It’s fair to say that every year it appears as though Hollywood has run out of new ideas. We’re either getting remakes, reboots, or content from established properties, and while much of it is still pretty good, sometimes the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” definitely applies.
This is true in the case of Disney’s latest “live-action” remake of The Lion King. The ’94 animated film is widely considered as Disney’s best film of all time. During the height of Disney animation, they could do no wrong. Producing hit film after hit film from Aladdin to Beauty and the Beast to Pocahontas to Mulan, but it was unquestionable that The Lion King hit a magical place in the hearts of every man, woman, and child it touched. It was a kind of magic that wasn’t even hampered by it’s sequels, which found a way to tell or retell the story in different ways that was still unique and entertaining.
That isn’t the case for this new update. The magic and wonder of the original Lion King are all but zapped out and the film comes across as nothing more than a cheap money grab with solid visuals. For starters, much of the new film is unchanged from the original. The opening ‘Circle of Life’ sequence even has the same cuts as the animated, which some might think is a plus, but then that begs the question, if you weren’t going to change anything, why do it in the first place?
Visually, the film is a marvel. The lions look amazing. The scenery is breathtaking. The animation is flawless.
I guess we could understand, because the original is not just a classic, it’s THE classic, so why touch it. But that’s what we’re saying, why touch it at all? Because about 80% of what happens in the original is going to happen here, in almost the exact same way, and many of the things they did change throws off the rhythm of the story so badly, it’s almost unwatchable.
The film follows so many of the same beats until it doesn’t that it’s just jarring for any viewer who’s seen the original multiple times. But a few of the new things they’ve added work. A new scene between Scar and Sarabi is filled with tension, while an updated version of Timon and Puumba’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” gets a chorus attached to it that will undoubtedly put a huge kid-like smile on your face.
While there are some performances that are genuinely good like Donald Glover who fits like a glove into an adult Simba or Chiwetel Ejiofor who takes Scar from a whimsical charmer to a completely devious and sinister aggressor, there are other performances that are just the victim of miscasting. Sorry Beyhive, but Beyonce has proven once again that the only person she can act as is Beyonce. Even as a voice talent, she sounded more like she was preparing the lions to ‘get in formation’ than she was rallying them to a fight. And what was done to Rafiki’s character was downright criminal. John Kani is a very talented actor so not much blame can be thrown his way as much as can be on the writers who shamelessly stripped Rafiki of all the significance, charm, and humor he had in the original film. He says almost nothing in the entire film, and his beats are so off from the ’94 film, he comes across as a character who wasn’t even integral to the plot, even though we know he very much is.
Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner climb into the roles of Timon and Puumba perfectly. Their scenes together are truly the best of the film because they are genuinely fresh. They tell new jokes and find new ways of making their scenes work in a film where you can’t just cut to them dressed in drag and doing the hula. But one change they made that was exceptional was the focus on Shenzi as the leader of the Hyenas. Voiced quite convincingly by Florence Kasumba. Shenzi has no sense of humor, she’s violent and hungry. She comes across as much more dominant in this version, which makes the final scene with Scar a lot more intense.
…the film comes across as nothing more than a cheap money grab with solid visuals.
Visually, the film is a marvel. The lions look amazing. The scenery is breathtaking. The animation is flawless. But I ask, if all of this was done with an underwhelming script, could it be that Disney may have focused it’s attention on the wrong detail?
Don’t expect Disney to fall off from their perch quite yet. It IS still The Lion King after all, and they’re going to milk their greatest accomplishment for all it’s worth probably til the end of time. And they’ve already scheduled two other live action remakes with The Little Mermaid and Mulan hitting theaters in the next few years, so no Hollywood isn’t done with old ideas just yet. But this was no spectacle. It lacked the heart and magic of its original counterpart. And aside from what they did with the graphics, the rest of the film is pretty much forgettable, but why would you need to remember it, when you can always pop in the ol’ VHS, it’s better this way anyway.