WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2019)
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones
Oh, The Lion King. Unleashed to the world way back when in 1994, that movie has been rightfully lauded ever since as one of the, if not the, greatest animated movies of all time (in this writer’s mind, it certainly is). Nominated for Best Picture, winner of Best Original Score and keeper of Jonathan Taylor’s Thomas blonde curtains, it was a movie that garnered acclaim and comparisons to Shakespeare as well. One of those timeless classics, one that was always best left alone. Until now…
Enter Jon Favreau. The man who delivered a visually astonishing reimagining of The Jungle Book has been handed the reins to The Lion King and asked to do his thing. By his thing, I, of course, mean to give the world another breath-taking computer-animated adventure whilst bringing in enough cash to cover the Pride Lands. The first part of that statement is true – Favreau’s The Lion King is bloody gorgeous. It’s so beautiful to look at you’ll find yourself struggling to believe what’s happening on screen isn’t actually real (bar one early scene). The lions burst with majesty and strength, the gnarled hyenas bristle with filth and the dream team of Timon and Pumbaa look frighteningly realistic. That’s the thing, everything looks great and feels so polished – the issue is, the movie itself is lacking some real heart, real soul and real charm. Maybe that’s because of the sheen that covers every scene, or maybe it’s because you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice and I tend to believe in the latter. The story and narrative play out nigh-on identically to the 1994 version (shot-for-shot at times though this version is stretched out for an extra thirty minutes) and it’s a bit like watching your favourite band re-release their best album two decades later – the songs remain the same, just a little…different, a little off.
The voice work is just fine for the most part, James Earl Jones returned to voice Mufasa once again and (once again) brought the power and authority to the character – there was one moment, however, when his voice-modulated lines sounded identical to Darth Vader. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner were the stars of the show, imbuing their characters with the same playful zest we know and love. John Oliver’s Zazu doesn’t have the same sardonic quality that Rowan Atkinson once brought and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar carries a threat but lacks the real menace and danger that Jeremy Irons performance had. Musically/vocally, things sound just fine – the old classics getting some flashy upgrades – but the new songs are limp in comparison. Not the best use of Beyoncé if you are a fan. The moments that made you cry before will make you cry again and the goosebump-inducing moments we are familiar with are back in this iteration – they just lack the power that we have seen before which is a huge shame.
With this version, there is nothing outwardly wrong. Everything is on point for the most part – the visuals, the voice work, the (original) music, the big moments – but it’s what’s lacking internally that’s the issue. Whilst the story remains wonderful, this version of The Lion King just lacks heart and charm, it’s too polished and as the movie thunders on, things start to lose their impact by the big finale. At the end of the day, though, it’s The Lion King – it’ll never not be good. The story is quality and, this time, it’s visually stunning but the heart that fuelled the 1994 version is sorely missing here.
Next: Jon Favreau's The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and Jon Favreau's The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar.
July 20th 2019