June 19, 2020

“The Lion King” (2019) Review: Another Pointless Remake

The visuals really are impressive.
Disney has clearly gotten it into their heads that if they remake their classic films, even from within the past twenty years, with the added twist of ‘live-action,’ that people will watch them — and they’re right.

The Lion King is the perfect example of that — a nearly carbon-copy of the 1994 original, only in the 2019 version everything is photorealistic, from the animals’ expressions to the (mostly empty) African landscape.

There are a few problems with this — namely, the mouths of animals, notably lions, aren’t made for human speech, so at times they look clumsy and awkward while speaking. Then there’s the issue that, since the lions’ faces don’t betray much emotion, the actors have to match that with their voices — and that creates a tedious amount of unemotional performances from actors that usually are dazzlingly dynamic while on screen.

The Lion King follows Simba (played as a child by JD McCrary, and as an adult by Donald Glover), a lion cub who wants to be a king, just like his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones). However, if Simba’s uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has anything to say about it, Simba will never reach the throne that he so desperately craves.

It’s a tale as old as time, showcasing the classic hero vs. villain scenario, and unfortunately this remake does nothing to change the details of that story. While Disney’s last remake, Aladdin, altered the original’s script and introduces new elements to the plot, The Lion King fails to do that, simply hoping to impress people with its sheer visuals and star-studded cast.

In terms of the cast, the only cast remember returning from the 1994 film is James Earl Jones, who once again lends his impressive and commanding voice to the original king, Mufasa. Jones is no doubt the best in the movie, maybe because his voice is so iconic, but definitely because he is able to transcend the undemonstrative appearance of his character and once again create a character that is both interesting and riveting to watch. When Simba goes off on his own and grows up, you’ll almost wish that James Earl Jones had played him.

The appearances of the lions are sometimes confusing.
Don’t get me wrong; Donald Glover is a great actor (you can see some of his best performances in Atlanta, Community and Solo: A Star Wars Story). But for all of the sheer force of the many stars included in this movie (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, and Keegan Michael-Key, among many others), there’s no one except Jones that stands out and engages me. This is a stark contrast to the original film (the comparisons are, of course, inevitable), where every character was more engrossing and fun to watch as the last.

There isn’t anything notable, new or unique about this Lion King remake, although it’s visually stunning and may be worth watching purely for the immaculate photorealism. The voice actors and the songs aren’t anything special, although Hans Zimmer’s epic instrumental score proves to once again be one of the best parts of the film. It's style over substance with this remake, but that isn’t all bad — it just gets a little tiresome very early in the movie. [Grade: C]

Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rated: PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
Available: Disney+
Fun Fact: Benedict Cumberbatch was approached for, but turned down, the role of Scar.

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