Directed By Jon Favreau
Starring – Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen
The Plot – The movie journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba (Glover) idolizes his father, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
– Jon Favreau. Once again, Favreau instills a personal touch to a Disney classic, this time in the form of intense camera movements and character personality that give way to the more light-hearted, carefree atmosphere this time around. On the former, there are quite a few sequences where we the audience behind the camera are constantly in front of a particular character, engaged in a chase sequence that maximizes the urgency of the situation, and cements Jon as articulate in his captivation of this very dangerous world in ways the animated original simply never could. As for the humor, not everything lands (Especially unnecessary fart humor), but the abundance of comedic characters, as well as colorful ironies, gives way to an indulgence that makes it difficult for any cinematic snob not to embrace.
– Pacing. This Lion King remake is twenty-six minutes longer than the previous animated classic, and while that may feel like unnecessary padding in the form of storytelling, the few additionally original scenes that we are treated to better help earn the feelings and situations that come with Simba’s tale of vengeance. One of my few problems with the animated original is that it felt like it was constantly in a rush to get to the inevitable predictability of the third act conclusion, but here the sorrow of those damned to Scar’s reign of terror, as well as Simba’s time away from home, better capture the dread of this dire situation. This time, we are actually treated to examples of Scar’s authority in the form of specie extinction, and not only does this further flesh him out as an intolerable antagonist, but it also gives much needed attention to the victims of this story, who were otherwise forgotten in the previous film.
– Female empowerment. Speaking of characters forgotten, the lack of female influence was also something that greatly bothered me from the original film, but here is given great importance to everything that transpires. Particularly in the form of Nala and Sarabi, they play a much more pivotal role in the combat of Scar, with the former being a motivator of sorts to this army of misfits who come together as a family. I knew someone like Beyonce certainly wouldn’t be relegated to virtual arm candy to the male protagonist, and this much needed level of gender inclusion will undoubtedly inspire female audiences, young and old, in ways that very few 20th century Disney films captured. Say what you will about Disney live action remakes, but their finger of creativity is constantly on the pulse of modern day social commentary, and the way it’s done is accomplished in a classy way that doesn’t feel preachy in the slightest.
– Endearing cast. While the limitations of script condemn any of these exceptionally talented actors from making any of these roles their own, there are a few notable deliveries who I greatly enjoyed. The ones who come to mind immediately is the duo of Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as the lovable duo, Timon and Pumba. To anyone who knows these two colorful personalities, the transformations of their on-screen counterparts isn’t a stretch in the slightest, balancing vibrancy in comical range and elevated vocal capacities that really bring their character designs to life in a much-needed shot of adrenaline for the film’s second act. Also buzzworthy is John Oliver’s sarcastic wit behind Zazu that further outlines a serious character living in a care-free world. Considering in real life Oliver hosts a weekly news show, it’s perfect that he serves as the branch of airborne news for the film’s protagonists, and just as he does on TV, Oliver’s wordy dialogue constantly puts him a step above the game in terms of intelligence. It was also great to hear James Earl Jones vocalizing Mufasa again, as even at 88-years-old, the man still commands enough bravado and stern emphasis in demeanor to demand your attention like he does Simba in the movie.
– Transformations in set design. The one aspect that is live action is the dreamy backdrops of the African safari that are practically lifted from the pages of ambitious animation, and brought to life with an attention for detail that constantly impresses. The rock cliff is the easy part, as the familiarity of those stones would point to a huge tragedy in production if not captured authentically, but what amazed me were the shapes and designs of the small objects in frame that prove no spare detail was left on the creative room floor. For my money, the scenes of Rafiki’s cave, as well as Timon and Pumba’s home really impressed me, and served as a virtual checklist in creature and object extras that only further cemented the lasting power of the scene in the animated original. When a production is really good in a remake, you can point to a familiar object and know what is about to transpire, and the eye-catching three-dimensional quality to the lively sets and background props serve as episodic chapters in this modern day rendering of Hamlet stripped down to its bare bones.
– Gutsy. I was more than impressed at the perilous imagery in animal characters that brought back an air of 80’s child cinema that challenged for its gruesome content. That’s not to say that “The Lion King” will blow your mind with violence or gore, but rather if you absolutely dread seeing animals in these kind of situations, the movie will test you in ways that you weren’t expecting, especially from PG-rated cinema. But that ratings jump from G-to-PG has never felt bigger, especially considering the ambush of Mufasa’s downfall, or the camera panning of Scar’s demise, which for better feels a few seconds to late from the mauling that we catch before it pans to shadows. I admire a children’s movie that appreciates the age divide in its audience and finds a healthy compromise somewhere in between for the beats of its material that is easily more testing than any other kids movie in 2019, giving respect to the youth, while rewarding the mature for its evolution in the two films.
– Weightless. I say this in the form of computer generated characters that leave this live-action rendering virtually pointless, considering they are basically refined cartoons in the way they are designed. What’s even worse is the C.G is definitely a step below Favreau’s previous work in “The Jungle Book” live action remake, with hollow mouthing captures and overall lack of facial expressions that hinder your ability to connect with the characters. Both of these aspects make the dialogue exchanges feel hokey and lifeless in their enveloping, and quite often brought me out of my investment into this supposed live action story, to remind me of the glaring negatives in post production never immersed themselves smoothly in the progression of the film. I don’t expect actual animals performing in the movie, but it points to perhaps the biggest reason why this animated classic should’ve remained just that, serving as the beacon in a fantastical animated world where anything feels possible.
– Uninspiring. Just as I feared, the film is roughly a 90% shot-for-shot remake of the previous film, and while familiarity is expected in a remake, the level attained by this film is borderline shameless. Not only is the outline of events in the film transferred in the exact same way that it was in the previous movie, but whole lines of dialogue are ripped in a way that prove absolutely no creativity went into making their version stand out with even a shred of originality. While not a bad or even terrible film, “The Lion King” is easily the biggest offender to people like me who ask for something of substance or varied complexity to combat feelings of an obvious cash grab. Even if you haven’t seen this remake, you really have already seen this movie, and before giving Disney one more dollar of the life savings that you have already invested in their company, maybe go back and just watch the 1995 animated original. Key word there is “ORIGINAL”, an aspect this movie never will be.
– It continues. Once again, original screenwriters on the original Lion King movie aren’t credited in the credits of this film, despite writing roughly 90% of the remake’s material. I also pointed this out in the “Aladdin” remake earlier this year, to which a reader so candidly told me I was wrong. Upon a re-watch of the opening and closing credit sequences, I can confidently say that the names of those writers are NOWHERE to be found in that film, as is the case with this picture. As I’ve said before, If you aren’t going to credit screenwriters who are so obviously being ripped off, it is called plagiarism, and while this isn’t a problem to the casual moviegoer, it is the single most offensive thing to a film that is trying to market itself as a new feature length film that you should pump your hard earned dollars into. Only Disney gets away with this crap, and it’s mostly because that mouse touched audiences somewhere vulnerable when they were children. Cute.
– Musical performances. While the singing itself is strong enough in the movie, it was really the lack of fantastical pageantry within the visuals that left me yearning for more. I hate to keep going back to this, but the original animated film presented these in a way that is big and boisterous, catering to the big budget choreography musical nut in all of us. The problem here is that the movie’s grounded approach to realism limits the appeal of what it can capture with the magical essence of the song, leaving a dreaded damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t juxtaposition that will hurt one side of the audience regardless. The truth is, if they wanted a photo-realist story, the music should’ve been left out as a whole, but then you risk alienating the older audiences who grew up with classics like “Just Can’t Wait To Be King” or “Be Prepared”, and look forward to actual musical artists like Glover or Beyonce actually perform them. Speaking of “Be Prepared”, this film destroyed the psychology and momentum of Scar for the way they illustrate and include it into this one. It’s almost an after-note by the time you realize it’s happening before our very eyes.
My Grade: 6/10 or C