The Lion King is the new Disney remake of the 1994 original directed by Jon Favreau. It has a stacked cast with Donald Glover, Beyonce, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogan, John Oliver and more. Before we get to the review I should mention that I don’t have a problem with any remake as long as they make changes and put their own spin on it. That’s why Cinderella, Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon are my favourite ones while Beauty and the Beast (2017) is very forgettable and boring. I had hope for this one because I love Favreau and the original Lion King is one of the best animated films of all time. That’s why it was on my most anticipated list.
One of the few genuinely great aspects of this movie was the VFX work. Favreau said that one shot was actually real at the premiere and I had no idea which one it was. Because of how real The Lion King looks, this will go down in history as one of the greatest technical achievements.
However, the realism meant that this version lost the emotion and energy of the original. In the animated movie, the human expressions on the animals helped me connect with the characters. But this one doesn’t have the animals emoting at all. That along with the mostly mediocre voice acting meant that I felt distant and removed from the story. That should not happen with The Lion King. None of the emotional beats impacted me in the way I expected it to. A better approach to this story would have been conveying the emotions in the same way as Mowgli from last year. Admittedly, that movie had some questionable visual effects but at least the characters had personality. All the personality these characters should have is gone here.
Furthermore, a lot of the acting felt phoned in. I love Chiwetel Ejiofor but his take on Scar didn’t work. Like I said before, I want these remakes to make changes. But like Jafar in Aladdin (2019), this took away all aspects of the character that worked and made him bland and boring. Whenever Scar was on screen here I didn’t care. There is one extended new scene in Pride Rock during Scar’s rule that really drags. Don’t hate me but Donald Glover and Beyonce were fine. I don’t really know how talented of an actress Beyonce is but it definitely did feel like Donald Glover didn’t really try.
Thankfully the kid actors actually felt like they were trying and were not that bad. The best voice actors were definitely John Oliver, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan. They put their own spin on the characters and were genuinely hilarious every time they were on screen. The movie definitely did pick up once Timon and Pumbaa popped up.
Arguably the best part of the original is the music and how much energy those sequences have. Yet again, the photorealistic approach made the musical sequences feel so incredibly bland. Apart from ‘The Circle of Life’,(which was still a perfect sequence and the best part about this remake) all of these numbers were poorly choreographed. Obviously I don’t expect the remake to be as over the top as energetic as the animated one but I wanted more than animals just walking around and aimlessly jumping. ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’ should have been so much fun to see in IMAX and not be boring. The less said about the phoned in ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and ‘Be Prepared’ the better.
The score is very similar to the original so if you loved that as much as I did you’ll love this one as well. There was one moment where they changed the score to Beyonce’s new song ‘Spirit’. It is a fantastic song but felt crammed in when it could’ve been a great song for the credits.
Another issue I had with the story is how they cut out pivotal scenes for Simba’s arc. Without spoiling what was changed, there is one moment that was removed and nothing was added in its place. That meant that his arc didn’t feel fully earned in this one.
Overall, The Lion King is a visual effects achievement but is disappointing as it lacks the personality of the original. I would suggest watching it in theaters to fully appreciate the visual effects. There’s no point waiting for the digital release because you could just watch the original instead.