The Lion King (2019) Review

When the first teaser trailer for The Lion King made its online debut last November, I had a bad feeling that Disney was going for the safer route by sticking closely to the beloved 1994 animated original. Being faithful to the original is one thing, but a (nearly) shot-for-shot remake? Now, that’s a lazy rehash altogether and this is where the CG makeover of The Lion King suffers the most. It instantly reminded me of how Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin shared the same ill-fated result, at least creatively speaking, even though that live-action remake somehow managed to make tons of money in the worldwide box-office.

Back to The Lion King, Jeff Nathanson’s script basically rehashes Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton’s 1994 version with a couple of tweaks here and there. The remake is also 30 minutes longer than the original’s 88-minute length but it doesn’t really bring anything substantially new or fresh to the already-established storyline whatsoever.

It’s clear that words like “taking a creative risk” do not apply in Jon Favreau’s filmmaking vocabulary, the director who is in charge of the remake. I was actually hoping he could surprise me, given the fact he did such a great job in the live-action/CG hybrid of The Jungle Book three years ago. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as Favreau seemingly in the auto-pilot mode here when comes to storytelling.

But if The Lion King is to judge based on the technical achievements alone, this remake easily wins hands down for its photorealistic CG effects. In fact, it looks so convincing and lifelike that it almost feels like watching a National Geographic documentary in action. Kudos also go to Hans Zimmer (who previously scored the 1994 original) for his typically soaring score as well as Caleb Deschanel’s gorgeous cinematography of the Africa setting.

And yet, as much as I amazed with all the realistic-looking lions and other meticulously-rendered CG animals shown on the big screen, there are few significant downsides about them. For instance, unlike the hand-drawn animation of the 1994 original, introducing photorealistic CG lions means there are limited facial expressions that can be done here. The result also robbed away most of the emotional intensity of the movie.

As for the cast, Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter did a respectively decent job voicing the adult Simba and Nala. I’m glad the movie retains James Earl Jones’ regal voice as Simba’s doomed father, Mufasa while Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner steal most of the show with their frequently hilarious banters as Pumbaa and Timon. However, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s voice as the antagonist Scar lacks the distinctive tone and personality of Jeremy Irons’ performance in the 1994 original. Even without the comparison, Ejiofor’s overall voice delivery sounds like a standard-issue Disney villain.

The songs are thankfully another lifesavers, notably the old numbers including “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” along with the majestic new song “Spirit” from Beyoncé.

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