REEL Review – The Lion King (2019)

The Lion King (2019)

director: Jon Favreau | Runtime: 1h 58mins | Adventure, Animation

When Mufasa (James Earl Jones) dies at the hands of his jealous and cunning brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), his newly born cub Simba (JD McCrary, Donald Glover) runs away with the belief that it was his own fault. With Scar as the new ruler, Simba must make the decision whether or not to go back, or continue living his care-free life away from the pride.

It feels repetitive to say nowadays with about three being released each year, but Disney have provided us with another rendition of one of their timeless animated classics. In fact, this is probably the most beloved of them all, so there is no question the kind of pressure Favreau must have felt when making his incarnation of the 1994 classic, The Lion King. Still ingrained deep into the memories of everyone who had a Disney childhood, there aren’t many more classics that can challenge the original’s throne, and truthfully, while being visually sound, Favreau’s 2019 remake just can’t find it’s roar.

Despite this being a remake it seems inaccurate to call it ‘Live-Action’, what with every character being an animal, so instead Favreau uses the tools he had on a previous Disney venture The Jungle Book (2016), and creates the closest thing to ‘Live-Action’ you’re likely to see. This is honestly one of the biggest positives to come from this film. The fact that, despite being a tad glossy in parts, this is still a technological marvel that leaves you in awe. There is a reason it seems that Disney use Favreau as a preference, with him not only matching his previous venture but in fact improving on it.

The story isn’t lost on anyone though, if you know the animalistic Hamlet story then you won’t be in for much surprise, as Disney yet again take the safe route and stick to the original narrative. In some ways though this is probably for the best, with their current catalogue of remakes (Beauty & the Beast [2017], Dumbo [2019]) there is some wiggle room with the story, ways to make it feel fresher. But with The Lion King there is such an iconicism about both the story and characters it would be a miracle to see them change anything with universal approval, and if we’ve learnt anything from Disney in the past few years, playing it safe is their go-to.

There is an argument that every film should be treated as an individual, you wouldn’t judge say The Departed (2006) on the quality of Infernal Affairs (2002), or even the Coen Brother’s True Grit (2010) with the original, but the truth is with Disney’s latest remakes you have too. For no other reason than it’s someone remaking their own product, and for that the comparison’s are pretty much what the new ones ride on. And for all it’s visual prowess and great casting (more on that in a minute), everything just feels completely off-beat from the original. That magic you feel when the sun rises over the pride land is long gone, the genuine intensity of the buffalo stampede is non-existent, and even the songs feel lacklustre – as Donald Glover and Beyonce (seriously a match that should have been made in heaven) lend their voices to the plots only romance, their duets don’t feel harmonising, but rather like the two are competing.

Glover and Beyonce’s duets aside, the casting is still pretty great. Chiwetel Ejiofor maybe lacks the campiness of Jeremy Irons, but in terms of actually delivery he works relatively well. John Oliver actually adds some great lines early on as Zazu, but the shining star (by far), is Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumba. The banter, the dimwittedness, the sarcasm and overbearing enthusiasm bring so much light to this film. Not only that but for the first time it feels authentic, Disney aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves by channeling in-jokes through these two characters. From the songs (including a hilarious Be Our Guest moment) to Billy Eichner’s soft sarcastic digs – these two make this film feel fresh, it’s just a shame they don’t appear till an hour has gone by.

In a very strange way, you can consider this the most expensive marketing for the 1994 Lion King ever made. As through all it’s mediocrity the one thing you will definitely take from Favreau’s remake is just how damn good the original really is. This 2019 version isn’t terrible though, with still some faint reminders of how good the soundtrack is and a visual presence, and the delightful duo of Rogen and Eichner, this is a watchable film that just had too much to prove. There is only one true Lion King, and they’ve been sitting on the throne since 1994.

Verdict:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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