The Lion King

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Reviewed by: John-Anthony Disotto

The Lion King
"It quickly becomes clear that Favreau’s approach to bringing the same lifelike animal CGI from The Jungle Book to The Lion King lacks one prime element that made the former a success – emotion from a human lead." | Photo: ©2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lions can’t cry. That was the thought going round and round my head throughout the remake of Disney’s The Lion King. Lions can’t cry, they can’t frown, they can’t even smile. When you take a cartoon that’s strength comes from the emotion it instills in people and replace the emotion with lifeless, overly-realistic CGI animals then there’s bound to be a problem. Disney’s strategy of bringing nostalgia to life from the original cartoons we all hold so dearly has totally missed the mark here.

Directed by Jon Favreau, after a successful reimagining of Disney’s The Jungle Book in 2016, The Lion King is a near shot-for-shot replica of Roger Aller’s and Rob Minkoff’s 1994 classic. It quickly becomes clear that Favreau’s approach to bringing the same lifelike animal CGI from The Jungle Book to The Lion King lacks one prime element that made the former a success – emotion from a human lead.

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Simba has the same expression upon his face throughout, from singing “I just can’t wait to be king” to ten minutes later when he nestles up to his dead father’s body in a Wildebeest gorge. And that same lack of expression and emotion runs throughout, the film feels like a realistic representation of The Lion King without anything that made the original so great.

Even the voice acting is sub-par. It's star-studded – led by Donald Glover as Simba and Beyoncé as Nala – but something just doesn’t sit right. There's an almost robotic aspect to the voices overlaid on these hollow animal recreations. Some characters do stand out, Seth Rogan, as Pumbaa, and Billy Eichner, as Timon, are a particular highlight and display the only on-screen chemistry. James Earl Jones also reclaims the voice of Simba’s father Mufasa – a nice nostalgic touch.

The highlights of the 2019 remake of The Lion King are that the animation is outstanding and a showcase of how powerful computer technology has become. Favreau said in an interview before release that only two scenes in the whole film were not computer-generated, yet throughout it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the difference from a CGI antelope and David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. It’s a feat in itself, yet begs the question: Do we really want 1:1 replicas of animals or would the artistic choice of making these creatures less lifelike and a little more colourful not have made for a much better outing?

I grew up on The Lion King, it’s one of my favourite Disney cartoons. This version just feels empty from start to finish. It’s disappointing and an eye-opener for Disney that if they want to enhance these classic films then the integrity has to be kept intact. The Lion King takes everything that made so many of us feel so much when watching the cartoon and strips the life out of it. I know Lions can’t cry, nor can they frown, or even smile – but this film made me really wish that they could.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2019
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The Lion King packshot
Remake of the animated classic.

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jeff Nathanson, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Penny Johnson Jerald, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric André, Florence Kasumba, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Amy Sedaris, Chance Bennett

Year: 2019

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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