Movie Review: The Lion King

What’s old is new, and what’s new is old. That phrase applies to the new (old) The Lion King movie. What makes this live-action remake of this iconic Disney animated film worth seeing? Nostalgia. Is the nostalgia worth the price of admission though? Keep on reading to find out.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT:

Unless you were trapped under a rock or are a newborn, you’ve heard of The Lion King. A young, snappy prince lion cub, Simba, flees his future kingdom after the death of his father. He learns the meaning of life and needs to avenge his evil uncle Scar. The rest includes some fine musical numbers, colorful characters and a handful of tears along the way.

Jon Favreau’s live-action Lion King follows exactly the same narrative with a few minor tweaks. Point being, if you enjoyed the narrative of the animated version, this one is nearly identical, just with the use of fancy CGI.

HOW DID THE ACTORS DO:

You don’t see any human actors on-screen, that would just be weird and not The Lion King then. There are no real animals on-screen either. It’s ALL CGI. The voices of the characters are provided by real actors. It’s an impressive list of talent that lend their voices to these beloved characters.

Donald Glover (adult Simba), Beyonce Knowles-Carter (adult Nala), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar) and the lone returning voice from the original, James Earl Jones (Mufasa). That’s just the start of the list, with many more additional talented performers attached to this film.

Credit: Kwaku Alston

James Earl Jones is Mufasa, so it’s great to see him back at it. The remainder of the cast is new to The Lion King cinematic world. Rogen nails the Pumbaa voice and lends him the proper charisma. Glover sounds like you’d imagine an adult Simba to sound, in addition to forming a strong singing duet with Beyonce, that certainly Disney couldn’t pass on.

The one actor that wasn’t paired with his character correctly was Ejiofor, as Scar. Ejiofor comes off sounding a bit too mellow and soft-spoken as Scar. For a character that’s notoriously evil and unforgiving, you need more intensity and passion that Ejiofor doesn’t appear to provide. I was disappointed in the voicing of Scar, just seemed off, otherwise the rest of the cast did a fine job.

SCRIPT AND STORY:

Since the script and story precisely follows the animated one, you know what you’re getting. I do wonder why Favreau didn’t deviate a bit and make it his own? They went the safe route though, not trying to rattle the die-hards. It would have been interesting to see the movie made with some smaller plot changes. This sort of creativity would have enhanced the intrigue, but understandably, they didn’t want to mess with an all-time great Disney movie.

As similar as it was to the animated version, this version was longer. It features a couple new musical numbers, courtesy of having Beyonce on-board. Some of the scenes were noticeable extended, along with a few new ones added. Basically, it’s like an extended cut of the original. They do feature more of Scar and the fallout after Mufasa’s death.

Another plot addition was to showcase Scar’s lust for Sarabi (Mufasa’s wife) and his desire to have her be by his side. I actually liked that they covered up some of those small plot holes that the original skipped-over. They made sense in the storyline and added more clarity to the motives of Scar.

There are a few other extended scenes that altered the events of the original, I felt they were a little more obvious than the animated version had them. If you see the movie, you’ll catch these, so I’m not going to spoil everything that’s added.

THE LOOK AND SOUND:

If they decided to stay faithful to the narrative, they certainly had to do the same for the musical score. The Lion King had one of the best soundtracks of any Disney or animated film ever. It’s a legitimate classic, one song after the next. They are all featured in this version, with the mentioned addition of the Beyonce song.

While the songs are the same, the performers aren’t. The live-action features an obviously more musically talented cast. Let’s be real, Glover and Beyonce are world-class, no offense to Matthew Broderick and Moira Kelly, but you just can’t compete against Childish Gambino and Beyonce.

Aside from the narrative decision of keeping it faithful to the original, the other big decision that impacted the movie was the depiction of the animals through the CGI. If you’re hoping for characters that resemble the actual animals they are portraying, then this film nails it. It’s no different than watching a Discovery Channel or National Geographic documentary. They are very life-like, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

The authenticity is there, but you’re relaying an animated film that has established a distinguished look for these characters. They don’t have to look like cartoon characters, but since they were playing with CGI, why not add some resemblance to the animated characters and provide a happy medium.

EllejartFacebookDesign By Feo h/t: boredpanda

The problem with making the characters resemble the actual species is that it’s harder to distinguish them from each other. This was true with the lions. I swear I couldn’t tell young Simba and young Nala apart from another. They virtually look identical, same fur color and very similar pattern. Scar looks like a slimmer Mufasa with a scar that’s barely visible.

Call me a homer for the animated one, but you are trying to remake a classic that was a massive success. They should have made the characters recognizable at first glance. The failure to do so, is a mistake.

WAS IT ENTERTAINING:

Sure, it’s The Lion King after all. By following the narrative and playing safe they guaranteed that it would be entertaining and comforting for the fans of the original. They assured themselves of maintaining the feeling of nostalgia by doing this.

This film is fun for the entire family. The characters are likable and cute. The dialogue is about 70% the same as the original, but they seemed to allow Rogen and Billy Eichner (Timon) to play around with their lines and add some new ones. The Lion King is known to make you shed some tears, so this one is no different when it comes to needing some tissues.

SHOULD YOU SEE IT:

The Lion King is an easy sell. You’ve seen this movie before, but you haven’t seen it like this. The visuals are the single most appealing aspect of this live-action version. The details are stunning. Everything from a splash of water to the vast breathtaking landscapes are visually striking. It’s a beautifully presented film. Top-notch cinematography and editing give it a modern essence on a 25-year-old story. Wow, just hit me that this movie was released 25 years ago, now that might be the most startling fact of them all.

Just as it was in my case, there might be some second guessing of the choices of using the original narrative and the CGI presentation of the animals. Ultimately, the pristine visuals, soundtrack and nostalgia are the major worthwhile selling points. It’s not perfect or superior to the animated version, but it’s one of the better Disney live-action films. The circle of life sure comes back around proving that 25 years later, a lot has changed in the world, but The Lion King still reigns supreme.

GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Drama

RATING: PG

RUNTIME: 1 hr 58 min

RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2019

‘THE LION KING’ Score: 76%

Written by Jim Alexander

Jim Alexander hails from Chicago where he started his journalism career as a film critic and founder of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle (CIFCC). He's a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. Jim founded Reel Talker as a platform to share his love of movies and entertainment. Jim's favorite part of being a journalist is getting to meet and interview actors, filmmakers and entertainers. Jim is a host and on-camera personality for AfterBuzz TV. Aside from his work with Reel Talker, he's the site owner of the Bachelor Universe website, where he recaps and talks about all this ABC's 'The Bachelor'. He also runs the Reel Talker Podcast that can be found on iTunes. In his free time he enjoys attending sports events and playing in recreational leagues. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

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