Friday, July 19, 2019

The Lion King - Review

What happens when Disney runs out of renaissance era animated films to adapt into the “live-action” remakes? Is Pixar next? Are we looking at small ants taking on a grasshopper in 2022’s remake of a A Bug’s Life? How about the perilous journey of Marlin as he searches for his son in Finding Nemo? While the prospects of this actually seem far-fetched, to a degree, The Lion King feels like a demonstration of how realistic they can make these classics without changing an ounce of the story.

Simba (JD McCrary & Donald Glover) idolizes his father, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and takes to heart his own royal destiny on the plains of Africa. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub's arrival. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa's brother -- and former heir to the throne -- has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is soon ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba's exile. Now, with help from a curious pair of newfound friends (Billy Eichner & Seth Rogen), Simba must figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

It’s fairly evident that Disney wanted to showcase their insanely detailed animation and The Lion King was the avenue to do that. The realistic effects reach an entirely new level here, a game-changing and jaw-dropping elevation of a medium that has progressed further and further with the aid of rapidly advancing technology. There are multiple wow moments, comprised of completely computer generated images that look as real as they ever have.

But all this detail comes at a price. The emotional center and heart of the story, which remains the exact same as the 1994 original, is sacrificed for the realism of animals that don’t really emote or have any sort of facial expressions. It’s hard to have a menacing villain like Scar when the lion on screen maintains the same expression outside of a roar or snarl here or there.

The lack of this emotional piece of the puzzle becomes worse when one considers the stellar choices for the voice cast. They all fit their roles really well, particularly the work of Billy Eichner as Timon, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, and John Oliver as Zazu. All three offer some good comedic moments in a film that is desperate for any rise in emotion beyond the flatness of the whole affair.

The idea of remaking The Lion King is not flawed completely as a concept, no remake ever is. However, if you’re going to do it, at least commit to trying something new. Yes, Jon Favreau has delivered another visually masterful remake of a Disney classic, but rather than shifting some story beats to create something new like he did with The Jungle Book in 2016, The Lion King plays out exactly like the original. It would be shocking if Jeff Nathanson, the credited writer, did anything but scribble out 1994 on the script and write 2019 instead.

The Lion King is an updated version of a classic Disney film that doesn’t come close to offering anything new outside of spectacular animation. The story is a carbon copy of the original minus the emotion and heart that made that film a masterpiece. It’s not the worst thing in the world, and if you love the music, which is still wonderfully utilized, and the dialogue from the original, it’s worth the two hours to see the masterful craft behind it. Unfortunately films are not graded on craft alone, and The Lion King can’t muster anything beyond that.

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