Everyone has their favorite decade of Disney films and for me, that was in the early ‘90s. To this day, The Little Mermaid (though technically released in ‘89) is still one of my all-time favorites with Ariel being my favorite princess. Around that time we also saw the release of Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994). It’s been over 20 years since those three films have been released and in 2019 we got a live-action adaptation of Aladdin (which you can read our review here) and the announcement that a live-action The Little Mermaid would be arriving in 2020. However, the remake that most fans were waiting on was that of THE LION KING and with each clip that Disney released the anticipation for the film only grew.
For those who need a refresher of THE LION KING synopsis: “Set in the African savanna, we come to learn that a new king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new club’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother – and former heir to the throne – has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.” (Walt Disney Pictures). 2019’s THE LION KING is directed by Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) and features voice acting from Donald Glover (Simba), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Billy Eichner (Timon), John Kani (Rafiki), John Oliver (Zazu), Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), Eric André (Azizi), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), JD McCrary (Young Simba), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala), with Beyoncé (Nala) and James Earl Jones (Mufasa).
It’s definitely been a few years since I last watched the animated version of this film, but what is important to know is that this adaptation is almost shot-for-shot the same in terms of plot. Viewers will still feel their heart break when Mufasa dies as well as redemption when Simba returns to Pride Rock. That said, the film essentially follows the same beats as the original. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but other than there being a new song, you are essentially seeing the same film. However, what really catapults this version into a whole new stratosphere are the visual effects, which lent themselves beautifully not only towards the entire film but the final battle at the end of the movie.
Speaking on the creative side of things, THE LION KING is a visual spectacle. What Jon Favreau was able to create with the use of CGI is nothing short of breathtaking. I’m not sure if the entire movie was all CGI or not, but whatever the case may be, the animals certainly looked real and the surrounding landscape was so realistic that it was as if we were truly watching a live-action film. However, my only critique with that was when the animals talked it kind of took me out of the film because of how life-like they were combined with the ridiculous notion that the animals could talk. Also, emotions weren’t conveyed as well on the animals through the use of the visual effects as they were in the original animated film. That said, I did find myself becoming very protective of Simba as he goes from a young cub to the King he’s meant to be. Even though I knew the outcome, there was also a real sense of danger when Simba encounters the hyenas as well as his tumultuous relationship with Scar.
Speaking of the characters, Favreau couldn’t have done a better job of picking the right actors for the job. Not only does this film give representation in the way that the animated film did not, but the pairing of certain characters was absolute perfection. For me, my favorites were Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen) who not only were able to play off of one another brilliantly but had me laughing so hard that I was almost in tears. Additionally, Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a perfect replacement for Jeremy Irons’ rendition, bringing fierceness and cunningness that was necessary in order for Scar to be portrayed as a dangerous predator. Donald Glover and Beyonce also played off of one another nicely, though I feel like Beyonce was a bit too extra in her performance which at times drowned out that of Donald Glover.
As for the music, all the main songs are there so don’t worry. As I mentioned earlier in this review, Beyonce has a new song, titled “Spirit” which fits in nicely with the overall tone of the film. I think fans of the original film will be hard-pressed not to sing along with the music especially when “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” come on. I definitely believe that Beyonce will be nominated for an Oscar for “Spirit” and if not, her and Glover most certainly will be for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. Again, I felt like Beyonce was the dominating factor in that song over Glover, but she is a powerhouse so I can’t really be mad about that.
In conclusion, I think Jon Favreau did a beautiful job in bringing this reimagination to life. Even though there’s not that much that is different from the original in terms of storyline and tone, the overall execution through the use of visual effects is stunning and an absolute work of art. For horror fans, there’s also enough unsettling imagery to hook your teeth in with not only the character of Scar but also the hyenas and the visual representation of the Elephant Graveyard. There’s a lot of heart in this movie and even though I’m not the biggest fan of 1994 film, I walked away from this one with an overall feeling of happiness while humming the tune to “Circle of Life”. In all, Favreau has created an astounding film that will easily be enjoyed by both fans of the animated version and a new generation of movie-goers so make sure to check it out when it’s released in theaters July 19, 2019.
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