The Lion King review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Jon Favreau was able to find plenty of interesting angles to explore in 2016’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book considering it wasn’t exactly Disney’s best animated film. But since the studio has decided to dip into the richer pot of animated classics, they’re now playing with nostalgia that a lot of Disney lovers that grew up with these films have become passionate about. As a result, Favreau’s The Lion King doesn’t really mess with the formula of classic drama and musical numbers that made the 1994 original so prolific. This is both an attribute and a curse.
The story still works but mostly because it’s not changing much of anything. We’re treated to the big opening of the African plains celebrating the birth of the new lion prince Simba with gorgeous computer animation and a booming version of the familiar score with Hans Zimmer. We learn of Simba’s dignified and insightful father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and his jealous and evil uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Drama for the throne ensues as Scar plots the deaths of Simba and Musfasa. And if you’ve seen the 1994 original, which seems almost like a rite of passage if you were a kid of the 1990s, you pretty much know the rest.
Plot-wise, The Lion King doesn’t add much of anything but that’s okay. Most of the performances are not too shabby. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a more vicious voice where he takes bigger swipes and makes more scathing snarls as opposed to the refinement of Jeremy Irons from the animated original. His version of the song “Be Prepared” has a tad more drive. Most of the cast delivers performances that feel very natural, where it almost seems like some of them may have been goofing off on a sound stage with motion controls to get their mannerisms just right.
The computer-animated environment has its pros and cons. On one level, the total control of a photorealistic environment allows for some profound staging to create a true sense of operatic wonderment. At the same time, many of the characters are portrayed as so accurate to true animals that seeing and hearing them talk is jarring at times, to the point that I almost wished the animators would break the illusion just for a bit to allow for more expression. It’s a mixed bag but ultimately I found myself a bit more entranced by the presentation more than the characters themselves.
When thinking about The Lion King, I found myself drawn back to the 2005 remake of The Producers, a film which is still funny but more or less the same thing as the original, nothing new with the exception of the performances and maybe some better sets and cameras. The Lion King is very much the same way and I can’t get too mad at the picture for doing so. It’s nowhere near the horrendous nature of the live-action Beauty and the Beast update, which unsuccessfully attempted to autotune melodies and add in the magical atlas which created deep plot holes.
If you’ve never seen the Disney classic or just wanna see a prettier update, The Lion King fulfills that level of entertainment. Just don’t expect it to do much else than that, never truly taking full advantage of exploring more of its world and its philosophies.