Jul 22, 2019
There’s a meme floating around right now that lists the movies currently in the theaters, and asking politely if we’ve moved back to the 1990s. And it’s a legitimate question, because I am totally living my middle school and high school years right now between Aladdin, Men in Black, and today’s remake of “The Lion King”. Disney’s latest string of exquisitely animated reboots of their classic titles have had mixed success with the critics, partly because it is hard to improve upon the original films and partly because the areas for improvement are largely individual in nature. Where did I come down on today’s film? I’ll let you know in a minute, but for a couple other Disney films, check out reviews for the 2017 live-action remake of “Beauty And The Beast” (Episode #030) and One Movie Spouse’s review for “Mary Poppins Returns” (Episode #380).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “The Lion King”, the Walt Disney Pictures reboot of the classic 1994 animated film, directed by Jon Favreau and written for the screen by Jeff Nathanson, based on a story by Brenda Chapman and characters by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton. The film follows Simba (voiced by JD McCrary as a young cub, and Donald Glover as an adult), who flees his kingdom when his father Mufasa (reprised by James Earl Jones) is killed by his uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). With the help of some unlikely friends, he finds the strength he needs to return and challenge his uncle for the throne.
What’s the point of a remake or a reboot? Generally they come down to three driving factors: (1) To improve upon an original that had more potential than how it was executed; (2) To explore a new take on the same story or update it for the modern era; and/or (3) to correct outdated language or actions from the original work. Well, let’s be honest, there’s also a fourth reason, which is all about that box office haul, something Disney knows very well right now with Marvel, Pixar, and this latest string of live-action remakes. “The Lion King” is already on track to set another box office record for July. Aside from the money, however, and outside the incredible animation, this year’s “The Lion King” has little new to offer audiences. And that’s what makes it a disappointment. It doesn’t mean folks won’t enjoy “The Lion King”, nor that it won’t succeed at the box office, nor that it won’t become another timeless classic for Disney fans. But it is a disappointment.
Jon Favreau was the natural choice to direct this reboot, after
his excellent work on “The Jungle Book” reboot in 2016. Disney
animators leveraged a great deal of the animation done for “The
Jungle Book” reboot into “The Lion King” reboot, recycling and
enhancing the exquisite details brought to the animals. Favreau
really knows how to direct the action scenes within today’s film,
sometimes with almost too much happening on the screen for the
viewer. However, all this detail and realism comes at a cost to the
The 1994 version, with the characters cartoon animated and anthropomorphized for the screen, makes it very easy to suspend belief to accept a story about talking animals in an idyllic African grassland. The scenes of danger and peril work very well in this respect, when the hyenas corner young Simba and Nala (voiced by Shahadi Wright Joseph as a child, and Queen Bey as an adult), or the impressive final fight scenes. However, this year’s reboot is so realistic that other parts of the story seem much less plausible. Cartoon Simba can be friends with Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen) without any dissonance. Exquisitely animated and heavily detailed Simba should be calmly eating Pumba while Timon watches in horror.
Perhaps the worst part about the film is just how boring it is. Yes, boring. Once your brain adjusts to the new animation style, the rest of the film is almost exactly the same as the original. The songs, the scenes, the framing, almost exact replicas, admittedly great for the side-by-side comparisons. However, what was a perfect ninety-minute story in the 1994 version, happens over an extra thirty minutes, often taken up in transition scenes, or lingering sometimes too long on the replicated scenes. I was checking the time about two-thirds in, wondering how much longer we’d have to wait for the next song, or the next decent action scene, or for the very few bits of new material.
And for $250 million dollars, I can only think of how many excellent independent features could have been made with the same money. Now I know what you’re thinking. Oh sure, Mr. Nose In The Air Critic, you want more features you like. But did One Movie Spouse feel the same way? Amy?
AMY: *SIGH* Hakuna Matata. Ah, forget it.
Look what you’ve done, Disney! LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!
“The Lion King” is an almost too faithful remake of the 1994 animated classic, rebuilding the previous story and characters in exquisite animation, but also losing some of that Disney storytelling magic in the process. The two-hour running time feels stretched out, over-focusing on the spectacle to stretch out the previous ninety minute story. Disney fans, and fans of animation, will definitely like this film, but folks looking for more from the remake will be disappointed. And possibly bored.
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
One Movie Punch: 5.0/10
“The Lion King” (2019) is rated PG and is currently playing in theaters.