Audiences’ patience with remakes appear to be waning as of late which isn’t really surprising given how difficult it is to find a movie with a new and original storyline. Just a couple of years ago, Disney started creating live action versions of their classic animated hits. It appears that the novelty of these projects is starting to wear off as well.
In general, rarely are remakes as good as the original and it is even rarer that they are better. It becomes tougher when a studio like Disney decides to dust off an old script to a beloved animated tale. Most of us have fond memories of these films and nostalgia is hard is to beat. Still, while there are those who are not fans of this Disney trend, the fact remains that many have done well at the box office.
Jon Favreu’s take on Walt Disney’s original animated The Jungle Book surprised just about everybody earning a 94% “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Favreu managed to take everything we loved about The Jungle Book and added a few twists and turns to the story. Anticipation has been high to see if the director can do it again with the new incarnation of The Lion King.
Unlike his Jungle Book story, Favreu’s Lion King stays incredibly faithful to the original including the story, characters and music with very little variation. In a lot ways, this is a good thing. You want these movies to feel familiar, but when every plot point is virtually the same, it loses something. It’s a hard balance, and I believe Favreu did it better with The Jungle Book.
There is no denying that the new Lion King isn’t beautifully done. The computer generated visuals are so lifelike that this movie feels like a Disney Nature documentary film. It should be worth noting that because the animals look so real, the fight scenes are even more terrifying for young viewers. The scene with the hyenas cornering young Simba and Nala is especially scary.
In case you’ve never seen the original, the story takes place in the African savanna where Simba, the lion cub and future king, is born. Simba (voiced by JD McCrary) idolizes his father Mufasa (voiced again by the great James Earl Jones) who tells the cub about how they are a part in the great circle of life. As long as every creature does its part, the circle stays in balance. Simba has a hard time hearing any of this as He’s too busy dreaming of becoming king one day.
But there is trouble in the kingdom as Mufasa’s brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is still smarting from losing the right to be become the heir to the throne. He partners with three hyenas (Keegan Michael-Key, Eric Andre and Florence Kasumba) to help him get rid of Simba and his father so that he can rule on Pride Rock.
After a tragic event, Simba runs away and is befriended by Timon the Meerkat (Billy Eichner) and Pumba the Warthog (Seth Rogen) who teach the cub how to bugs and grubs instead of them. As he grows older (and starts to sound like Donald Glover), Pride Rock is just a faint memory. That is until his childhood friend Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) shows up and informs him that his help is needed immediately back home. He wants to help, but he’s still ashamed of the past tragedy. But Scar will ruin Pride Rock for good if Simba doesn’t return to his roots.
The movie features only two new songs, “Spirit” from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (which feels somewhat out of place and truncated) and another catchy tune from the Elton John (who wrote all of the songs with Tim Rice) that is featured during the end credits. The musical score is once again composed by Hans Zimmer with African vocal and choir arrangements by Lebo M. It would have been nice to have a few songs that are a part of the Broadway version of the story, but overall, I don’t have any complaints. The soundtrack is pretty amazing.
The one element that surpasses the original animated film is Eichner’s and Rogen’s portrayal of Timon and Pumba. Sure, many of their lines are the same, but others were written (or ad-libbed) just for this. The two are an incredible team who play off each other really well. They are even given a few moments where they are allowed to break the fourth wall and there is one great Beauty and the Beast reference. In contrast, John Oliver as Zazu and John Kani as Rafiki are certainly good enough for their respective roles, but they could have been great.
So, while The Lion King could have been better, it is certainly worth seeing. At least to appreciate the artistry of another director’s vision to the same story.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.