Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Donal Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner
Rarely has there been a more purposeless film than this piece of money-making travesty put out by Walt Disney Pictures. While having no purpose, this film serves as the representation of the breakdown of Western filmmaking and once again proving that nostalgia is a disease to creativity.
Completely similar to the 1994 iteration, this film follows Simba (JD McCrary & Donald Glover) and his journey of being born the heir of the animal kingdom and being destined to continue the circle of life. He has his scheming uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who ultimately disposes of Simba’s father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and makes Simba feel the responsibility for it thus prompting him to run away. As Simba grows up with meerkat named Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) the warthog, he learns to live with no worries and to confront his destiny.
The original Lion King has proven to become one of Disney’s landmark films that has resonated with audiences since its 1994 release. I happen to find the film to be just fine and found to enjoy the Elton John songs within it more than the feature film itself. However, at the very least, that film had some imagination and inventiveness to it that made it well-done. The emotional beats work as some still cannot watch the Mufasa death scene without holding back tears. Its placement as one of the best Disney films appears to be understandable, while I personally disagree.
This new iteration of the story culminates into something so soulless that it took away everything that worked about the original and added absolutely nothing of meaning to the narrative. I can honestly state that I have not been the biggest fan of these live-action remakes for the exact reason why I had such issues with this one. The best ones add new nuance or story points like with Cinderella and Maleficent. Even a terrible one like Aladdin expands the role of Jasmine albeit one that has little substance. This new film adds nothing and only serves for Disney to sell new toys and make more money at the box office because people liked the first one, which I find to be one of the most heinous results of studio filmmaking.
Besides nostalgia, this film pushed its visual effects as a reason to seek it out. All of the promotional material emphasized just how real the other animals look, but through this technological feat, they took away what made the first one work. Animals cannot emote. While they may have different emotions, they cannot express it with their faces the same way humans can. The idea of making these animals so realistic that they cannot emote is nothing but ludicrous. Take the scene of when Mufasa dies and in the original, Simba shows his distraught and it can be seen on his animated face, which contributes as to why it hits hard emotionally. In this horrible remake, he has the same plain lion face even with the sad voice-acting and it looks no different than when Simba attempts to express joy because a lion cannot emote. It takes away any of the impact because it looks horrible.
Another egregious example comes from when the animals sing. The songs of the original Lion King have stood the test of time with “Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” and “Be Prepared” being recognizable to a whole generation of kids and adults. When animated in 1994, a vibrancy exists that adds extra meaning to those songs, but in the new iteration, it looks ridiculous because these animals cannot sing. They cannot move their mouths as humans do and it looks terrible. Disney was stuck between trying to make a National Geographic documentary with a Shakespearean story with it and it becomes soulless in every sense of the word.
The voice cast certainly showed up to the studio and spoke the words they were given but in service of animals that look unbelievably gawkish saying them. It makes it even worse when Disney insists that the film is live-action and not animated. This film contains only one live-action shot, which is the opening shot and the rest displays pure animation. No motion-capture was utilized, every other second of the film was animated and the thought of this being labeled live-action in any way indicates this studio trying to differentiate this iteration. There surely was a difference, only this one became a stain in blockbuster filmmaking and its financial success proves, once again, that original storytelling will never be financed in the same way as this recycled nostalgia bait.
Everything about this entire production represents Hollywood at its worst. Safe, more expensive, nostalgia-driven, and uninspired. Nothing of substance added to the story even though about another 30 minutes was added in runtime. This serves no one except the shareholders over at Disney because who else could it be for? I can confidently state that most people who have seen the 1994 version still prefer that one to this film. It’s not for a new generation, as kids are more likely to be shown the older one because it plays more kid-friendly with the animation style. It adds nothing to the story, so once again I’ll ask: who is this for? It’s for Disney shareholders and once again they got away with pushing recycled garbage for everyone to purchase.