Film Review – The Lion King (2019)
The Lion King (2019)
Excited was an understatement when I saw the first poster and trailer for The Lion King (2019). The CGI looked amazing, and it brought back nostalgia from the original animated film in 1994 which released when I was in high school. With Disney seemingly given up on creativity in return for a cash grab, they are in the process of remaking their original animated films into live-action films. Die-hard Disney fans will always see a new film, and I was curious as to what this new version of the Lion King would add to the story. The answer is very little.
There is no reason to rehash what The Lion King (2019) is about because it is an almost exact copy of the 1994 film. Some scenes from the 1994 version are duplicated exactly for the update. Quickly, it is the story of a lion named Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and Donald Glover) growing up, learning what loss and regret are, gain new friends, and becoming a mature adult lion who can retake his home pride from his treacherous uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
“The Circle of Life” never fails to give me chills whether seeing in a theatre, on television, or Broadway. This updated version is no exception as it opens the film exactly the same and ends the film also. As an animal enthusiast and later an animal keeper, I always try to identify as many species as possible in these two scenes.
The absolute highlight of The Lion King (2019) is Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). This version of the film has updated some of the lines for Timon and Pumbaa to reflect current trends and popular sayings. Seth Rogen’s scratchy, deep voice is a perfect complement to the personality of Pumbaa and, of course, he has Rogen’s trademark laugh. Billy Eichner’s Timon matches up more with Billy Eichner’s personality and humor more so than Nathan Lane’s Timon. Every single time both of these characters are on screen, it is a pure delight.
There was a risk taken when The Lion King decided to be as realistic as possible in terms of CGI. The animals talk, but that is the extent of their departure from “real” animals. The issue with this is that animals are not able to show a full range of emotions on their faces, like sadness, happiness, or laughing. In this film’s case, a young Simba can be heard crying, but he is unable to display this on his face like the animated version was able to show. There is a visible disconnect from the lines and noises that the voice actors are making and what is being seen on the screen depicted by the animal characters. This failure is a significant reason why this life-like CGI does not work for a Disney story such as this one.
Another flaw of this film is the lack of research into the natural history of the animals seen in The Lion King (2019). The majority of these issues are also apparent in the 1994 original, but for it to be a Disney fairy tale, I understand that there is anthropomorphism and molding a lion pride to what a human family would be. Disney has a lot of money and time on their hands to devote to getting things right, but this was not done with The Lion King. The most glaring error to my animal keeper eye’s is young Pumbaa the warthog depicted with stripes and coloring that is entirely absent from a warthog piglet. But I will digress that the majority of the audience members are not going to care about these kinds of errors.
The Lion King (2019) is a feat of realistic CGI for animals but has little else going for it aside from fan favorites Timon and Pumbaa. This new version directed by Jon Favreau adds hardly anything new to the original film (it even has James Earl Jones reprising the voice of Mufasa), and it is the most glaring and obvious cash grab by Disney since these live-action remakes started to be made. If people have never heard of or seen the original animated film, they might be awe-struck by this new film, but for those who have seen the original or possibly obsessed over it for many, many years, it is a failure of creativity and an unnecessary film.