The Lion King
Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Did you know it means no worries? Yeah, I think we all learned it from our good friends Timon and Pumba, from what I believe is the Greatest Disney Animated Movie Ever.
Don’t @ me. No debate!
I truly believe my Disney childhood was better than yours. I kid… well not really. I had “A Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”.
What a string of hits after a turbulent time Disney had with its animated properties. I got to grow up in the Disney Renaissance and it was glorious. Even better, I grew up in Miami just a few hours away from Orlando and we would frequent Disney World several times a year. Funny enough, that summer my family and I were in Orlando leading up to the premiere. Granted, I was only 7 but I remember the marketing, the swell of excitement I had for talking safari animals set in Africa. There was something uniquely Black about that experience regardless of who was in the cast. I equate our excitement to what a lot of families were able to experience last year with Marvel’s “Black Panther.” Somehow this cartoon was able to penetrate a generation of movie goers to such great affect, with its iconic score, star-studded voice cast, impactful story, and impressive visuals that Disney new what it had to do 25 years later… Reboot it!
A Young Lion cub, Simba (JD McCrary) is celebrated in front of all the pride lands as he is presented to the many herds to one day inherit his father, King Mufasa’s (James Earl Jones) kingdom. Simba’s envious Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) devises a fatal plan to thwart Simba’s ascension to the throne by maneuvering pieces akin to a chess board, to bring about Mufasa’s end. Preying on Simba’s guilt he implores the young cub to run away. Filled with sorrow and no direction, Simba fleas far from the only home and family he’s ever known and encounters a friendly meercat, Timon (Billy Eichner) and warthog, Pumba (Seth Rogen). The duo takes the young cub in and teaches him the way of living life care free; free of guilt and worry.
As time passes and the pride lands that were once lush with life and order, fall into decay and chaos. Scar’s rule alongside a vast number of equally vile hyena, forces the remaking lion pride to act. Nala (Beyonce) a childhood friend to Simba, escapes the pride and looks to seek help from anywhere. By chance she crosses paths with a now matured Simba. The two reconnect and Nala details all that has happened while he has been gone. Still riddled with suppressed guilt and shame, Simba refuses to return home. A mystical visit with the ghost of his father later that night inspires him to seek forgiveness within himself and reveal what it truly means to be King and convicts him to aid Nala in taking back the land they have lost.
Well, if you didn’t know this is very much a shot for shot remake, you do now! I personally, have no problems with these types of retellings as I think a story can always benefit from a new generation getting to interact with it through a different lens. The spin here, is the motivation behind the scenes to champion a game changing photo realistic animation technique that would lift the characters from a 2D world and bring them to life in a live action setting that seems straight out of a jungle safari.
The visual presentation is absolutely marvelous. There hasn’t been anything like it, and with so much detail too. From the start of the film to the very ending, you’ll never have to save up to take a trip to Africa. The fur, the scales, the sheen, the atmosphere are all so real, it truly is uncanny. Whatever you may say about the film, you must give respect to a goal set and a goal met by Disney to bring “The Lion King” to life.
On the other hand, the innovation technically may also be the obstacle standing in front of the film’s way narratively. The trade off with this animation style is for the steps moved forward in technology, it leaves behind an emotional connectivity that is stunted by its realism.
Think of a time you visited a zoo. All these glorious animals behind glass, or enclosures. Sometimes you see them in an artificial landscape, mimicking their natural habitat. Sometimes they’re playful, sometimes they’re not. Ever wonder what they’re thinking? I know I do. Thing is, certain animals have a tough time conveying emotion due to their non-human expressions.
We get a chance to spend almost 2 hours reliving for a lot of us some our favorite childhood memories of “The Lion King” in 2019, but it lacks a connecting point that draws you in to what Simba is feeling when he’s terrorized at the Elephant Graveyard. We miss the full envelopment of despair when Simba is trying to survive the stampede concocted by Scar and ultimately witnesses the death of his father. I’m pretty Sure Lions can cry, but we’ve never seen it in real life.
We are taught cinema.
What I mean by that is, the way we digest different genres of film happens early and forms these unspoken rules on how things work. With a cartoon there’s a suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to give permission to the movie for, example… Bugs Bunny to Shoot the bill of Daffy Duck clean off his face, and its ok. If we watched that same scene in real life and saw an 8in rabbit pick up and AR-15, hold it in its little bunny arms and fire at a black mallard, we couldn’t accept that. We know it’s not real. The photo realism in this film succeeds so well our brains continuously throughout the movie refuse to give permission to many of the elements to work.
The iconic scenes in the film are directed as strong as they were in the animated original yet depending on your taste and connection to the film many of us were left unfulfilled. The troubling debate, is reasoning if that’s the fault of the film, or the fault of being first.
Throughout cinematic history, innovative films that set out to reinvent the genre tend to suffer the most along the way. Thankfully, there are many moments in this movie that help pacify some of those gripes. The score is still fantastic, and the addition of the Beyoncé performed “Spirit” is an Oscar-worthy triumph and inserted at such an appropriate part of the film too. Hans Zimmer’s score, still fills the scenes and while they for the most part were intact, “Be Prepared” had an interesting arrangement that worked for me. Chiwetel’s Scar was his own. As iconic of a movie villain Jeremy Irons made Scar, Ejiofor’s affectations and characterization were charismatic, duplicitous, not as slinky, yet still ferocious. “Be Prepared” felt like a Serengeti Nazi Propaganda march, a call to arms to carry out his plan and a nice change up to make his performance distinguishable from Irons’.
The tough part in these Disney Remakes and Reboots, is not to fall prey to nostalgia. It’s almost impossible not to go in looking to compare this film to the animated original.
Blessed are those who have never seen it.
This is an engaging story with, fun characters set in a musical. What more could we ask for? A new audience is experiencing what I felt when I was 7 with game changing technology and a cast selected to not mimic what came before it, but add flavor to a recipe that’s already great.
The voice performances, as a whole are about middle of the road, but the stand outs we get from Scar, Timon, Pumba, and Mufasa are strong enough to keep you invested. Yes, James Earl Jones is the sole return from the original film and while you can hear a Mufasa that is orated much older, it still carries a lot of the gravitas and majesty Jones produced 25 years ago. His timing and delivery matched by the films editing of his charcter (not so much the whole film) gives you a fine performance. Seeing and hearing Chiwetel Ejiofor go toe to toe with James Earl Jones was magnificent.
Now, don’t pay too close attention to the lion’s mouths. It’s not so pretty.
I guess, I could be a lot harsher on the disconnect between what we see and hear and how it comes out on screen. It took me a little bit to get used to it myself, but after that I thought it was fine. Timon and Pumba surprisingly had an easier time translating their verbal performances through the animation. I’m unsure if the animators were driven to do a better job or the power of Eichner and Rogen’s portrayal just brought it out themselves. They were great. Not once did I long for Nathan Lane or Ernie Sabella and the script did them justice too. The script was flexible enough to allow for Rogen and Eichner’s comedic timing and flare to be fleshed out and it really saves the film right when we needed it most.
The script like I mentioned earlier hasn’t changed much. I’d say it’s about 85%-90% the same and the script could’ve did with more of an update too. In a live action film that’s dealing with evolving technology it could be a bit stale to get a 2D script to go along with it. The script was begging for a similar progression with its pacing to match the unreal visuals as well.
I feel like most of what I’m saying is praising one part of the film and lamenting the other. My rating would say something different. Thing is, as I walked out of the theater, I definitely didn’t get that mind-blowing emotion filled euphoria like I did when I was 7, but I was entertained, enthralled; visually and fully engaged. I’ve given plenty of eye rolls in other screenings this year and while the film is very unoriginal, that really wasn’t too much of a problem. What it did well, it did really well, and being the first to trot out this photo realistic animation I believe is going to grow in favor over time. It’s not easy to teach the old dogs new tricks, but you take the risk anyway.
So yes, this film doesn’t stack up to the Animated Original. I contend we weren’t going to give it a fair shot anyway. It’s a technical marvel that’ll have you stunned by Disney’s movie making magic. Theirs an equally star-studded voice cast that half way brings it, but unfortunately struggles more due to the inherent limitations of the photo realistic animation. It is a shot for shot remake that is as much breathtaking as it is jarring and takes some getting used to. Thankfully, this film plays the hits, sings the songs you know, adds a new one, sprinkles in some new jokes and a few standout performances that delivers gripping realism and is at the very least the Greatest Disneynature Movie Ever.
Don’t @ me!
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 7/10
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Donald Glover, Beyonce Knowles, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, John Oliver, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Florence Kasumba, John Kani, Alfre Woodard
Run Time: 118 mins