Standing tall on Pride Rock is one of the most beloved animated classics of all time, an honor that only a few films can claim. And without question, one of that select group of films is most certainly Disney’s The Lion King. Featuring fantastic and iconic music from award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, Elton John (who is incidentally also having quite the year), and etc., each frame and deafening roar was well realized in its hand-drawn style. Yet, returning to the Pride Rock and threatening to topple it all over is Jon Favreau. Sure, the success of 2016’s The Jungle Book most certainly would have given Favreau the clout and Disney the confidence to hand him the reins of such a beloved property. Simply put, the stakes are high, and it seems that Favreau also knows this fact far too well. The 2019 CGI remake of The Lion King seems as if it would be charging headlong into the animated original, sure to shake up the formula and introduce a fresh spin. However, at the very last moment, Favreau and his all-star cast turn sharply away, turning right back the way they came. Yes, 2019’s The Lion King is a faithful remake of the original and is effective in introducing and modernizing the tale for newer generations.
And while most coverage of the film has frequently compared the film to its original, thus allowing many to deem it inferior, a temptation that is admittedly powerful, especially for top-tiered headlines, on its own merits, Favreau does in fact succeed. The film, although based on the animated classic, should be judged on its own and not within the context of its predecessor. And in that regard? The Lion King is a success, being both wildly entertaining and momentously epic in all the right ways, even if its lasting resonance is cut short by a disappointingly shallow take on the world.
What will ultimately sell tickets and make the film, yet another Disney juggernaut is a team of artists’ jaw-dropping realization of the world and characters in seemingly photorealism. As insisted by a marketing representative before the press screening, the film is entirely animated, with each shot created on a computer. Essentially, it’s an animated remake of an animated film. Indeed, when put that way, the defense against the film being a “cash-grab” certainly isn’t seeing any favors. However, for every moment that caused my eyes to light up, stunned by what was accomplished, this direction ends up resulting in some conflicting consequences.
It can’t be denied just how amazing of an accomplishment The Lion King is technically. In fact, I would dare say that it is the greatest technical achievement in all of film. Just for its visuals alone can the ticket price be justified. However, consequently, facial animations, most visible in the musical numbers, are somewhat stiff and seem even frozen at times. I found general moments of dialogue to be far easier to ignore, but when Donald Glover is churning out iconic lyrics in a silky tone, seeing Simba’s mouth barely move is at best noticeable and at worst distracting. However, these flaws quickly faded way as the story progressed and the world swept me up in its hands, thanks to Hans Zimmer’s iconic soundtrack.
The performances, all from a star-studded cast, are expectedly excellent. Donald Glover as Simba impresses, thanks mostly to his musical numbers. Beyoncé similarly shines in her role, even if it didn’t leave as nearly large an impact as I would have expected. But undoubtedly the highlight is Seth Rogen as Pumbaa. His and Billy Eichner’s Timon share some hilarious moments, many of them culturally relevant and modernized. Even if their placement is a bit too on the nose, it’s an issue that I was more than willing to forgive.
In conclusion, The Lion King, when compared to its animated source material, can most definitely be seen as purposeless or even inferior. But on its own merits, an attitude that newcomers will judge it with, it’s magnificent. The collision of technical genius, music that is majestic in every sense of the word, and a story that is quite simply as “old as time” proves to still be an effective formula for Disney. And with the flawed yet still hugely enjoyable Aladdin and The Lion King, if this is the direction that Disney wants to take with their future live-action remakes, I’m all in.