Hakuna Matata! Lion King roars audiences

Micheal Gennaro

North Bureau Chief


Many die-hard fans of the original “Lion King” movie were skeptical when they heard news that Disney was producing a remake with CGI animals replacing the animated lions, zebras and hyenas of the original.

Does 2019’s “The Lion King” charm us the way the original did 25 years ago?

The answer is yes, but fans of 1994’s “The Lion King” might leave the theater with mixed feelings despite all the things that 2019’s version does right.

Viewers hoping for a unique take on the classic pridelands tale will be disappointed. At times, “The Lion King” is a shot-for-shot remake of the 1994 original, with CGI and new actors to recite the lines. Many scenes are identical, and some lines are repeated verbatim from the original.

Some may consider this approach to be lazy, but it’s a delicate balance when dealing with source material that is as beloved as “The Lion King.”

So rather than a whole new experience, 2019’s “The Lion King” changes the source material in a more subtle way.

The biggest change is in tone.

This movie is much darker and more sinister in tone than the animated original. There are fewer jokes, and the violent scenes are more visceral than what one might expect from a family-friendly film and could potentially frighten younger viewers.

Clearly, the directors tried to strike a more realistic tone for the film in comparison to the original.

The new actors put their own spin on the famous personalities of the animals with one exception. James Earl Jones reprises his role as the proud king Mufasa, and his work is a nostalgic call-back to the original film.

As for the newcomers, Donald Glover and Beyonce perform well as the lead lions, Simba and Nala, and John Oliver, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen hit all the right comedic spots in their portrayals of Zaza, Timon, and Pumbaa, respectively.

The biggest star of the film, however, is the villain.

Chiwetel Ejiofor nails his role as Scar, the conniving, regicidal lion who usurps Mufasa’s throne.

Ejiofor’s voice work is positively chilling; although Scar’s murderous coup is identical to how it was in the 1994 original, Ejiofor’s voice work combined with the new CGI makes Scar and his cadre of hyena soldiers seem infinitely viler and more menacing than they were 25 years ago.

Even though the film has a darker tone than the original, there is still plenty of light-hearted fun to go around. “The Lion King” is a musical of course, and fans of the original will see all their favorite tunes return.

Legendary composer Hans Zimmer returns to score the film, with an assist from Pharell Williams, while Beyonce and Elton John collaborate to put a modern twist on John’s original songs from 25 years ago.

Beyonce did record an original song for the film, but it did not make it into the theatrical cut. All the music from the original film returns with subtle changes. Some may feel disappointed with this choice, but it’s clear that director Jon Favreau didn’t want to flip the script too drastically.

Oddly enough, the biggest strengths of the film are also its biggest weaknesses. The film does an exceptional job preying on the viewer’s nostalgia of the original, but it doesn’t change anything drastically besides the voice work.

The CGI makes the lions and the savannah look beautifully realistic, but it also leaves the animals looking expressionless and emotionless at times. A photo realistic lion cannot emote the way a hand-drawn, animated one can. The voice work is impeccable, but the limits of CGI are on full display throughout.

Still, “The Lion King” is greater than the sum of its parts. Even though it is not terribly original and changes less than the recent “Aladdin” live-action remake, it is still a faithful representation of the original. It tugs at the viewer’s nostalgia ferociously, and the soundtrack remains one of the most emotionally stirring in all of Disney’s film catalogue.

Fans of the original will appreciate it, and newcomers will likely check out the animated original after viewing 2019’s take on “The Lion King.” It’s a win-win for Disney. Hakuna Matata.


Email: gennm2@mail.broward.edu

Photo Caption: Simba as a cub having a discussion with Zazu.

Photo Courtesy of theverge.com