the animated film, they probably won’t feel the love for this re-telling. In that case, Hakuna Matata, because the original animated film, is and always will be, a classic.