The Lion King

Jacob Richardson | 29/07/2019

Stunningly rendered, but ultimately lacking heart, this remake is a tremendous disappointment. 


Retelling the classic tale of the 1994 original, The Lion King follows the young lion prince Simba (Donald Glover), who flees his kingdom after the murder of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the hands of his uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He grows up wild with his two compatriots Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), until his childhood sweetheart Nala (Beyonce) finds him and convinces him to fight to retake his homeland. 


When Jon Favreau took on remaking The Jungle Book, he took a human centrepiece and wrapped an indelible digital world around it. With The Lion King, he removes this key grip on physicality and develops a full digital world. This digital world is almost indistinguishable from our real one, with the animalia looking as realistic and incredible as anything you’ll see on The Discovery Channel. 


The problem is that as realistic as these animals look, they can’t convey the emotion we need to tell a dramatic story. Their realism hampers our ability to suspend disbelief. This is both characteristic of their movement and their dialogue. 

From a movement perspective, classic scenes like the Circle of Life at the start of the film, or the aging transition of Simba, come across stilted and slow, because the animals are constrained by the rules of our real world. 


From a dialogue perspective, as talented as the voice performers are (and Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner and Chiwetel Ejiofor all do tremendous jobs), their performance isn’t as impactful as the animated versions of the 1994 original. The realistic animal face of Scar can’t provide the same dripping menace as the animated original, and this is emblematic of similar problems across the suite of characters in this updated remake. 


Then there is Donald Glover and Beyonce. Both deliver oddly flat performances in this piece, that sap the energy of their characters. And whereas one might be tempted to blame this on the expressionless visage of their lifelike animal characters, the reality is that they are predominantly surrounded by characters similarly hampered by visuals that don’t have this problem, so it must come down to the voice performance. 


That being said, The Lion King is fundamentally an incredible story, and a brilliant introduction to good story structure for young moviegoers. Those who enjoyed the original will still find much to love in this remake, particularly when those classic emotional beats are hit again; the stunning introduction, the horror of Mufasa’s downfall, the musical cues as Simba looks to the heavens for his long lost father, and the fiery battle atop Pride Rock that ends the movie. For those who loved the original, these all still ring true; just with less poignancy, and heart than the original. 


The Lion King isn’t a bad film, it is just an unnecessary film, that remakes a classic to a lower standard without adding anything particularly new.