Movie Review – The Lion King (2019)

TL;DR – An animated marvel that unfortunately comes off as a disjointed mess at times   

Score – 3 out of 5 stars

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

The Lion King. Image Credit: Disney.

Review

I’m going to be honest right from the start here, I had some real trepidation on walking into The Lion King today. I consider the original animated film to be one of my all-time top animated films. In the 25 years since I first watched it, it still holds a special place in my heart, even though those 25 years were filled with hot takes about authoritarianism and plagiarism accusations. However, something about this remake just was not jiving with me. Well now that I have seen the full film I am happy to say that it was not the disaster I thought it would be, but wow does it have issues.

So to set the scene, and if you have seen the original film you can probably skip this section. We open with dawn breaking on a very special day in Pride Rock. Because this is the day that the new prince Simba (JD McCrary) is being presented to the animal kingdom. As Rafiki (John Kani) raised the young cub up in front of all the animals that have gathered Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) watch on with pride, but someone is missing. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) the brother of the king is absent and his absence is notable. He wants the throne for himself and he will stop at nothing to make that happen. Well, one day when young Simba and Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) escape their watcher Zazu (John Oliver) and take a trip to the elephant’s graveyard an opportunity lands in Scar’s lap.

The Lion King. Image Credit: Disney.
The animation for the animals are stunning at times. Image Credit: Disney.

To begin with, I do want to take a moment to congratulate the many, many animators and other artists that worked on this film. There are some moments that just took my breath away with the wash of beauty on the screen. A good example of this is the entire first sequence leading up to Simba’s introduction. I particularly want to point to the work of the environmental artists. There were some backgrounds that were just stunning, like so stunning you want to see them on the largest screen possible. As well as this, I think this is the most photo-realistic dirt that I have ever seen put to screen. This technical brilliance also extends to all of the animals on screen.

With the story, it mostly hit all the same beats as the original film, indeed some scenes are almost shot-for-shot remakes. Which of course grates a little when you realise that the original writers of the 1994 animated film likely received no compensation as the Writers Guild of America considers animated films to be a second class work without the same protections (the same is true for all the Disney remakes like Aladdin). The only main change is how Rafiki finds out that Simba (Donald Glover) is still alive, which is now through a fur- Rube Goldberg scenario than just some generic sent on the wind. Other changes come from the stylistic shift to get as far away from the tone of the cartoon as possible. Which means removing as many of the anthropomorphisations and 4th wall breaks as possible, but then adding others in, which is an interesting choice, to say the least.

The Lion King. Image Credit: Disney.
Special mention has to go to the environmental artists. Image Credit: Disney.

When it comes to the voice cast, it is a bit of a mixed bag, with some standouts and some real disappointments. I instantly loved the rapport because Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and I liked that they gave them a little gang to riff off in the movie. To add to all that, I really enjoyed John Olive as Zazu, his somewhat neurotic energy really matched the redesign of his character. Also while not every person in the cast can really hit those notes in the song (look for the moment that some of the cast are drowned out with music), props to Billy Eichner for smashing out some of those classic songs. However, some things about the cast did not work as well. I’m sorry but Chiwetel Ejiofor just does not work as well as Scar, like it feels like he is being held back in his performance. In fact, this is a common problem across the film with a lot of the cast being really reserved with their performances to the point that it sounds like they are bored in places.

Well I mentioned that the animation was great, the story holds up, and the voice cast had some highlights for me, so why then does this film get the score that it did. Well, while there are individual parts filled with brilliance, when you put it all together it just does not work. They have gone for a super-realistic art style, but that art style just does not gel with animals talking English which is a completely unrealistic story choice. This means that throughout the film you are constantly entering the uncanny valley. To add to this, the reason why most of the performances are really subdued is that I think that they were really trying to cut down on the amount of and the extension of lips that they had to animate. All of this leads to the film really losing impact in those scenes and moments when it is trying to make an emotional statement, also a lot of the songs. If they were going for a super-realistic art style then they should have approached the film differently rather than a shot-for-shot remake. Indeed, maybe going the Up route could have helped, something other than what we got.

The Lion King. Image Credit: Disney.
As always Timon and Pumbaa are some of the highlights of the film.

In the end, do we recommend The Lion King? Well look that is a hard maybe. Firstly, if you are a parent and need to keep the kids entertained for an hour and a half, well you can do a lot worse. However, if you are going to see this out of the nostalgia for the original film then save yourself the disappointment. As I walked out of the cinema the big feeling I was having was that if you are just going to go through the same motions again, what it the point honestly. I really hope future films are better, here’s hoping Mulan can learn from this mistake.                     

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you watched The Lion King?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
 


Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Lion King
Directed by
– Jon Favreau
Screenplay by – Jeff Nathanson
Based on –The Lion King by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts & Linda Woolverton
Music/Songs by – Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Tim Rice & Lebo M.
Cinematography by – Caleb Deschanel
Edited by –Mark Livolsi & Adam Gerstel
Production/Distribution Companies – Disney & Fairview Entertainment
Starring
–JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Penny Johnson Jerald, Amy Sedaris, Chance Bennett, Josh McCrary, Phil LaMarr & J. Lee             
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 6; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG

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