The Lion King is undoubtedly one of Disney’s most perfect films, and certainly one of the highlights of their last renaissance. It contains the most stunning example of their classic, traditional animation, as well as a powerful story that gives us some of the most lovable characters in animation history. The film has become a staple of Disney’s legacy, and a true family classic for the ages.
Which is why is makes sense that the studio would look to this film to add to their growing collection of live action remakes. The new phase has claimed the lives of several well-known Disney classics so far, including Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast. When this first began, it was a platform to try and add new material to each film’s story. But as it continued, it has become clear that they are only looking to recreate the film shot-for-shot, without adding anything substantial to them.
After Dumbo and Aladdin came out as mediocre as the rest of them, expectations for The Lion King were starting to go down. Without anything to truly justify its photorealistic makeover, one can’t help but scratch their heads and wonder why it was even made in the first place. But the studio is looking at the films that still have established fanbases, both young and old. They are the guarantee that the film will make a good return on investment.
It seems pointless to give you a summary of the plot, because at this point, pretty much everyone has seen it. The only true difference is the new cast; which includes Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, John Oliver as Zazu, John Kani as Rafiki, Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, and James Earl Jones returning to his iconic role of Mufasa.
And aside from the new cast, there isn’t anything new with this practically shot-for-shot redo, and the final result is what one might expect. Rather than try to capture the magic and mystery of the original, the new Lion King shamelessly retells the story in a way that feels quite insulting at times. Despite the achievements in animation, which is arguably the best part of the film, it feels like a half-baked remake with almost none of the heart of the original.
This problem comes from the film’s cold, soulless feel. Everything from the original is present in this new version, but more often than not, it feels like the filmmakers don’t care about it at all. The film runs through the basic plot in a very rushed and routine manner, and doesn’t get the chance to slow down and let the story unfold naturally. It only goes from one scene to the next with no development or care actually put into them.
Just like with the other Disney live action remakes, the studio’s attempts to add to the story with tiny little bits and extended scenes that never add anything of any real substance to the overall story. Pretty much everything in this new version of The Lion King that isn’t in the original can be removed and nothing would change. The new additions feel like unnecessary scenes that were deleted and saved for the DVD release. They only end up making the film long and meandering.
The filmmakers aren’t the only ones who seem to put no effort into this film. It’s the surprisingly large and talented cast that also throws in the towel almost immediately as the film begins. The choice of actors ranges from bored by the role to just plain miscast; like Ejiofor as Scar. While he is undoubtedly a great actor, he never captures the truly haunting image of Jeremy Iron’s performance from the original. His voice just isn’t as deep and threatening as him, and it never sounds like he put any real effort into his performance.
Even its greatest asset, the casting of Donald Glover, feels like a disappointment. Glover never once embodies the character of Simba as well as Matthew Broderick did in the original. His voice never makes a connection to the dialogue he is saying, or the character that he’s playing. It feels like he was only cast because they needed someone hip and relevant to highlight the new versions of the film’s classic songs.
It was exciting when they announced that James Earl Jones would once again voice Mufasa. At least they were going to retain something we loved from the original. But 25 years after his original performance, his return is probably the most disappointing part about it. His new portrayal is never as emotionally powerful as his original. He sounds rather bored throughout, like he’s thinking, “Why am I doing this again?” as he’s recording his lines. If he can’t be bothered to connect with his character, why should we?
Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are also miscast as Timon and Pumbaa. Together, they don’t have the same comedic chemistry that Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane had in the original. By themselves, Eichner sounds more like he’s doing a bad impression of Timon rather than actually playing the character. Rogen tries his best, but he never really becomes Pumbaa either, and his personal comedic talents are restricted by the film’s script.
While the animation, especially the environments, is something to behold, it’s also the film’s greatest disadvantage. The original created its character with human-like faces, so they are able to emote the proper feelings at the right time. Now that the animals are redone to look as realistic as possible, they don’t have the ability to emote like people. We never get a sense of what they’re feeling because we can never tell. They’re always just making the same blank face the entire movie.
All in all, the new Lion King just feels like a pale imitation. A remake is supposed to give the filmmakers the chance to add something new to the story. But this is a prime example of a remake done wrong. This shot-for-shot redo feels like a cold, cynical attempt to only cash in on people’s nostalgia for the original; a feeling made worse when you realize that’s exactly why is was made. The studio never lets director Jon Favreau work with his distinct talents, and the end result is a hallow shell of something magical.
The original Lion King represents the best of what traditional Disney animation has to offer. Which is why it’s rather depressing that the new Lion King represents the worst of Disney’s new collection of live action remakes. It adds nothing new to original and leaves us with a realistic redo featuring bland voice acting, uninspired song covers, and a focus on realism that ruins even the most powerful scenes. There’s absolutely no reason for this movie to exist other than to milk money out of young people seeking childhood nostalgia. In this review’s opinion, just like almost all the other Disney live action remakes (minus The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon), your time is better spent watching the original instead.