PRIDE ROCK — When it was announced that 2019 would see the release of three live-action remakes of Disney animated classics I was a little skeptical. Then when I heard the three were “Dumbo,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” I wasn’t totally sure what to think.
However, I was fairly certain “Aladdin” wouldn’t be the best of the group and that “The Lion King” wouldn’t be fighting for that bottom spot. Kudos to you, universe, you’ve done it again and proved me so very wrong.
“The Lion King” is now in theaters, and I have to say it was a rough go for me. There are some things that are absolutely spectacular in the film — and we’ll get to those — but even they do not make the film worth your time.
Here are a few reasons why “The Lion King” does not reign supreme:
The Elephant Graveyard
It’s totally unnecessary
I know this seems obvious because none of these live-action remakes are necessary, but this one really takes the cake. I know “Aladdin” took a lot of heat, but at least director Guy Ritchie put his own flavor to the film, and they changed up some things about the plot and characters. Will Smith also gave a great performance as the Genie.
We don’t get any of that in “The Lion King.” Instead, we get what is almost a shot-for-shot rehash of the 1994 classic — and when I say shot-for-shot I mean it. Almost everything, including the dialogue, in this 2019 version is exactly the same up to the point Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa. After that, there are little variations to dialogue and jokes, a couple of extended scenes, and that’s it. Otherwise, you have seen this movie a thousand times at home. It was frustrating to watch, and I could not stop asking, “Why?”
I still don’t have an answer for that.
I wonder if James Earl Jones even came in to record lines because his dialogue seems to be exactly the same as the original. I think it’s completely possible the filmmakers just took his tracks from 1994 and laid them over this new footage.
It’s missing the heart and impact
The 1994 “Lion King” seems to resonate into your soul somehow. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the brilliant animation combined with the stirring music and memorable voice performances make the animated film carry a weight to it that doesn’t leave you. This updated version misses that. The CGI in this is truly remarkable — and that's what we'll get to later — but since they’re creating what looks like real animals, it’s hard to get the expression and feel from the characters that we do in the original.
As odd as it sounds, the less real the animals look the more empathetic and drawn we are to the characters. I would not have thought that was the case, but this movie has proved me wrong. There is a lack of emotion in this 2019 remake, which is disappointing considering that’s part of what made the 1994 original so unique and memorable.
Sure, you’re still going to get a little choked up when you see Mufasa fall into the charging stampede, but I haven’t figured out yet if that’s because it still packs that emotional punch or I’m remembering seeing it for the first time as a child and how it affected me.
The Pride Lands
The visuals are stunning
I mentioned there are some things about the film that are really impressive and worth mentioning. The biggest thing is undoubtedly the CGI. Some of the animals still look animated, but there are moments where you won’t believe your eyes are seeing a completely computer-engineered lion or hyena. It’s amazing what these animators were able to accomplish.
Yes, things look so real it’s almost frightening; but what will really get you are the details you won’t immediately notice. Things like how shadows react to movement on the animals; the way their muscles tense when they walk, roar or breath; and the way ears twitch or tails swat bugs away. It’s truly incredible and needs to be applauded. I cannot imagine the amount of work that went into creating this, but I certainly appreciate it.
Billy Eichner was born to play Timon
Nathan Lane was perfect as Timon in the 1994 “Lion King,” but I have to say I’m a huge fan of Billy Eichner’s voice performance in this version.
Eichner is a unique comedic actor and his flair and high energy are perfect for Timon. I found myself laughing out loud a few times at his lines and delivery. I can’t say I was much impressed with the rest of the cast, even though I greatly respect Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Glover was fine as adult Simba, but there was nothing memorable to it; and Ejifor actually was great as Scar, but filling Jeremy Irons iconic shoes is a little much to ask.
Eichner, however, completely stood out. I’d say his performance and the groundbreaking visual effects may be the only things worth a watch in this movie.
Will the kids like it?
This is the real question, isn’t it? Who cares if the grumpy old adult critic liked this movie, I just want to know if my kids will.
They might. That’s the best I can do. I’m guessing, for the most part, kids will be entertained by the film, but I may also warn parents that the realistic animals may scare younger kids more than the 1994 animated version does. There were a few crying toddlers in the theater, but most little ones seemed to be entertained and enjoying the film.
I don’t want to be overly harsh, but I really did not enjoy this movie. The visuals and Eichner’s performance were not enough to save it for me. This one was a big "swing and a miss" for me. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, though, because it will go on to make millions and millions for Disney and put more fuel on this remake fire.