Did We Need Another Lion King? My Review of Disney’s 2019 The Lion King
In 1994, the instant classic animated feature The Lion King was released. Right away, the film became a cultural juggernaut. It’s powerful and catchy music and score, paired with some of the most breathtaking animation seen for the time, attracted adults and children alike, with many considering it to be the touchstone of Disney animation. Since its release, its legacy has expanded to include two direct-to-video sequels, a classic video game, an enduring presence at Disney Parks (particularly Animal Kingdom), and a highly successful and innovative Broadway musical. Now, in 2019, 25 years after its original release, the story and music are reborn as the latest classic film to receive a “live action” remake. Packed with star-quality voice talents and featuring groundbreaking visual effects, this new interpretation of The Lion King faces the daunting task of having to live up enduring success of its predecessor.
I know when many people go to watch a live action remake, they approach it with the angle of expecting it to have been made to “be better” than the animated one. Why else would they make it? However, having grown up during the “Disney Renaissance“, in my mind movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King were already perfect. For me personally, I feel like the best way to approach this is, rather than expecting a new movie to be better, I think about how do these films contribute to the fandom of the originals.
The Talent in The Lion King
Before seeing the movie, I already felt like the cast behind the 2019 The Lion King was perfect. As each casting announcement was made, I thought “yes, I can totally picture this!” After seeing the film, the voice talent exceeded my expectations. Particularly Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, who both had the spirit of the original characters, with a similar cadence to the original voice talent while still feeling fresh and new. Their improvisation with one another added a lot of humor, and I think many of their jokes and banter will make fans of the original laughing hysterically! I loved that John Oliver added some more humor to the character of Zazu, while still feeling like the anxious hornbill we already know and love. JD McCrary (young Simba) and Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala) fit the bill perfectly, making “Just Can’t Wait to Be King” quite the bop! Donald Glover as Simba and Beyonce as Nala added so much depth to their song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Overall, Glover nailed the role of Simba, having the perfect balance of humor, bravery, and at times insecurity that Simba experiences.
John Kani plays Rafiki, and while he definitely has a voice that fits the character and has the wisdom of Rafiki, I feel some more of the playful elements of the character we saw in the original (like his iconic laugh) were missing. The changes to the character made Rafiki stand out a little less to me in this version, but the new character seemed to still fit the overall tone of the new film. Chiwetel Ejiofor played Scar wonderfully, making me feel chills anytime he had a scene. Ejiofor’s performance felt like a Shakespearean villain, fitting considering his theater background; rather than being the somewhat sardonic, melodramatic villain from the animated film, Ejiofor’s Scar is completely sinister and deadly, a stark contrast to his majestic and noble brother Mufasa (voiced once again by James Earl Jones). Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, and Florence Kasumba play the hyenas. Their performances were spot on, and while all having very different takes on these villains, they all worked together perfectly as an ensemble. I just wish there had been more moments with them, since I did enjoy the moments they were on screen.
Did We Need Another Lion King?
Back to the question that everyone has been asking. People wonder if it doesn’t exceed the original, did we need to make it? Or, is it different enough in story that it needed to have been made? Well, here is my take on if we needed another Lion King: First off, the film is visually stunning. I have never seen such realistic CGI, and thought the filmmakers did a beautiful job of making realistic animals talking, singing, and making jokes without it feeling odd. They were given an impossible task technology wise, and they made it work. The scenery was beautiful, particularly Timon and Pumbaa’s home. The film was probably the closest to the original compared to the other live action remakes, but with some slight changes made to make the story work with more photorealistic characters. The first example being during “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” which is still fun and exciting but made to be a little more realistic. While the film’s sequences were almost exact to the first, I wasn’t bothered by it, and actually enjoyed that aspect. With how unique and iconic The Lion King is, I really wouldn’t want the story to change much. I still enjoyed seeing this new version, since the photo realism made me feel as though I was watching one of my favorite Disney movies, but in real life. Before each song, I was so excited to see how it would be interpreted in this style.
Secondly, the soundtrack was amazing. I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since seeing the film. I loved the addition of the song “Spirit” sung by Beyonce in the film. I felt it added a lot of emotion to the part of the film it’s in. The only song that fell short was “Be Prepared,” which did make me miss the original version, but overall the revised version made more sense for the changes in the Scar/hyena storyline. The improv Rogen and Eichner added to Hakuna Matata and the extended version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was a Disney fan’s dream. So to answer the question many people have asked, “Did we need another Lion King?” The answer is no, we don’t need another one, as I mentioned the original was perfect. But as a Disney fan and movie buff I wanted another Lion King! To be able to have another way I can enjoy some of my favorite movies is a very special thing. And to get to relive the magic of The Lion King once again on the big screen, but in a way I never had before is incredibly special, and something I’m grateful Disney has given us. The more ways I’m given to enjoy and experience Disney, the better!
Now in Theatres!
The Lion King is now playing in theatres! I would love to hear what you thought of the movie, so be sure to leave a comment on this post or tweet your thoughts to me @healthy_mouse!
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