… Or is there?
Before I begin, I think it’s important I say that, like all of the most recent films produced by Disney, I wanted this to do well. I want nothing less than the next great film from the most successful media company there has ever been. That being said, these are my opinions.
To start this review, I actually want to digress into a quick anecdote. One of my favorite new modern bands is a group called Greta Van Fleet. They’re a rock band that sounds pretty similar to Led Zeppelin. However, to quite a lot of people – including one notably scathing review on Pitchfork – they’re just a cheap Zeppelin knock-off, mooching off the successful sound of Robert Plant and the like. I personally like the band, and didn’t really understand why these people had such a strong hatred for them. That is, until I saw 2019’s The Lion King.
There’s no need to worry about spoilers in this review, as this is, beat-for-beat, exactly the same movie that was released 25 years ago. Visually, it obviously does look very different (and we’ll get to that in a second), but at least 95% of the scenes in this are unchanged from the original, even going down to random establishing shots that could have been completely unique.
Can you feel the love tonight…?
Before we get much farther, it’ll be important to note that this review is much harsher than those I usually write. This movie made me mad that it exists. This is equally as much a review of The Lion King as it is a review of Disney’s presence in the modern box office. I can justify that because very little changed between this and the original, leaving very little to review – though I’ll go over what I can.
The vocal performances (acting-wise) feel very lazy. This is embarrassing, because this has got to be one of the most expensive casts for any movie outside of the MCU lately. Something about this movie makes the completely star-studded cast feel like a B-Team. This is not without exceptions though. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen steal the show every time they’re on screen. But notable greats like James Earl Jones and Chiwitel Ejiofor feel like they delivered one pass on their lines and left the studio. Everyone else falls very flat.
Song-wise, I really can’t complain. The songs are good regardless of who’s singing them, and since the two leads double as Grammy-winning vocalists, it’s no surprise that they’re good. The songs are actually where I would have wished they’d stayed true to the original. The original soundtrack is fantastic, and the Broadway score only brings more life and material to it. I did enjoy the new Beyoncé track, I just thought it was oddly placed. And the lyric changes to Be Prepared weren’t really terrible, it was just weird that they chose to change that, but leave in the exact same shot of Simba walking past a spiderweb in the Elephant Graveyard.
… because I could not.
The animation is something that will come up often in discussions about this film. I recently watched Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book for the first time, and it felt weird to me because of the juxtaposition between a human actor and uncanny valley animated creatures. The Lion King feels as weird somehow, without the use of a human actor.
I want to pause and say that while I have studied and practiced a bit of animation, I am by NO MEANS a professional. I didn’t care much for this movie, but I do give all the credit in the world to the incredible animation team. A lot of this movie does look absolutely amazing. I kept thinking that this would be a great demo reel for Samsung displays or something in the future. That being said, animators, please don’t kill me for the next section.
A lot of the problems I had with the vocal performances were that they were delivered as if it were a typical animated film. If you closed your eyes while watching this movie, I don’t think it would really feel out of place. The problem becomes introduced when the characters are hyper-realistic animals, which in the end, cannot convey complex emotion very well. The original Lion King works as an emotional experience (as do all hand-drawn films) because of how expressive the characters can be, even if they’re animals, or sometimes inanimate objects. When you take all of that facial expressiveness and cartoon performance out, it can be very difficult to connect.
Undoubtedly, people will feel emotions while watching this. Baby Simba is cute. Mufasa dying is sad. But that’s just the nature of animals themselves. I could have walked into the theater and been shown just a still-image of a baby lion, and still would have said, “Aw, cute”.
Long Live the King.
I really don’t understand why this was made the way it was, or who it’s for. Most of the audience watching this movie will remember the entire plot of the original, whether they grew up watching it, or just because it’s a big enough piece of pop culture to be ingrained in the minds of anyone who knows its name. So why, then, is it just exactly the same as the original?
My lasting impression was that it was just to make money off of people’s nostalgia, in the laziest (from an executive standpoint) way possible. The acting felt lazy and half-done. The screenplay was just copy/pasted by a temp. The score was legitimately just the original score with one or two new songs, which were moved to the credits.
There have been “live action” remakes in the past, and no, none have really been very good. But this one just feels like the most cruel of all. But they make them because they do make money. There definitely is an audience for these movies (whom I have not met). All I’ll say is that you vote with your wallet. Seven years ago, before it was even announced, I never thought I would be advising people against seeing a remake of one of my favorite Disney movies, but here we are.
Ultimately, this movie felt, to me, like a film-student’s final project. The animation is nice to look at, but it serves more as a weird gimmick than an entertaining movie. I could imagine myself scrolling through reddit and finding a post where someone re-animated The Lion King in Cinema 4D, and then it’s just the entirety of The Lion King (2019).