Director/Actor Jon Faverau Directs Disney’s “The Lion King”. For New Generation’s You’ll Love This, For Those Who Know The Animated Film Will Be Bored As It’s Cinematically Shot For Shot. Faverau’s Direction Is Some Of The Most Beautiful Camera Work & The Visual Effects Are Truly Astonishing & Oscar Worthy.
Disney’s beloved 1994 animated classic “The Lion King”, had just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary this month. “The Lion King” is a true gem from the house of mouse and one of the best animated films. It was the winner of two Oscars for Best original song by music icon Elton John and original score from the legendary Hans Zimmer.
In 2016, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In it’s theater run “The Lion King” earned $990 million and now to celebrate it’s 25 years, Disney has chosen Simba and the gang at Pride Rock to be the next “live-action” adaption or in this case CGI adaptation. Following the much better live-action versions of “Aladdin” and “Dumbo”. Actor and director Jon Faverau returns to the Disney lot as director and producer of “The Lion King”.
It’s puzzling that Disney is wanting to remake and re-imagine their catalogue of animated films. But why re-do something that was already perfect to begin with? While “Aladdin” and “Dumbo” were great adaptations, “The Lion King” is one of the most technically, visually impressive and beautifully directed disasters.
“The Lion King” is essentially an animated Shakespearean riff on “Hamlet” with some of Disney’s most infectious songs and a whole lot of personality, emotion and heart. The 2019 version is none of these things, but told with the look of a nature documentary. It’s no question astounding to look at, and the spectacle can sometimes be overwhelming. But as far as comparing both versions there isn’t much to compare as they are both cinematically shot for shot.
In the original, the film opens with the now iconic song “The Circle Of Life” as Rafiki is standing on the edge of pride rock, holding up Simba to the kingdom before him and the heavens above. The scene closes with the banging of drums and the films title aggressively popping on screen. Favreau’s version starts the same exact way, shot for shot and continues to be a carbon copy for the next two hours.
No changes from the original, brings me back to recalling Vince Vaughn’s “Psycho” remake. Unlike “Aladdin” which kept to the original, brought something new and tweaked the old. “The Lion King” is a straight adaptation. While I wasn’t a fan of the film, Favreau had found a middle ground with his live-action take on “The Jungle Book” a few years ago. Having cleverly weave the songs or at least portions of them, into some appropriately darker situations than the animated classic had dared to include. “Jungle Book” did something with the material, rather than just re-filming it. There was an effort and thought put into it and “The Lion King” needed that.
Had Favreau and his team either rewritten the dialogue (which is also exactly the same from the 94 original) or expand the story and their world. But as it stands, there are so few moments in Simba’s journey that don’t feel completely neutered from the original’s epic fantastical scale.
For example, take early musical numbers “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Be Prepared.” Two joyous songs overflowing with colorful imagery and powerful overtones. In these versions, the songs feel dull as if they have no energy. While the original felt like a showstopper, here the young Simba and Nala just splash around in a water hole, while Scar’s music number is also dull as he just climbs some rocks.
Some of the voice cast fairs better than others, while none of them hit the mark as perfectly as the original cast members. Donald Glover as the adult Simba is much quieter and toned down, but isn’t as ecstatic as Matthew Broderick. Just as Donald Glover, actor Chitewel Ejiofor also plays Scar quieter than Jeremy Irons, but Ejiofor doesn’t have that distinct gruff in his voice like Jeremy Irons.
Then there’s scene stealers and by far the best thing about the film, Timone (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), whose line deliveries are so spot-on that you forget you’re essentially watching animals sing about not having any worries, Eichner especially whose voice work is phenomenal. Thanks to them, “Hakuna Matata” manages to get by relatively unscathed compared to the rest of the numbers. Much like the original, it will be impossible to leave the theater not having fallen in love with those two characters.
While James Earl Jones reprises his iconic voice work as Mufasa. Superstar Beyonce lends a new song written for the film. Her song “Spirit” isn’t set-up as a musical number but is shoehorned into a traveling montage in which the singer also provides the voice of the adult Nala.
Legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, returns to upgrade his score from the original film. Zimmer collaborates with mega producer Pharrell Williams and provides that same spectacular, unforgettable power with just enough new bits laced within to give it new layers and expand on the already sweeping score. While Elton John’s contributions to the original soundtrack are no longer here he does provide a new song, that is trademark Elton John.
While it’s a shot for shot remake. I did notice one new scene and it’s a scene that brings nothing new, is unnecessary and is rather silly. When a defeated adult Simba sinks into the grass mid film, a clump of his mane flies off and floats into the air, we get an extended montage of how that essentially what is a piece of hair ball gets to Rafiki. Part of the journey is that it includes a giraffe eating it and then it cuts to a dung beetle rolling around the giraffe’s poop across the rocky terrains, where eventually his hair ball comes loose and Rafiki finds it and realizes Simba is still alive. I wish what I had described was a joke, but unfortunately it’s the films only new scene.
The most you’ll get out of Faverau’s “The Lion King” is it’s game-changing visual effects. Giving the ability to transport us to a dazzling world of majestic animals and serene landscapes. Every ounce of this movie is digitally rendered, but the detail is so vibrant, colorful and immaculate that it’s like watching a deeply involving episode of the National Geographic channel. Favreau and the entire VFX team deserves mountains of praise and Oscar wins for making this all look like it was shot on location. They have really forever changed how digital environments will be created and filmed.
The visual effects does have it’s downfalls as we are left with singing and talking animals that have almost no expressions. While the use of lighting and scenery feels both natural and spectacular. What’s missing is heart, soul, the anger, emotion and spectacle of the scenes don’t hit as hard as they did in the animated film. I was left feeling no emotion during the stampede scene. Unlike the animated film again it feels bland and emotionless. If your new to “The Lion King” this will be a great way to introduce yourself to the film or any kid who hasn’t seen the animated film. If you have seen the 94 original and hold it dear to your heart like many, then you’ll find this boring as you will know every line and every shot before it happens. As the song says “Can you feel the love tonight?”, well sad to say this film certainly gets no love nor did I feel any.
GRADE: ★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5)