Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Lion King (2019): A Review


In the year of our Lord 2019 we have seen three Disney animated films remade into live-action versions. Some were shockingly awful (Dumbo). Some were passable but unnecessary (Aladdin). Now I have the third one, The Lion King.  This remake was unnecessary too, but there seems to be an appetite for watching the same film remade almost beat-for-beat if not shot-for-shot. This The Lion King is also passable, with some beautiful African vistas.

It also put me to sleep, so there's that.

In a case of 'if you saw the original you saw the remake', The Lion King involves young Simba (Donald Glover, JD McCrary as a child), lion cub and heir to the throne of the Pride Lands. His father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role from the original animated version) guides him to be a good king.

There is, however, a serpent in our Garden of Eden. It is Mufasa's brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He plots to take the throne by any means necessary, up to and including both regicide and deceiving young Simba into thinking he was responsible for Mufasa's death.

As a side note, this is the second time Ejiofor has worked with a Disney property that went from animation to live-action, having costarred in the Sleeping Beauty re-imagining sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

Now in self-imposed exile, Simba hooks up with warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner), who live by the creed 'Hakuna Matata' (No Worries). With that philosophy, the Pride Lands become desolate until Simba's friend/love interest Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) finds him and urges him to return to the Pride Lands and take up his destiny.

It's a battle for the Pride Lands between Uncle and Nephew until only one is left to complete The Circle of Life once again.

Image result for the lion king 2019There is nothing overtly wrong with The Lion King. Jon Favreau, returning to animal-centric Disney remakes after the unexpectedly pleasant The Jungle Book, can make a film where we soon forget that animals talk.

There is a slight difference though between The Jungle Book and The Lion King in that the latter has little to no sense of originality versus the former using the original as the basis for its version.

I think it is because The Lion King opted to have all the songs from the original animated version, with only two new songs for Oscar consideration. There's the closing song, Never Too Late, written by original Lion King songwriters Sir Tim Rice and Sir Elton John. The big push will be for Beyoncé's contribution, Spirit, which plays when Simba and Nala race back to the Pride Lands to face off against Scar.

As a side note, I sense that whenever Queen Bey wants to be considered a 'serious artist', she will use her full name versus just 'Beyoncé!' She did that with the atrocious Obsessed, and she does so here on her way to her inevitable Best Original Song win (or at least her belief of an inevitable Best Original Song win). I was not impressed by Spirit and think most people would not know what it was, let alone where it came from.

Image result for the lion king 2019
I think that by sticking so close to the original, The Lion King did itself a disservice. Take for example young Simba's boastful song I Just Can't Wait to Be King. The song itself is fine (as it was the first time we heard it). However, seeing a 'real' tiger cub sing it in a more realistic setting does not add anything to song, story and/or film. In fact, it ends up looking a bit odd to have such a proud, almost arrogant song 'sung' by a 'live' animal, especially one that can't give much if any emotional expression.

Faring worse is Ejiofor, whose Be Prepared seemed both superfluous and oddly out-of-place. I hate comparing two versions, but since this version is almost a shot-for-shot remake it can't be avoided. Jeremy Irons' version of Be Prepared was a mix of menace and mirth, delighting in his own wickedness. Ejiofor's, on the other hand, seemed rote and unenthusiastic. Worse, it didn't seem to actually fit into the story or visuals despite being in the original.

Fortunately, I did not recognize many voices, not even Queen Bey's, so it wasn't too distracting to hear them speak. They were fine, though the comedic styling of Rogen and Eichner didn't win me over.

As I said, I fell asleep at a certain point in The Lion King, but surprisingly that does not mean I hated the film. I thought of it as one of those Disney True Life Adventure documentaries with talking and singing animals. I'm hard-pressed to imagine those who know and love the original version would think this version is better, but perhaps for those unaware of the original this version would work.

Hopefully when they get around to seeing the original The Lion King, they will find that you can feel the love tonight better when it is drawn than when it is CGI.


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