Monday, July 29, 2019

The Lion King (2019)

Directed by Jon Favreau.
2019. Rated PG, 118 minutes.
Donald Glover
Beyonce Knowles-Carter
Chiwetel Ejiofor
James Earl Jones
Alfre Woodard
Billy Eichner
Seth Rogen
John Kani
John Oliver
JD McCrary
Shahadi Wright Joseph
Florence Kasumba
Keegan-Michael Key
Eric Andre

When writing a review of a remake of a great, and very popular film, comparisons of one to the other are nigh impossible. It's especially tough when the remake sticks as closely to its source material as 2019's "live action" version of The Lion King. It's nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the 1994 version. And that's where it's troubles begin.

The plot is exactly as you remember it, providing you're not one of the two or three people who hasn't seen the original. Young Simba (McCrary, Glover as an adult) is heir to the throne of the Pride Lands and is very close to his dad, Mufasa (Jones, reprising his role). Of course, nothing is ever easy with his sinister uncle Scar (Ejiofor) around, including dealing with Mufasa's untimely death. The telling of all this is completely faithful to the story we all know and love with nary a twist in sight. It almost totally fails to do its own thing. This is troubling because director Jon Favreau has already proven he can take a well-known Disney property and successfully put his own spin on it. He did just that with 2016's The Jungle Book. The difference seems to be that he and everyone else involved with this version of The Lion King were respectful of the original to a fault. They're so reverent of it, they just literally remade it. Enough scenes were stretched out that this movie is thirty minutes longer than the first movie. It's not that these scenes do anything different. They're just longer versions of their inspiration, resulting in some pacing issues. So it feels exactly the same, only longer.

That might be a tad unfair. There are some attempts by this movie to differentiate itself from the '94 film. Unfortunately, most of them don't work. One that does is removing much of the goofiness from the hyenas. Whereas the first movie leans hard on them for comic relief, this film does not. They do have that element to them, but they are much more menacing right from the beginning. In particular, lead hyena Shenzi (Kasumba) makes the group a much more formidable threat than they once were. She's much more leader of her pack than henchwoman to Scar.

Scar, on the other hand, is a bit of a problem. The change with Scar is that the things that make him a great villain are left out. In the 1994 version, Jeremy Irons gave us a wonderful oddball of a character who just so happens to be evil. The voice-work was impeccable, as was the way he was animated. His weirdness, along with an undying sense of grandeur and theatrics created a villain for the ages. Here, Scar is stripped of all but his evil. Chiwetel Ejiofor does what he can with the role, but the character is generic.

The rest of the cast is a hit-and-miss lot. It should probably go without saying that James Earl Jones is again great as Mufasa. Madge Sinclair proves to be just as regal in the role of his queen, Sarabi. JD McCrary is also a standout as Young Simba. The real heroes, however, are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively. They breathed the same energy into these characters, if not more, as they had in the first movie. Every moment Timon and Pumbaa were on the screen was a joy. Unfortunately, two major roles are among the misses. As the older Simba, Donald Glover sounds disinterested. I'm a big fan of his, but he doesn't seem to be a good fit for this role. Super-duper-uber-star/queen of the known world Beyonce plays Nala. Poorly. Nearly every line she speaks sounds like she's reading it for only the first or second time. She never pulled me into her character.

Visually is where the movie shines, to a point. Common sense tells you that everything you're looking at was created on a computer, yet while watching The Lion King you very rarely doubt that you're looking at real animals with the fate of the Pride Lands hanging in the balance. Even that has its drawbacks, though. One of the strong points of the original is how distinctive the animals are from one another. The techno-geniuses at work here tried to do that, but there is only so much you can do when you've handcuffed yourselves to the idea of photo-realism. When still, the differences between the characters are noticeable. Once they get to moving, especially when Mufasa, Scar, and later adult Simba engage one another, it gets a bit tough to tell who's who. All the lionesses are identical. The same goes for the hyenas. This idea of making the animals look as realistic as possible also robs these characters of much of their ability to emote, a major strength of its predecessor. They almost all have about half as much personality as their classically animated counterparts. Timon and Pumbaa are the exceptions, by the way.

In spite of all I've written here, this still isn't a terrible movie. The credit for that goes to the story. It is the same one we all know and love. This holds enough weight to keep us interested. The visuals help in this matter, also. A number of shots dazzle the eye and keep us looking for the next great sight. That's where it stops because the movie never tries to be anything different or better than a note for note reproduction of the original. Therefore, it has all the same parts as its predecessor and rolls along just fine. Unfortunately, it lacks the magic to make it fly.


  1. I really wish Disney would stop w/ these live-action remakes. It's a waste of time. They should focus on doing something new and original. Not go back to the past.

    1. I feel the same way, but we're getting a bunch more of these

  2. First Spider-Man: Far From Home, My 10th Wiggles concert and now this, What a month it's been.

  3. Agree 100% with your last paragraph. It's still The Lion King, so it has good bones, but the body is pretty anemic. Very disappointing.

  4. You wrote a great review of a film I have yet to see but I am not at all surprised. It looks like it is the same and so, what's the point of that. I love your reference to Byonce

    1. Yeah, this one did nothing to justify its existence aside from the photo realistic cgi.