The original Lion King is one of my favourite films. It’s a beautifully realized, well written animated title, one packed full of charm and heart with a powerful message at its core. With Disney’s constantly revolving roulette wheel of remakes in full swing, it was only a matter of time before this film received the updated formula in Disney’s mission to remake every classic film. Updating the animated masterpiece with photo-realistic CGI accompanied by a story that matches the original beat for beat, The Lion King feels like a pale imitation of the classic, a shadow of the film it once was and one that’s forgotten what made the original so memorable.
For those unaware, the story sees a young lion Prince called Simba run away from his homeland after the brutal death of his Father, only to return stronger years later to avenge his family, fight for his throne and learn valuable lessons along the way. For the most part, The Lion King unashamedly matches the story of the original, almost scene for scene. However, there are some notable changes but if I’m honest, these actually take away from the story rather than enhance them,with the exception of a more menacing hyena threat.
One particular example of these changes include Rafiki’s stick lesson which has been completely removed from the story, missing the point of Simba’s life lesson completely and seeing his character do a 180 after seeing his Father in the sky. Simba and Nala’s love song, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” is sung in the hot, sticky afternoon sunlight whilst we receive an entire rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” but a reduced, reworked version of “Be Prepared”. Unlike Aladdin which did go some way to add some flair and visual hedonism to proceedings, The Lion King’s songs feel like pale imitations; karaoke reworks of classics that, whilst good, don’t match up to the originals.
Visually, The Lion King looks fantastic. The fur for the animals is realistic, the different species are beautifully realized and it really feels like a living, breathing African Savannah through a lot of the film. The character models are also amazingly rendered but in a bid to adopt photo-realism, the film loses the charisma and charm each character had in abundance. The desaturated colour palette doesn’t help either, taking cues from The Walking Dead to turn everything into a murky, colourless world that lacks personality. The lions look completely expressionless most of the time and Scar lacks the iconic menace to help him stand out next to the other lions too. This is before even mentioning Zazu’s design or how tweaking the saturation of the film may have actually made things look more visually appealing.
While the actors were never going to achieve the same lofty heights the original garnered, some of the script changes and dialogue omissions feel really odd and lack the bounce and charm the original had. Scar doesn’t have the same cunning, raspy tone, Zazu is completely miscast next to the iconic Rowan Atkinson and James Earl Jone’s return as Mufasa only further highlights the differences between the classic and remake voice casting.
Having said all that, Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner absolutely steal the show. Their performance as Timon and Pumbaa is fantastic and their ad-libbed dialogue has a real ebb and flow to proceedings, managing to modernize the humour whilst keeping the tight-knit friendship they have intact throughout the film. Some of their jokes, especially one in particular which refers to the Hakuna Matata song, are amusing jabs toward the original and work really well to keep things lighthearted.
I have no doubt that The Lion King will break box office records this year. It’s an iconic piece of film history and fans of the original will undoubtedly flock in their millions to see their favourite characters brought back to life. Unfortunately this remake feels like a cash-grab and whilst I absolutely applaud all those who worked hard on this film, particularly the visual effects team, the film lacks the heart that made the original so memorable.
The Lion King’s original beautiful story is changed and watered down like squash with too much water and not enough flavour. It lacks heart, charm and charisma making it one of the worst remakes Disney have put out. Next to the beloved original, The Lion King fails to hit those same nostalgic sweet spots, despite its best efforts late on, but the shot for shot scenes and returning score feel designed to hit that point so people will look past the inadequacies.
There are some films you don’t touch and The Lion King is certainly one of them. Despite it’s best efforts, the 2019 Lion King remake falls hard and fast into the merciless stampeding wildebeest.