A review of The Lion King by Ahmed Zayani
When it comes to Disney’s live-action remakes of their classic animated films, people usually fall into one of two camps – those that adore them and those that abhor them. For the fans of the new takes on the House of Mouse’s classics, this is a way of presenting something that is beloved in a whole new medium that opens the source material to a wider audience. For the critics and naysayers, this represents all that is wrong with Hollywood today; the lack of originality and people who are willing to take the risk on something fresh rather than recycle someone else’s work. After all, when Walt considered it the right time, he rereleased his classics to the theatres, giving those movies a new audience to fall in love with. If the man behind the magic saw no reason to reinvent the wheel, why should the others? Personally, I am not a fan of the concept, but I do believe that with the right direction and presentation, we could always have a novel alternative to something we all loved as children.
Directed by Jon Favreau (who also helmed the most recent iteration of The Jungle Book), The Lion King is the latest ‘live-action’ (I use the term very loosely here) adaptation of a Disney classic to receive the big-screen treatment. It tells the story of Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and Donald Glover) the would-be King of the Pride Land, who escapes his home after the untimely death of his father Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones, the only cast member to return from the original). After years of self-imposed isolation, Simba must come to terms with the sins of the past and challenge his nefarious uncle Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) for the throne. Let me start my critique by saying this – Favreau’s The Lion King is a revelation in terms of visual effects. If any of you thought Toy Story 4 had some photo-realistic elements, then you will be blown away by what Disney was able to achieve with this movie. Honestly, it is not an exaggeration to say that this is the next major jump in visual effects and CGI, and in this one sense, this new version of The Lion King was a home run.
That is the extent of what I loved about the movie because nothing else landed for me. One of the things that I enjoyed about Favreau’s Jungle Book was how it took liberties with the source material and played with it to make it its own beast, and yet, this movie took no such liberties and was an almost shot for shot remake of the 1994 original. I’m not saying that they should have deviated from the source material, but a couple of changes here and there would’ve breathed new life into the project. Speaking of lifeless entities, was it just me or were the voice actors flat and uninspiring? While some of them, like James Earl Jones and Seth Rogen, fared better than the others, the overall performances were uninspiring. The worst offender, in my opinion, was Chiwetel Ejiofor, who’s interpretation os Scar was downright abysmal. I know that Jeremy Iron casts a very long shadow, but it seemed like no effort was put into this performance, or his rendition of Be Prepared, which used to be a personal highlight, for me. The original is beyond tone-deaf, here. The sad thing is that many of the cast are wickedly talented actors. It is unfortunate that they weren’t able to cast the appropriate light on that. Additionally, as many have stated before, the fact that this movie presented us with hyper-realistic animals meant that they wouldn’t be able to emote in a manner similar to their animated counterpart, and hence the full emotional impact of the scenes was taken away. It also comes off as jarring, with the voice work showcasing a certain emotion which is not reflected visually. This is a textbook example of something that would work wonderfully in one medium but crash and burn in another.
That being said, I’ve spoken to many people who have watched the new Lion King film, and were, for one reason or another, absolutely enamored by it. I would still recommend that you give it a shot, the visual effects alone are worth the price of admission, but personally, if I ever get the hankering to revisit Pride Rock, I’ll simply look for the 1994 original.
Verdict – 4/10
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The Five: Favorite Live-Action Remakes
- Alita: Battle Angel
- The Jungle Book
- Josie & the Pussycats
- Beauty & the Beast