• Roni Cooper

The Lion King (2019)

Over the past ten years or so, we’ve had a slew of Disney live-action remakes, with the past five years picking up speed on the production of various animated classics. There’s been the good (2015’s Cinderella), the bad (2014’s Maleficent) and the downright ugly (2016’s Alice Through the Looking Glass), but they have arguably not tackled many of today’s fan favourites. 1994’s The Lion King is one such film, so it’s with great trepidation that the general audience venture out to see the brand new “live-action” remake.

Visually, the film is beautiful. The CGI animals are stunningly rendered, and, in a still moment, you barely register that they’re not real (this inevitable changes when their mouths open to speak). The cinematography of the landscape is also wonderful to look at, and, despite it not being there at all, every blade of grass and every tree trunk looks as real as what covers our world.

Unfortunately, this also comes with drawbacks. The photo-realism of the characters we’ve known and loved for the past 25 years may be impressive, but it does not leave room for expression; it is almost impossible to tell whether anyone is sad, angry or happy, with each shot of their magnificent faces exactly the same as the last. Drawn animation provides some freedom in this area, and, despite the fact that the cast is doing their best to convey any emotion, it doesn’t come across on their CGI faces, and provides a jarring experience for the audience.

It’s impressive cast just about prevents this from being total uncalley valley. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar is powerful, albeit a lot less camp than Jeremy Irons’ depiction back in the day, although fans of the original are more likely than not to be disappointed in villain musical number Be Prepared – once a fun, colourful sequence, it’s now grey and drab, and whilst Ejiofor can sing, the number is cut down drastically.

The standouts though are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan as Timon and Pumba respectively, bringing a much needed douse of humour to the initially quite slow proceedings. They have excellent chemistry and Eichner, in particular, contributes some genuinely funny moments when on-screen (so to speak). Rogan can’t sing for toffee, but Hakuna Matata remains one of the highlights of the film’s runtime.

Speaking of which, the film now runs at just under two hours, a full half-hour longer than the original version. It feels it too, with extra bits added here and there, without any real consequence to the story. There’s an extra song, by Beyoncé, which is instantly forgettable during a montage of Simba and Nala running back to Pride Rock, but nothing else notable during its extra thirty minutes, coming across as a waste of cinematic space.

Favreau is a good director, and has a great eye for visuals. Cynically, however, it feels as though Disney strong-armed him into an almost shot-for-shot remake, despite the fact that 2016’s The Jungle Book, also directed by Favreau, stripped the movie of most of the original songs, save a bar or two. By deciding to keep the original songs in this iteration not only makes it no different from the animated version, it’s tonally bizarre with the “live-action” aspect of the remake.

Neither compelling nor inventive, The Lion King is perhaps a step too far in Disney’s quest to remake their back catalogue. It isn’t bothersome to watch, but not terribly exciting, and if more live-action remakes are to be made, the studio might want to think about changing it up a little – we’ve seen this movie before.

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