★★★★ | Zach Hester
Anytime it comes up in conversation, I’m quick to interject that my favorite movie of all time is The Lion King. The animated classic was a pillar of my childhood. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s still just as incredible, moving and pure cinematic delight.
This week, we got a remake. I was hesitant, as I always am with all Disney remakes, but more so with this film because of the influence it has held over me for so long. This year’s Aladdin remake turned out to be outstanding, so as the date neared for The Lion King “live action” take, my hopes were high.
Naturally, I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this film, but let’s have a quick refresher on the story. It’s Hamlet with lions. There’s your refresher. I kid. The Lion King follows the same plot as the 1994 animated masterpiece, only now with magnificently realistic CGI. The story follows Simba (JD McCrary, Donald Glover), a lion living in the Pride Lands who must take his place as the rightful ruler of his people after the murder of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) by his conniving uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Any Disney remake is bound to divide longtime fans, but The Lion King seems to be the most divisive yet. Despite knowing this beforehand, I highly enjoyed the remake of my favorite movie.
Let’s begin with the animation. The film is billed as a “live action remake,” but absolutely nothing in this movie is real. You read that right. It’s clear that the talking/singing animals are computer generated but the scenic African plains and jungle are also animated. It seems like this photorealistic animation seems to be the most divisive aspect of the film with critics saying that the lack of facial expressions, the “magic” of the original film is gone. I can agree with that to a certain extent, but I also think the film’s animation allows enough expressiveness to convey feelings. It definitely pales in comparison to the original in this aspect, but I never got mad at these brilliant visuals throughout the film. It’s easy to see this film as a strong contender for Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars.
The criticism of the animation flows into the conversation on the new music in the film. The performances were obviously less over-the-top, but the new vocals from the voice cast remain great. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” are both outstanding numbers in the remake. Pretty much anything that Beyonce does in the film is outstanding actually. From “Spirit” which plays during the film (I think it should’ve been over the credits instead) to the album she actually curated called The Lion King: The Gift, the songs she features on are phenomenal.
Speaking of Beyonce, Nala and other female roles are expanded in the film. She takes on a more of a leadership role in the battle against Scar and we actually see her journey to get to Simba during the film as well. Shenzi, the leader of the Hyenas, also sees a bigger role. It’s clear that the hyenas are more loyal to her than even Scar himself.
Now we move to Scar. He seems to be the most controversial character by far in the remake. Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a much darker, driven madman as opposed to the flamboyant, conniving genius that’s portrayed by Jeremy Irons in the original movie. “Be Prepared” has been widely criticized as the “worst” song in the remake, but after seeing the song (more like a slam poem) in the film, it works so well with the new take on Scar. I actually think Ejiofor’s performance was my favorite in the whole film.
There also needs to be a special shoutout to Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who voice Timon and Pumbaa. These two absolutely steal the show every time they’re on screen. Also, who knew Eichner was such a great singer? Not me.
The story of The Lion King will always be special. The original animated version has been my favorite film for a very long time and this new version did not disappoint me in the slightest. It captures the magic of the original as closely as it could while maintaining the new, realistic animation that should be considered groundbreaking in the realm of visual effects. I got the chance to see this film twice already and I’d see it again in a heartbeat. No matter what medium we see The Lion King take on in the future, after seeing this film, I know it will likely remain exceptional.