The Lion King Comes Full Circle
Chris Kavan - wrote on 10/24/19
Disney continues to hone their skill at re-releashing their animated catalog into live-action remakes with The Lion King being their most ambitious - and divisive release - to date. As stunning as this version of The Lion King looks - pushing the boundaries of what CGI can accomplish, I cannot but still fault it for losing out on some of the charm and wonder the original animated version holds.
The Lion King is not quite a shot-for-shot remake of the animated film - the hyenas are definitely more brutal, some things have been incorporated from the Broadway show and there are new extended scenes as well as dialogue changes. But there are still a lot of similarities and perhaps my biggest complaint with the film is I wish director Jon Favreau had taken a bigger chance with deviating from the original animated film. One thing I am glad he didn't deviate too far from is the music - both the songs and the score, which soar thanks to a talented cast and not changing the original presentation.
Speaking of the cast, there is some excellent choices here. My choice for the most praise has to go to Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, who just have a fantastic rapport as Pumba and Timon. They improvised quite a bit (some of which made it into the film) and they really do act like they've been friends for a long time. So what if Rogen doesn't have a Broadway-caliber singing voice. I also appreciated John Oliver as the proper Zazu - his brand of humor was perfectly suited for the role and when he began announcing the actual news, I couldn't help but get Weekend Update vibes - in a good way. Bringing back James Earl Jones as Mufasa was an excellent choices, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor as a darker version of the scheming Scar. Both Donald Glover and Beyoncé are fine as the older Simba and Nala - but they really shine on their duet in "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" - simply fantastic. The rest of the cast - from Keegan-Michael Key and Eric André as the main comic hyena relief, to JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph as young Simba and Nala, are likewise a boon to the film.
A lot of the main criticism the film received was that despite its near photo-realistic delivery, it lacked the emotional charm of the original. I have to say that some of that criticism is justified. You just can't get as good of expression out of these more realistic-looking characters than you could in animated form. There is only so much you can get from eyes and vocal delivery. Without the flexibility and range you get from traditional animation, you do lose something in the process. Still, one can't help but be awed with how far CGI has come from the days of Toy Story - I find it almost scary how close we are from veering away from uncanny valley to having a near-perfect recreation of true-to-life graphics.
The Lion King still delivers some emotional punches - whether is is that triumphant opening (featuring the only non-CGI shot of the entire film) or the equally triumphant ending - the film still carries a lot of emotional heft along the way. With so many of their traditional animated films getting the remake treatment, one wonder if Disney is going to start taking chances with something new or expanding on what they have. One thing is for certain - as long as audiences continue to support it, it's not going away anytime soon.