Lion King (2019) Review

Scar: This gorge is where all lions, come to find their roar.

Beware: Spoilers may follow.

In Disney’s endless quest to remake every one of their classics now comes a remake of one of their biggest movies of all time (which was the highest grossing film of the year). And sadly can’t measure up despite having a couple of perks.

The story is pretty much the same as the original: Young Simba is born and his father Mufasa shows him how to be a good ruler. Mufasa’s brother Scar is mad since he was first in line to be the next king before Simba’s birth. Scar tries to have Simba killed with the help of the hyenas but Mufasa is there to save him so him and the hyenas formulate a plan to kill the both of them in a wildebeest stampede. Both make it out safely but Mufasa is eventually murdered by Scar in the process. Scar makes Simba think it was his fault and tells him to run away and never return (why he didn’t kill him right there is still beyond me) while Scar becomes king. Simba comes across Timon and Pumba who convince him to leave his past behind and he does so for several years until his childhood friend Nala finds him and persuades him to return home as Pride Rock is completely decimated under Scar’s rule.

The plot hasn’t changed at all from the original. The story is still a great story on paper and I did like how they portrayed the hyenas in this movie as far more intelligent and even having their own nation rather than them just being Scar’s stooges. They legitimately feel like a big threat to Pride Rock. But the story also really removes fundamental parts like the scene where Simba sees his father’s ghost in the clouds, we hear his voice but we don’t see him. The scene afterwards where Rafiki teaches Simba a lesson about the past in the original (which in my opinion is the best part of the movie) that part’s completely cut out. So much magic and emotion is lost as a result.

The running time is longer than the original and the new stuff added feels more like padding than anything. Nala gets a new song and a scene of her escaping Pride Rock but it doesn’t do anything and even the song is forgettable. The scene where Rafiki finds out Simba is alive is extended for no reason at all.

The voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag. John Oliver nailed the part of Zazu. Keegan Michael Key, Eric Andre, and Florence Kasumba had some good moments in portraying the hyenas. Donald Glover did relatively well as Simba although his singing voice could have been better. Billy Eichner and Seth and Rogen as Timon and Pumba respectively were absolutely stealing the show in every scene they’re in (though the latter has a horrid singing voice). Even though Timon doesn’t dress up in drag and do the hula what we get is still great. However Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villainous Scar felt horribly subdued and it doesn’t help the character at all. Even his rendition of Be Prepared fares no better. It didn’t even feel like they tried there. But easily the most shockingly disappointing is James Earl Jones as Mufasa (the one actor who actually came back this time around). A lot of his lines just lacked so much emotional depth.

Then there’s the matter of the CGI, which really divided fans as whether or not to call this a live-action remake, and as a realistic look it is great. But as an emotional way of storytelling it is AWFUL! With a couple of exceptions there is little to no emotion on any of these characters. It’s hard to tell when these characters are happy, scared, upset, etc. A particular scene that stands out is when Simba sees his dad fall to his death they try to recreate that drama and it really lacks. And aside from Scar, all the lions look very indistinguishable. With little emotion and restricted movements in attempt to be more realistic so much liveliness is lost.

While this remake does have its moments (particularly involving Timon and Pumba) it not only pales in comparison to its animated counterpart (like most of Disney’s live action remakes) and really does nothing to improve upon the original and has no reason to exist. Just because something looks more realistic doesn’t mean it’s better or more adult and this movie is a prime example of that. The argument can be made that this definitely isn’t for an adult audience and it’s more for kids but so is the original and kids and adults can appreciate it more and more with age in and outside of nostalgia. The original movie is accessible; it’s got far better attention to detail and emotion, better voice acting, and most of all its level of passion and intensity in every frame really makes it hold up. This is a remake that just doesn’t understand that.