This is, simply, not a “live-action” remake of The Lion King – and that’s its saving grace. The photorealistic visuals are spectacular as Disney continues to set the agenda for what is possible in animation. It’s unfortunate that original storytelling no longer seems a priority.
Director Jon Favreau honours this painstaking style and level of craft with extended, intricate animal sequences – such as the mouse trapped by Scar – that are amazing to watch, but slow the pace of a very familiar film.
James Earl Jones is back as the one true Mufasa, but everyone else is up against, essentially, a soundtrack to many childhoods. It proves how excellent the original screenplay was – for example, Pumbaa’s unexpected insight into the universe’s workings, and Timon’s immediate dismissal.
Speaking of, Eichner and Rogen are decent but lack the chemistry and rhythm of Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. Ejiofor’s a menacing Scar, less campy than Jeremy Irons – as ‘Be Prepared’ evocatively reflects – but that’s not why we came. There’s a juicier character in Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), fleshing out the hyena-Scar allegiance, but RIP to Banzai and Ed.
It’s enjoyable to revel in updated versions of the iconic music – it says something when a new Beyoncé song is merely incidental – but they don’t top the originals.
Other than some additional lines and a bit of riffing, this is a shot-by-shot remake. Which begs the question, what’s the point? Disney should take its own advice and leave its past behind – rather than sticking its behind in the past. Pumbaa is the font of all wisdom.
The 2019 version of The Lion King serves up extra appreciation for the 1994 original, which, as this one proves, cannot be surpassed. Much as Disney seems insistent that it does, this slew of remakes heralds no shining new era, tip-toeing nearer.
CAST: James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Keegan Michael-Key, Eric André, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
WRITERS: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Brenda Chapman (story); Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton (characters)
SYNOPSIS: After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.