Jon Favreau‘s photorealistic remake of Disney’s The Lion King is gorgeously animated, but ultimately feels robotic and unnecessary. It’s perfectly acceptable summer fare, and the kids should love it, but it’s also certainly a step down from his previous effort, The Jungle Book.
Watching The Lion King, I couldn’t help but notice a dispassion in the performances of most of the actors. They clearly felt like they were simply reciting lines, mostly verbatim from the 1994 version. Even James Earl Jones, who returned as Mufasa for the remake, felt aloof and impersonal. It could simply be the negative impact of the uncanny valley, but this is Disney’s first live-action (I seriously hesitate to refer to it as such) that felt like it was for the money, to retain the rights, etc.
The musical numbers also aren’t as impressive this time around, despite having two Grammy-winning musicians in the cast. There’s a new twinge to “The Circle of Life” that I really dug, but the rest feel underwhelming. This is especially true of Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s rendition of “Be Prepared,” which was reportedly going to be cut originally due to its Nazi-esque symbolism but was put back in after fan blowback. Maybe they should’ve just left it out, fan outrage be damned.
The movie does do one thing really well, though, in recreating all of the original imagery in stunning three-dimensional reality. There’s an interesting dichotomy going on in this version, where Pride Rock and the Pride Lands both look imposing and threatening (as one would expect them to in the saharas of Africa) but also beautiful and regal. They become a place one dreams of visiting, but is never actually willing to follow through on. It’s impressive what can be done in a computer lab these days.
All in all, The Lion King is nothing to write home about, but you’ll have a decent time if you decide to check it out.
The Lion King roars into theaters with 2.5 out of 5 hakuna matatas on Friday, July 19, 2019.