The build up to the 2019 version of The Lion King seemed to escape the blowback on remakes (especially the Disney variety) of “why?” and “can’t we leave our classics alone?” The marketing plan was as big and epic as the original and the visual seems so advanced, it got a pass.
The Lion King (2019) hits all the notes it needs to and transports you back to the magic of your first trip to Pride Rock. While it rises above the “live-action” remakes like Aladdin and Dumbo, it reinforces that the classics are ultimately untouchable and remain the standard of family and animated films.
Just in case you don’t already know the plot of The Lion King, here’s the briefest of setups. You know the story, young Simba gets convinced he’s to blame for the death of the king of Pride Rock ––his father, Mufasa. In reality, his uncle Scar, jealous and hungry to take the throne, set Simba and Mufasa up. Simba runs away from Pride Rock in an attempt to leave his past behind him. Of course, you can never leave behind your destiny and your place in the world; it’s who you are.
The most talked about aspect of the film will of course be the animation. It’s a visual spectacle that you’ll lose yourself in. Especially in the initial sequences, it’s so astonishing and unlike anything that’s been done before, it is hard to pick your jaw up off the floor. If you showed this movie to someone who was in a coma for even five years, their heads would literally explode. Give director Jon Favreau and the animation team all of the visual effects awards.
Of course, it would be irresponsible to discuss the movie and not mention the star studded cast. Some stood out as uninspired or a bit lifeless, but overall the casting was a home run.
Beyonce delivers a voice acting performance I wasn’t sure she had in her. Donald Glover is as good as you’d hope considering he might be the most talented person on the planet right now. The real standout performances, however, were from Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa as well as John Oliver as Zazu.
Their humor and delivery, much of which was improvised during rehearsals, is far and away the highlight of the film. The humor feels updated and modern. It’s perfect for 2019, but remains to be seen if it will have the longevity of the original.
New scenes and moments make this version about 30 minutes longer than the original, but it never drags. Nala and Sirabe (Alfre Woodard) get more prominence and spotlight on their journey and their roles. We also see a more revolutionary and political Scar (voiced by the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor). While the new scenes all work, some of the new dialogue feels out of place or falls flat. Hans Zimmer’s rich score soars throughout, whisking us away on Simba’s journey. The music doesn’t quite live up to the original, but it puts its own enjoyable spin on the songs we love. The choreography is made to feel more natural than a traiditonal musical, but still feels awkward because the animals look so real. Beyonce’s “Spirit” does feel out of place, both musically and as the only song not sung by the animals in the film.
The 2019 version of The Lion King isn’t quite a shot for shot remake, but it does hit all the beats you’d expect and even pulls dialogue directly during the most important moments. It’s a key approach to what makes talking animals work when they look as real as they do. It’s funnier than the original, but lacks some of the surprise of its predecessor.
Fans of the original Lion King will take great joy in reliving the magic of a film that defined a whole generation’s childhood. It’s a visual masterpiece that honors and builds on the original story, but can’t quite find the same depth and emotion. It’s a great accompanying piece to an all-time classic, but if you were to introduce someone to The Lion King, the 1994 version remains the go-to.