Frances Winston reviews The Lion King, the most recent remake from Disney
Directed by: Jon Favreau – Starring the voices of: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones
Disney has been somewhat cashing in on their historic animated features with live action remakes of late. However, The Lion King isn’t ‘live action’, but a CGI animated version of the much loved 1994 flick.
Using the same technology as he employed in The Jungle Book in 2016, director Favreau has given The Lion King a hyper-realistic look more or less. And unlike The Jungle Book, he has kept it as a musical, so all the tracks people know and love are included, as well as a new offering from Beyoncé called Spirit (Probably because – well it’s Beyoncé. And they need a new song for Oscar contention!).
I’m assuming everyone knows the plot to The Lion King – because Disney are certainly relying on nostalgia and goodwill from the animated offering to carry this. The story of how lion-cub, Simba, finds his way in the world to become King of the Pride Lands, like his father Mufasa, is one of their most beloved offerings, and has also spawned a much-loved stage musical.
What does work beautifully here is the world of the story. The landscape of Africa looks lush and wondrous. It is as if it was taken straight out of a David Attenborough documentary. However, while on the whole the CGI is great, the faces and expressions of the animals are incredibly awkward, and really take you out of the moment watching them. To be fair to Favreau and the writers, they have tried to present far better developed characters than the original, and Scar in particular is far less one-dimensional than he was in the original film. But it isn’t enough to distract from the oft-disjointed expressions of the animated creatures.
Like many Disney films, The Lion King has some very dark moments, such as the death of a parent. The reason that these films have always been able to carry these topics is usually down to the animation. Children know that because it’s a ‘cartoon’ it’s not real, but it allows parents to open a dialogue. However, in live-action there is no such charm, and I think many children will be deeply disturbed by some of the elements of this that seemed harmless in the animation. There are some very scary scenes which are exacerbated by the live-action look.
In terms of the music, the songs are still great, and all of the voice-cast do them justice. The story is still a timeless one. However, this doesn’t have a tenth of the charm of the animation. It looks more like a BBC wildlife documentary. The Lion King is trying to be sophisticated, but also charming, and that is a tricky line to walk.
The Lion King has some lovely moments (and the return of James Earl Jones as the voice of Mufasa is definitely a highlight) but it relies far too heavily on people’s affection and goodwill for the original. If this is a child’s first introduction to the story, I’m not sure they will take it to their heart in the same way that people did the original.
The Lion King was one of those films that didn’t really need remaking. It still stands up. They haven’t added much to the story, and it seems a pretty pointless exercise. In twenty years time, people will still watch the original, but I’m not sure they will still be watching this.
Luscious and lovely to look at, but lacking the emotional tug of the original, The Lion King doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours, but it won’t leave you with the same warm and fuzzies that the original did.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: