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The Lion King – Movie Review

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The Lion King – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

The Lion King is often ranked as one of the best Disney animated features and for understandable reasons. Its grandiose Shakespearean tale, starring a cast of memorable animal characters and featuring timeless songs, has managed to resonate with an entire generation and it remains required family viewing. What directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff and hundreds of artists accomplished with The Lion King deserves to be commended. By remaking the film with photo-realistic computer animation, Jon Favreau has an incredible responsibility. Due to how revered the 1994 hand-drawn film is, he has stuck extremely close to the original story. As a result, we are left with an experiment and a fancy visual effects reel, rather than a new experience.

The main inspiration for this Lion King appears to be to show how far computer technology has progressed. It is an amazing sight, seeing the African savannahs and jungles recreated via pixels. The entire film looks like it has been shot on location and it’s easy to admire the scenery. The animals populating the plains are similarly impressive, even when they begin talking. The change in medium and intent means the characters are not nearly as expressive as the hand-drawn lions created by Disney’s animators, but the incredible effort from the new crew is nonetheless admirable. However, it is in the technology, rather than the story that Favreau chooses to experiment.

Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson follow the story template of the original, with only a few tweaks here and there. Favreau even recreates the exact shots that have been burned into most millennials’ brains for the past twenty-five years and several lines of dialogue are also rerecorded. On the one hand, because we’re getting the same story, characters and songs, those elements are still good. However, this also makes it difficult not to compare the two. It also leads to the question of why make this film in the first place. Why not take the concept of The Lion King and do something new with it? Julie Taymor did that to tremendous effect in the Broadway musical, by expanding the story, adding a whole batch of new songs and creatively adapting the animals to a new medium. This film remake is not nearly as creative and willing to take chances.

Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs are still as delightful as ever and it’s neat to hear talented singers like Donald Glover and Beyonce Knowles perform them. However, something feels a little missing in the presentation. In the original film, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” was a vibrant splash of colour. In this new film, Simba and Nala merely run through realistic wildlife and it’s not nearly as fun. The best moments in the remake do come from Timon and Pumbaa. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are allowed to bring their own takes to the scene-stealing sidekicks, with Eichner producing plenty of laughs as the meerkat.

Jon Favreau’s The Lion King is a noble experiment and its visuals will be studied and dissected by computer animators for years to come, as technology is better able to capture realistic environments and animals. However, the film lives in the shadow of its beloved source and feels more like a copy rather than its own unique experience. Hearing the songs and James Earl Jones voice Mufasa again does bring a small sense of nostalgia, but The Lion King can’t escape the feeling of watching a reskinned product. This feels more like a stepping stone for hopefully seeing this tech applied to a story we haven’t seen on screen before.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison