The Lion King (2019)

Disney The Lion King 2019.jpgDirector: Jon Favreau
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Starring: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Penny Johnson Jerald

Even 25 years after its release, The Lion King remains one of the most popular animated films. Considering Disney's trend of giving their animated classics the remake treatment, it makes sense the Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff original would receive as such. With director Jon Favreau attached (who already did such great work with 2016's The Jungle Book), the stars were aligning for this to be a wonderful iteration. Alas, this reviewer was left feeling that he just can't wait for this soulless remake to be over with.

Young Simba (J.D McCrary, & Donald Glover) is destined to become ruler of Pride Rock, by inheriting the throne from his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones). But he faces opposition from his duplicitous Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who intends to take the title through his underhanded means. The result sees Simba in exile, where he must learn what it truly means to be king, and the responsibility which comes with it.

The biggest difference between this version, and the 1994 classic, is the visual style utilised. As a live action take on a lion-centric story is highly dangerous, photorealistic effects work have been used instead, and the result is highly impressive to witness. But through the attempts to make these animals seem realistic as possible, a number of issues arise as a result. This need for realism leaves the characters lacking in facial expressions, which leaves things feeling odd, especially in regards to Mufasa's blank reaction to his only child being in mortal danger. Sure, animals as such can't really emote as such, but then they can't speak the English language, let alone sing in it, so a bit of leeway wouldn't have hurt. It feels as though the story is reliant on these effects for it all to work, but haven't considered if these effects are best suited for this story.

When the film launches into the musical numbers, one wishes director Jon Favreau could have included more imagination, and artistic flair, within the proceedings. It's awkward when the animals try to sing, while there's little creativity to the choreography, making what should be some of the films most lively of moments come off as bog standard. In trying to make these moments work within a realistic context, they've just become a dull take of what worked so well in the animated form.

It's worth stating that the cast do great voice work, breathing life into their takes on these characters. Chiwetel Ejiofor is clearly relishing his villainous role as Scar, while James Earl Jones makes a welcome return as Mufasa. JD McCrary and Donald Glover are do great in capturing the inner turmoil of Simba throughout his years, while acting well opposite Shahadi Wright Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, the pair who capture Nala's determination and loyalty through the film. The standouts though are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, whose chemistry brings alive Timon and Pumbaa's long friendship, and bring a great joy to their scenes.

As the story was done so well the first time around, it's understandable that screenwriter Jeff Nathanson wouldn't want to stray too far from it. It's unfortunate that he sticks a bit too closely, as little is done to give this take its own identity, while some scenes come off essentially as shot for shot remakes. This just begs the question, why watch a lacklustre retread of what worked so well the first time around?

The Lion King boasts great effects, but there's little else to this uninspired retelling without its own identity. Hakuna Matata means no worries, but judging by the end result, it also means no creativity, fun, or originality (well, as much as you can get in a remake).