1994 saw Disney release ‘The Lion King’; a hand drawn feature that is one of my favourite films. 25 years later and it seems everything the House of Mouse touches is theirs, the shadowlands being the last area of cinema they haven’t bought out, but will another remake of their own movie be fit for a king?
King of the Lions, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) has a new son who shall one day rule the Pride Lands, however young Simba is a mischievous scamp, easily swayed by the words of Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor); a big cat with big plans to overthrow the kingdom and be leader. After a terrible stampede, Simba (Donald Glover) flees and has to learn who he is if he ever hopes to be the king his father expected him to be.
Jon Favreau, who directed the live-action retelling of ‘The Jungle Book’ is back to helm this modern update, but it’s a film with no human characters to warrant it’s live action title and it doesn’t stray far from the original plot, leading you to quickly realise that it’s a film severely relying on nostalgia to please the senses. That’s not to say he’s a bad director because Favreau certainly knows how to make this movie a family friendly flick full of fantasia, but it comes across as a shot for shot remake with no apparent desire to add a little something different to the recipe.
Elton John and Tim Rice were the masters behind the songs in 1994 and this time around the movie manages to make these iconic numbers things you’d rather drown out. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” gets treated with the tiniest ounce of adoration and is subjected to a late afternoon glow instead of magical twilight romance. Then there’s a burst of Beyonce in the final stages, which is a jarring flash of Pharrell produced RnB, less subtle than her singing as Nala, and more an excuse to get the so-called Queen a chance to belt out and sell a record. Finally, the less said about Be Prepared the better. It’s honestly my favourite Disney track and now it’s hacked down to a short length and sounds more like a Scout meeting with no catchy doom to speak of at all.
I can’t be a total brute though as there are some astounding positives to be had. The cinematography is drop dead gorgeous though it has a distinct lack of playful colour but it is soaked with a stunning believable African backdrop, that could easily blend into a David Attenborough nature documentary. The live action brand still irks but as a photorealistic movie you cannot fault the design of the characters, even if their moving mouths and less than expressive emotions are weak, the textures of creatures from antelope to zebras are mightily impressive and the landscape is a marvel to behold. It goes without saying that baby Simba and his following cub days are aww-inducing and he’s a teeny ball of cute.
Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen who voice the outcast bug eating meerkat and warthog, Timon and Pumbaa are saving graces, as are a few moments with John Oliver’s take on the well intended but busy-body Zazu. This trio bring a good layer of comedy and manage to provide a variant style to the memorable work of Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella and Rowan Atkinson. Legendary James Earl Jones is back, as it seems he’s irreplaceable for the recording of Mufasa and rightly so because he does add a wise gravitas to the story.
So on the plains and in the jungles of Africa, this ‘The Lion King’ remake mainly has Disney fans sitting waiting for things to happen, seeing them said and done by visually impressive CGI instead of cartoon. It cannot shake the notion that the Circle of Life is a monetary scheme by Disney to rotate back on their catalogue and rake in sentimental audiences, myself included.