(If this is your first time on this blog, I ask you to read my About page first! You can find a link to it at the top left-hand corner of this blog. Thanks!)
Yes, I know that this isn’t a live-action film at all (barring like one shot in the beginning of the film), but Disney is treating this like their live-action remakes and I know many of you would like to see how I rank it compared to the other live-action remakes. Hence, I am reviewing it on this blog!
When Disney hit gold with their 2016 live-action remake of The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, it only made sense for them to try to do it again with another animal-themed film. What better one than the film considered by many to be their magnum opus, The Lion King?
Before I dive into the review, I’d like to point out that it’s nigh impossible to watch this film without comparing it to the original! As the story is literally the same overall, I’ll try to point out the changes that were made in this remake. With that in mind, be prepared!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens with the scene-for-scene recreation of Circle of Life. The animals are now photorealistic and Pride Rock looks way smaller and less grand than it should.
But the vocal performances by Brown Lindiwe Mkhize and Lebo M. do the song justice! This gathering, like the original film, is where the lion king, Mufasa, voiced again by James Earl Jones, is showing off his newborn cub, Simba, voiced by JD McCrary, to his subjects.
Mufasa’s brother, Scar, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor, isn’t happy that someone has cut in line to the throne and doesn’t attend the ceremony. The Scar in this film, first off, suffers from the photorealism by looking like a real lion and making it harder to distinguish from Mufasa were it not for a literal scar on his eye. He also isn’t as dramatic and deliciously evil; rather his dialogue delivery is in more of a bored, nonchalant, “couldn’t-care-less” manner. That is, at least in the first half of the film.
One morning, Mufasa shows Simba his kingdom explaining how everything the light touches is their reign, excluding a shadowy place in the distance. This lesson is cut short when reports of hyenas in the pridelands force Mufasa to go investigate while his wife, Sarabi, voiced by Alfre Woodard, is already leading the other lionesses there.
While Simba plays by himself, he comes across his Uncle Scar who plants the idea in his head that the shadowy place, the elephant graveyard, is actually a cool place to check out. Simba rushes to convince his best friend, Nala, voiced by Shahadi Wright Joseph, to visit the graveyard with him. They have to lie to their mothers though, of course, as they wouldn’t allow them to go gallivanting off to the elephant graveyard.
They tell their mothers they’re going to the watering hole who allow them to go as long as Mufasa’s royal majordomo hornbill, Zazu, perfectly voiced by John Oliver, accompanies them. John Oliver brings a great stuffy English humor to the character similar to what Rowan Atkinson brought in the original. Simba and Nala try their best to “ditch the dodo” by singing I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.
Again, the vocal performances are wonderful, but the scene loses its grandeur due to the realism. Now, we can’t have scenes of the animals forming a huge pyramid in the climax. Rather we just have animals running across the watering hole which is really a letdown emotionally and visually.
After losing Zazu, Simba and Nala make it to the elephant graveyard where they come across a cackle of hyenas. Shenzi, voiced by Florence Kasumba, is not so much comic relief anymore, but is now a ruthless leader of the group. As they chase the cubs, Zazu finds them and quickly calls Mufasa to come to the rescue.
After the fight, Mufasa orders Zazu to take Nala home as he wants to have a talk with his son. He gives Simba the talk about the meaning of being brave, responsible, and not endangering others’ lives. They also talk about how stars are the dead kings of the past looking down upon them.
Scar visits the hyenas later that night and tells them about his plan to kill Mufasa. Rather than rousing them up with the epic villain song, Be Prepared, like in the original film, he kinda recites one stanza of it like a lyrical poem and that seems to do the trick.
Originally the filmmakers weren’t going to include the song, but backlash forced them to change their decision. And honestly, even though this is my favorite song in the original film, I realize that I would have been happy had it not appeared in the remake at all due to Scar’s really boring delivery of the lyrics. And again, the realism of the remake means there’s no boiling geysers of water, piles of bones, or goosestepping Third Reich-like hyenas!
The next day, Scar takes Simba to a dry gorge to practice his regal roar. Like the original film, Scar gets the hyenas to cause a stampede of wildebeest putting Simba in the midst of the danger. Scar hurries to call Mufasa to help. Mufasa rescues Simba, but falls to his death after being hit off the cliff by Scar. Simba watches in horror as he witnesses his father’s death from a cliff above.
Scar convinces Simba that he’s responsible for Mufasa’s death and that he must flee. Scar then sends the hyenas after him to kill him, but Simba escapes their grasp, a fact that Scar isn’t made privy to. Scar then takes over Pride Rock with the hyenas by his side sending the lionesses into a state of worry and distrust.
Meanwhile Simba passes out due to thirst in a dry desert area far away and is found by the meerkat and warthog buddies, Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, respectively. Both perform their vocal performances well, but nothing super amazing that I’ve seen critics praising them for.
They try to learn more about Simba’s past which he refuses to divulge. Seeing that he’s depressed, they introduce him to their “no worries” philosophy via the song, Hakuna Matata. When the song ends, Simba is now a full-grown lion, voiced by Donald Glover, and fully converted to the “no worries” movement.
Meanwhile, Scar and his hyena army have been overhunting causing a near famine to take over the pridelands. The lionesses choose not to leave in search of food as Pride Rock is their home. But adult Nala, voiced by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, isn’t happy with status quo and sneaks out one night to find food.
Simba, meanwhile is torn between living the “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle and following the teachings of his father. Like the original film, a tuft of his fur blows away until it reaches the tree of the royal shaman mandrill, Rafiki, voiced by John Kani. Rafiki is happy to know that Simba is alive and regains hope in the true lion king reclaiming his kingdom.
Meanwhile Nala comes across the land where Simba is residing. She almost kills Pumbaa for food, but is stopped by Simba and the two quickly recognize each other and reconnect.
This leads us to the love song, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, which is probably as good as it is in the original film. My only complaint would be with Beyoncé’s unorthodox style of singing the ballad, but I’m sure Beyoncé fans are gonna kill me in the comments section for saying that.
While Simba and Nala fall in/rekindle their love, they also get into an argument over why Simba hasn’t come home and instead chose to live a life free of responsibilities. Simba is eventually convinced to return home when Rafiki shows up reminding him that Mufasa lives with him. Also Mufasa’s voice projecting through the clouds to Simba below doesn’t hurt either.
As Simba runs back home, we get a new song which plays briefly, Spirit, which is sung by Beyoncé. I personally feel the song is incredibly forgettable and only in there to give Beyoncé a solo of her own.
Simba arrives back at Pride Rock to challenge Scar. Scar is shocked to see Simba alive, of course, but tricks everyone into believing that Simba killed Mufasa. This almost works before one of Scar’s lies unravels on its own revealing the truth that Scar killed Mufasa. A massive fight breaks out with Simba, Nala, Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki, and the lionesses fighting off Scar and the hyenas. In the end, Scar is eaten by the hyenas after he tries to put the blame on them for his evil doings.
As Simba starts his reign, rain comes back to Pride Rock as well as all the animal subjects. Nala becomes Simba’s queen and the film ends with them presenting (presumably) their daughter, Kiara, to their subjects.
And that was The Lion King! Like I said before, it’s almost impossible to not compare it with the original film! Regarding the animation, if we’re rating it in terms of realism, then it was amazing! Otherwise, the characters’ new realistic features cause their facial expressions to seem devoid of emotion or at least off at times.
The vocal performances, overall, were really good though, with the exception of Chiwetel Ejiofor whom I grew to accept in the second half of the film. The singing performances were also really great (again, with the exception of Chiwetel Ejiofor), but the picturizations of many of them felt lacking and less grand due to the intended realism.
Since the story is exactly the same as the original film, the added scenes seem unnecessary at times and just there to extend the film’s runtime. This includes the scene of the tuft of fur reaching Rafiki to a mouse scurrying across the ground to Nala escaping at night. Other additions include mentioning that Sarabi leads the lionesses as well as having other animals live with Timon and Pumbaa in their habitat.
All in all, I’ve seen the remake, so I can cross it off my list. If you’re looking to experience the The Lion King story, but don’t want to watch the original film, check out the Broadway show instead!
So, my final score for this film is 24/35 = 68.57% (D+) !
The next review will be posted on February 25, 2020.