The new version of The Lion King delivers a spectacle unlike anything seen before. But does it roar as loudly as the original?
Walt Disney’s animated classics have endured for over 80 years, through theatrical re-release, the VHS boom, online streaming and all other advancements in home entertainment. The integrity of films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Bambi (1942) and Sleeping Beauty (1959), amongst many others, withstands the test of time and connects with each passing generation. Their stories are time capsules, and as social standards change, those films become mirrors of their era – for better or worse.
Rather than building upon that legacy with newer, progressively-minded originals, Disney has gone back to the well to adapt beloved titles into live action or updated features, essentially retrofitting their stories to represent the modern sociopolitical climate. The results have been mixed, and the standards between each remake have ricocheted from exquisite (Cinderella) to awful (Alice in Wonderland). With upcoming adaptations including The Little Mermaid, Mulan and Lady and the Tramp, it’s full steam ahead for Disney’s live action/CGI assault, and the latest attraction is the highly anticipated The Lion King.
The line between animation and live action has become increasingly blurred, and The Lion King cheekily masquerades as the latter. Boasting arguably the greatest computer-generated imagery ever committed to the screen it is, in all regards, still very much an animated film.
Director Jon Favreau has followed up his Jungle Book remake with Disney’s most audacious (and somewhat misguided) endeavour, conjuring photo-realistic characters against predominantly digital backdrops and delivering a spectacle unlike anything seen before.
Purists will be relieved to know the story is almost a shot-by-shot retelling, but the magic of the original masterpiece has been lost, along with the emotional frisson that audiences respond to at the mere mention of The Lion King. The vividly real creature menagerie simply fails to connect with the cartoon-like dialogue. And while the impressive voice cast – including Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, Seth Rogen as Pumba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar and James Earl Jones reprising his role of Mufasa – offer heartfelt performances more deserving of accolades than the mawkish execution allows, they don’t fit their animal counterparts.
The script adheres to the 1994 narrative, making slight adjustments along the way, and while a handful of new lines and gags are added, the screenplay treads with caution as though circumspect of any drastic changes provoking a negative reaction. The few new elements, which are most welcome, frivolously catch the audience off guard – Billy Eichner and Rogen’s Timon and Pumba enjoy a delightful reimagining, and an all-new song called The Spirit injects an inkling of new life into the proceedings.
The all-important music has been rearranged by original composers Hans Zimmer, Elton John and Tim Rice, with production from Pharrell Williams and Beyoncé, but aside from an additional song from the Broadway production, the soundtrack lacks the emotional punch the film requires.
The Lion King continues Disney’s ongoing push for live-action/CGI remakes of animated classics and rests somewhere between those that work and those that don’t. Moreover, it begs the question: why do we continue to pay hard-earned cash to see something we’ve seen before? In the case of The Lion King, the visceral experience alone is one that’s well worth the price of admission.
In cinemas: July 17, 2019
Starring: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Jon Favreau