Disney’s latest delve into its archives brings to the screen the photo-realistic, computer animated adaptation of The Lion King. Director Jon Favreau, the Moving Picture Company and an incredible cast breathe fresh and incredibly real life into the heartbreaking, destiny fulfilling classic and gifts us with the visual cinematic masterpiece of the year.
The screen play by Jeff Nathanson, stays relatively true to the 1994 story line that captured our hearts and still has us crying “Why did Mufasa have to die?” (spoiler alert shouldn’t be necessary here right?) It begins with the King of Pride Rock, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) and Queen Sarabi (voiced by Alfre Woodard) welcoming their new son, Simba (voiced by JD McCrary and Donald Glover). Then roll out the evil plans of Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor) on poor little Simba, the ultimate brotherly betrayal, and the story continues almost exactly as you remember it with a few brilliant and a few not so great alterations.
Jd McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph do a brilliant job of the voices of young Simba and Nala and the childlike simplicity that is so loved in the original is captured best in the sequences with the cubs. Donald Glover’s version of Simba is just how you’d imagine, a little sassy, soulful and pensive with a good dash of Hakuna Matata. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar brings something far different to the role in comparison to the cartoon version; think much less evil laughter and a lot more self hatred and cunning.
Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as the voices of Timon and Pumbaa are the duo you never knew were missing from your life. The chemistry between the two is flawless, the comedy perfectly timed and significantly amped up from the original. John Oliver as Zazu is as brilliant as he is downright annoying in this character and you can’t help but laugh each time he speaks.
The best and most noticeable difference between the two is the extension of a few character narratives that were originally glossed over. Mufasa is given a bigger story part and as beautiful as it is, his death seemed even crueler when it came. Sarabi and Scar also play a larger role in the story arc and this is perhaps designed to give more to the film’s original audience in ways of relatability.
For all of the things that the remake gets right, it has some awkward and questionable choices. One that was completely unexpected, was Beyonce not quite hitting the mark with her voicing of Nala. When a voice is so iconic and no changes in inflection or tone are made, it’s hard to switch to seeing Nala, instead of seeing Beyonce Lion. Still iconic, yes, but not the iconic character. Beyonce sounds as wise as she is, and paired with Glover’s softer, childlike voice, Nala often sounds more like his mother, than his queen. This disconnect also unfortunately meant that the emotionally hard hitting ‘Can you Feel the Love Tonight’ only hits a little bit this time, which perhaps could have been overlooked if the song didn’t only play over a montage of scenes during the day. Can you feel the love… today? Still, even the daytime version, cinematically pleasing as it is, lacked the emotional pull you come to expect from an Elton John made for Disney song simply because you weren’t sure that even they could feel it.
Whilst there is humour served up to us as deliciously as a feast of grubs from Timon, Pumbaa and Zazu, this remake is significantly lacking in the quirkier, funnier musical numbers from the first and you miss them terribly in some of the narrative rich moments. There is a new edition to the song list to Nala’s repertoire, which is a nice change, but one that fans of the classic may not think was worth the loss.
The Moving Picture Company were the real stars of this cinematic marvel and should honestly just have every award thrown their way. The work is flawless, the animals are lifelike down to the whiskers, and the rolling landscapes so picturesque that you just want to be one of the animals in the pride lands, well, at least one of the ones that doesn’t get eaten by hyenas.
In terms of The Lion King being the ‘must see movie for kids in the school holidays’, the live action does make parts of this movie seem darker and scarier in comparison to the original, not that Disney has ever been known for its lightness. The running time of 118 minutes also may be a little long to stay as perfectly quiet as you parents may like whilst your heart breaks over Mufasa yet again and they just don’t get why.
Bring your tissues, that ‘no worries’ attitude and enjoy this marvellous remake of the Disney classic when The Lion King hits cinemas around Australia from July 17.
Written by Sarah Burley