THE LION KING (2019)
Director: Jon Favreau
Producers: Jon Favreau, Jeffrey Silver, Karen Gilchrist
Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
Starring: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones
SPIRIT – HISTORY WITH LIONS
The Lion King retells the classic Disney animated film from 1994. The movie continues Disney’s endeavor to remake all of their classics with state-of-the-art-technology and present them to a new (and old) audience, which might not have grown up with them. After Dumbo and Aladdin, The Lion King marks the third remake this year. As was the case for The Jungle Book in 2016, Jon Favreau directs and produces the film.
Before we get into details about the content of the movie — I don’t think I have to tell you what it is about — I wanted to take a moment and share my history with the classic Disney film:
Growing up, I had three main Disney influences: The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King. For a retrospective of what Aladdin means to me, you can read in this article. Regarding TLK, I don’t exactly remember what it was that made me fall in love with the characters, but I remember a certain appeal and wonder that surrounded them. I watched the sequels, religiously followed the TV show The Lion King’s Timon & Pumba, played the ’90s video game, and had a bunch of cuddly toys. Nala and Simba had magnets in their noses, so they kissed, which was so cute.
Unfortunately, I didn’t watch the original for years, so I eagerly anticipated Jon Favreau’s remake. He already won my heart with The Jungle Book, and the trailers of TLK promised the same heart and soul he put into his previous Disney remake.
HE LIVES IN YOU – OF VOICE AND ANIMATIONS
It took TLK less than two minutes to have me sitting in the cinema sobbing. All the memories from the past came back as “The Circle of Life” surrounded me in excellent IMAX quality, and all the animals strutted towards Pride Rock in crystal clear 3D images. It was a perfect introduction to the world and its characters, as it was 25 years ago.
When both movies (The Lion King and Jungle Book) are available in 4k, I need to make a comparison, because I think Favreau and his team upped the ante once again. I sat there in awe of what they can do. More than once, I encountered a scene where I did not know if this is animated or filmed somewhere on site. The surroundings especially look almost perfect, and the animals merge with it to form a wholesome picture.
Once the characters begin to speak, it feels almost natural. The movements of their mouths and beaks convinced me. Just look at the cast above — you cannot go wrong here.
John Oliver does a fantastic job as Zazu. Some of his dialogue even reminds of his late-night show Last Week Tonight. This resemblance is not a bad thing. I appreciate that they play to John Oliver’s strengths and let him do his own things. The same thing is true for anyone involved in the making of this movie. They bring their characters to life and play well with the nuances in the story and script. Even the songs work perfectly.
If I had to name one thing I am not happy about, it would be Seth Rogen as Pumba. Though he does a great job in general, I wished they would have edited his laugh a bit. Seth Rogen has a very dominant and unique laugh. Usually, I don’t mind that, but here it has an almost intrusive nature. I wished the sound designer would have done a similar job as they did with the lions: merge the voice with the natural, animalistic sounds.
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE – REQUIRED REBOOT?
Now that we know the animations are good and the voice actors do a great job as the classic characters, one question remains: is a remake of The Lion King necessary? Do we need yet another remake of a classic Disney film? The House of Mouse would definitely say yes, because — you know — money. But I think there is more to it than just that.
As was the case with all the previous movies, a remake gives one the chance to refine an almost perfect story, which the classic Lion King is. Frankly, I don’t care about the shot-for-shot comparisons and complaints regarding this topic, because why should you change something that worked for a quarter of a century? The classic is an almost perfect movie that inspired and influenced a lot of kids. Why not give those people a more refined version of the story, update the animations, and open this magical world to a new audience? Of course, this is also a way to say: look at what we can do!
However, with the more realistic approach, inevitably come some other changes. First, the movie as a whole gets a more mature undertone. Second, the previously overly expressive body-language and behavior of the characters get to be more refined. Take the hyenas, for example. In the new version, they are more subtle, and Scar looks more like the other lions than before.
On the other hand, it gets more challenging to transport emotions to the audience. You cannot have tears running down Simba’s face when a particular character inevitably dies. Favreau has to rely on his cast and, again, they did a fantastic job.
So, did we need a remake of The Lion King? No, but I am glad we have it. Not just from a technological standpoint, but also because it allows us to experience a more refined version of the original. Both deserve to be watched over and over again.
And one last thing: I would have bought the ticket just to hear James Earl Jones’s iconic lines. His voice in IMAX quality — truly breathtaking.