The Lion King (2019)
Jon Favreau has fully transitioned from a comedic actor-writer into the go-to director for blockbusters. He was responsible for kick starting the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man (2008) (and has subsequently appeared as the character Happy throughout), and has led the charge with the recent Disney live-action remakes with his technologically marvelous and financially successful The Jungle Book (2016). Now Favreau has been tapped to remake one of the most beloved Disney films ever: The Lion King (1994).
This new The Lion King (2019) is a nearly identical shot-for-shot recreation of the 1994 film. We have the same “Hamlet”-inspired story of the jealous brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) craving the throne of his brother Mufasa (James Early Jones), and triggered even more when he’s pushed further away from his desire by the birth of Mufasa’s son Simba (JD McCrary).
To go further into the plot would be pointless, given the universality of this film and its story not only thanks to the original animated film, but with its ubiquitous iterations on the stage in urban centers around the world.
The cinematic technology has advanced so much, that this “live-action” remake is in fact entirely visual effects. No physical set actually existed for the making of this Lion King, as everything from the characters to the rocks and sky are created on a computer. Favreau had already shown impressive visual wonders with his Jungle Book, but The Lion King pushes the boundaries of what is cinematically possible even further. At times you might think you were watching a David Attenborough nature documentary instead of a CG film.
Favreau also brings together an all-star cast, with two of the greatest singers of today: Donald Glover and Beyoncé headlining as adult Simba and Nala. The ability to hear both performers’ interpretations of the film’s songs is enough to ripple goose bumps through the audience. Favreau also brings an array of comic talent, among them Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, and Keegan-Michael Key, that clearly improvise some of their scenes and bring unique and fresh spins to well-trodden scenes.
To take on such a beloved and near-perfect story can be daunting, and it seems that this restrained Favreau into following along too closely to the original. In fact, there seems to be scarcely any deviation from lines, scenes, and even shots. The stage play was bolder in taking certain creative deviations, yet managing to maintain the story’s core and magic. The technical feat alone was undoubtedly monumental, but remakes should be adding a new interpretation into the story, otherwise we are being sold the exact same product as the 1994 film.
There were also certain aspects that jaded this film and its emotional message. Being a musical, there’s a certain element of theatricality needed that was toned down by some of the voice actors; particularly Ejiofor as Scar, who seemed to be playing his character too subtly, especially when compared to Jeremy Irons’ thespian performance in the original. Given that a certain amount of realism was added by seeming to create the animals as in nature, a great deal of expressiveness is lost from the characters’ faces. A lot more weight is put of the voice actors to pull off the emotions that their visual counterparts can’t aid with. This made certain heart-wrenching scenes from the 1994 film (which would many cry no matter how many times watched) toned down and cooler.
In the end, this iteration of The Lion King is a visual marvel to behold with impressive star-power; however, it seems to be a downright copy of the 1994 film, with little added interpretation. The added relief of a strong singing duo and refreshing comic improvisation prove to be little changes that don’t stave off the airs of plagiarism. Given the perfection of the original film, even a watered-down version like this is still fun and engaging; but if you’re itching for this story told in an impactful way, stick to the animated version.