Another month, another Disney remake. After audiences and critics alike were underwhelmed by Tim Burton’s bizarre take on Dumbo, tensions were high with the releases of Aladdin and The Lion King. Thankfully, the former was a colourful, spirited adventure that updated the 1992 classic for the modern-age.
It also has grossed nearly $1billion to-date, but that’s by-the-by – what am I saying, of course it’s not. Money speaks volumes. Nevertheless, The Lion King is perhaps the biggest risk Disney has ever made. It’s arguably the most-loved animation in the studio’s back-catalogue. Think of Aladdin and Dumbo as a litmus test and you wouldn’t be far wrong.
Thankfully, Disney were well aware of this and assembled a strike force of film-makers and actors to ensure this adaptation is as good as it possibly can be. Bringing in The Jungle Book director Jon Favreau was a good idea and his reimagining of that classic performed very well with both critics and audiences. But has he buckled under the pressure? Or is The Lion King a treat for the senses?
Simba idolises his father, King Mufasa (James Earl-Jones), and takes to heart his own royal destiny on the plains of Africa. 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 soon ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. Now, with help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba must figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
First thing’s first. If you are expecting this to be vastly different to the 1994 version you are going to be very disappointed. From opening scene to closing credits, this is a near shot-for-shot remake beautifully rendered in photo-realistic animation. Despite being billed as a live-action adaptation, there is no live-action in the entire film and everything you see on screen has been created within a computer.
Over the course of the film’s running time, my overwhelming thoughts were what an unenviable task it was for the animators at Disney to create something so astounding to behold. This is an absolutely exquisite film to look at with every frame seeping in detail. The depth of colour and vastness of the landscapes makes it very difficult to believe this is anything other than 100% real.
Like Avatar, Jurassic Park and Star Wars before it, The Lion King is now the pinnacle of special effects and will no doubt change the industry forever. From the way the fur moves on the animals to light bouncing off rippling water, you feel so immersed in this world that you feel like David Attenborough is going to start narrating at any minute.
Instead of David Attenborough of course we have a very talented voice cast that includes old favourites and new blood. James Earl-Jones is a welcome return as Mufasa and despite his softer tone nowadays (something seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), he still commands the screen as King. Donald Glover and Beyonce are both wonderful as adult Simba and Nala, with their rendition of Can You Feel the Love Tonight evoking some wonderful memories.
Those emotional moments may not hit as hard as they used to, but this is a treat for the eyes and the ears
Despite my reservations, Chiwetel Ejiofor makes a fabulous Scar. Where Jeremy Irons played the villainous lion as an intelligent menace, and beautifully so, Ejiofor’s Scar is played as an unhinged madman. It’s an intriguing change that works exceptionally well and makes this iteration even more sinister than his predecessor. His performance of Be Prepared is genuinely creepy. Then we come to the stars of the show, Timon and Pumbaa. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen clearly had a blast recording their lines and it shows. They make so much of their screen time that the film occasionally suffers when they’re not in it.
My main criticism however is the lack of connection we intermittently feel towards these new character iterations. Gorgeously animated they may be, but it’s much more difficult to make a photo-realistic lion’s mouth move in the same way as a hand-drawn one without making it look ridiculous and this is where the film stumbles. The stampede scene still packs a punch but not that emotional sucker punch to the gut that we all felt in 1994, and that’s a real shame.
Thankfully, Hans Zimmer’s score is more successful. A soaring tribute to majesty with tasteful nods to its predecessor, the booming percussion is beautifully overlaid with moments of pure orchestral bliss.
Criticising this update of The Lion King because of its similarities to the 1994 original is doing a real disservice to the time, money and effort that has gone into getting this behemoth of a film to the big-screen. Jon Favreau delivered a unique take on The Jungle Book and while the result is slightly less successful here, The Lion King is a technical marvel that shows what incredible special effects look like today.
Those emotional moments may not hit as hard as they used to, but this is a treat for the eyes and the ears and another satisfying, if cautious, win for Disney’s ‘live-action’ remakes.