How do you improve on one of the best films ever made? Somehow Disney has done it!
For the most part, the story remains true to the original 1994 classic, however, there are a few minor changes in certain sequences and passages of dialogue. I could dedicate a whole article on how great the story of The Lion King is, perhaps we’ll just skip over it for now.
Considering the movie was originally made 25 years ago with hand-drawn caricatures, the animation receives a major upgrade. The attention to detail in the photo-realistic CGI really makes this version stand on its own. Every movement, every little twitch, scratch, and yawn, make the animals seem very life-like. It is probably the closest you can get to reality without using real, living and breathing animals (except the part where they are talking, of course!).
Since this film is entirely computer-generated, it is not live-action, they didn’t even use motion capture animation from actors or animals, I’m not sure how to proceed in discussing the cinematography. The camera movement is immersive and dramatic, showing the vast landscape of the African Savannah. At times, a bit too dramatic. During a poignant scene, I giggled out loud because the dramatic zoom effect reminded me of a Bollywood movie.
When the cast was announced, like most fans, I was quite skeptical about the line-up which featured mostly new faces. James Earl Jones the only actor to be reprising his role from the original, perhaps irreplaceable as Mufasa. Musical artists Childish Gambino (credited as Donald Glover) and Beyoncé shine in their respective lead roles as Simba and Nala.
TV presenter John Oliver was a natural as the attentive avian advisor Zazu, Mufasa’s eye in the sky. However, Rafiki seems to be MIA in comparison with a reduction in those memorable lines.
In the villains’ section, Chiwetel Ejiofor is a much more sinister than sardonic Scar and the hyenas received a similar makeover. While Shenzi remains, the other two hyenas have been renamed Azizi and Kamari, a less comical, more menacing trio than Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed.
While sidekicks, Timon and Pumbaa provide the comic relief we’re looking for. Seth Rogen is surprisingly good as the foolish, flatulent warthog Pumbaa alongside Billy Eichner whose voice sounded quite annoying as Timon, the care-free, witty meerkat.
Producer Pharrell Williams joins a star-studded line-up of maestro Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Tim Rice, and Lebo M. to revamp one of the greatest movie soundtracks ever produced. All your favourite tunes feature in this edition plus a few new additions (mostly in credits).
South African singer Lindiwe Mkhize leads with the opening number, “Circle of Life” which is a slightly different arrangement but still awesome. JD McCrary and Childish Gambino seamlessly sang as Simba from “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” to the “Hakuna Matata” montage.
This brings me to the problematic duets with Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. Understandably, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella would have improvised most of their lines, so they did the same this time around. Although, I’m not sure how I feel about the fresh twist on their sequences, including “Hakuna Matata” and an extended performance of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” not to be confused with their cameo in “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
Beyoncé’s singing is amazing as you would expect but her big solo “Spirit” appears randomly in the middle of the film as if it were a music video and feels like it was only included as a contractual agreement. Perhaps the song should have been reserved for the end credits.
In saying that, the filmmakers might have run out of space with 3 songs featuring at the end; Elton John’s “Never Too Late”, a Zulu rendition of “He Lives in You” and “Mbube”, the inspiration behind The Tokens hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (think a-wimoweh). Surely they could have substituted one of these songs in favour of Beyoncé?
Ultimately, Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King delivers a delicate balance of drama and emotion but nostalgic fans might find this epic visual feast rather unsatisfying.