Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones
Genre: An expensive Disney film
After the murder of his father of which he mistakenly feels responsible, a young Lion prince flees his kingdom. However, upon learning of what has become of his home, he must return, and in doing so learn the true meaning of responsibility and what it means to be a true king.
So, here we have yet another expensive Disney ‘live action’ remake, but this is more than that! I am sure I am not only one that has this view, but this is not just ‘another remake’, this is a remake of one of my favourite Disney classic of all time (to see my top click here) and one of the defining films of my childhood. For those exact reasons it could be argued that I should not even try to review this film, but it deserves to be analysed on its own merits.
There is of course no escaping the fact that this film exists entirely for the predominantly cynical reasons of being expected to make a lot of money, but then any film with any kind of substantial budget also exists for the same cynical reasons, so it would be unfair to label such a criticism solely at The Lion King. It also worth pointing out that this is not really a live action remake, as everything in the film is animated. Admittedly the particular animation used is cutting edge and has to be seen to be believed. So, if The Lion King exists solely as an exercise in proving what can be done with cinematic technology these days, then it certainly well and truly makes its point very well indeed.
The Lion King is undoubtedly a jaw dropping visual experience that should be seen on the biggest screen possible. However, beyond that it actually offers very little that is new, as it is essentially (apart from the occasional bit of extra comic dialogue) a shot-for-shot and line-for-line remake of the animated original that even uses the exactly the same music. This is a shame, as at least the other remakes have tried to do something different with certain elements of the narrative. For someone of my particular vintage, the original is such an iconic and generation-defining film that brings back so much evocative and emotional memories, so having such a love for the original means that essentially seeing the same scenes again is inevitably an emotionally engaging experience. When Hans Zimmer’s unforgettable score kicks in or certain characters deliver certain iconic lines, it is inevitable that the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. However, none of these are a compliment to this individual film, but solely to the memories I have of the original and the fact that this remake exploits them (with total cynicism I expect).
However, as it is so close to the original, it is almost impossible to avoid comparing the voice performances of both films, which is in some ways unfair to the cast of the new film. Chiwetel Ejiofor is undoubtedly a great actor, and his mournful vocal performance as Scar is pretty much perfect, but because the dialogue is the same as the original it is impossible not to compare it to Jeremy Irons’ wonderfully sinister vocal performance in the original. At least all involved applied common sense in the same way that Peter Cullen had to be the voice of Optimus Prime; no one can be Mufasa other then James Earl Jones! Every word of dialogue that his booming voice delivers sends shivers up the spine. Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner give memorable performances as Pumba and Timon respectively, John Oliver is fine as Zazu (but due to the dialogue is inevitably compared to Rowan Atkinson), while the rest of the cast are competent but forgettable (except Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, who is just plain terrible).
One of the film’s major flaws are its focus in realism. This may sound ridiculous as it is a film about taking animals, but because the physical animation of the characters tries to be as realistic as possible, it means that it is almost impossible to capture any actual emotional expressions that a slightly less realistic approach (such as in the original) can capture. So, though it may well be visually stunning and also emotional engaging (though solely because it evokes so many memories and emotions of the original), if I were to choose which one to watch at home, the original will always be my film of choice.
Though an obvious triumph for what visual technology can now produce and a film that deserves to be experienced on the big screen, The Lion King’s tendency to be an almost shot-for-shot and line-for-line remake of the original may help it to be engaging while being watched, but may also cause it to be soon forgotten.