Few films are as widely recognized and celebrated as the original “Lion King,” which was known for its wonderful combination of stunning animation and creative, heartfelt story that audiences of all ages could marvel at. I’ll always remember being a young child and watching the 1994 Disney classic on VHS, choking up when Mufasa was fatally pushed off a cliff and into a stampede of wildebeests as his son Simba watched in terror.
It’s no secret that Disney, the most successful and powerful entertainment company, has been remaking several of its animated classics and turning them into live-action blockbusters. We’ve seen films like “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Jungle Book,” “Dumbo,” “Alice In Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and, most recently, “Aladdin” get turned into live-action films — with “The Little Mermaid,” “Mulan” and “Lady and the Tramp” upcoming — making it inevitable that “The Lion King” would be given the redo treatment as well.
It’s unfortunate for Disney fans that we have to rely solely on remakes of past films for the future of its legacy. Disney has endless creative potential in its ability to create new films that are both visually stunning and emotionally captivating, especially nowadays with the staggering improvements in visual effects and digital technology. Relying on the past, Disney has seen a massive dip over the years in its originality, making the studio seem unable to create any fresh magic.
The remake of “The Lion King” tells the same story as it did 25 years ago, the script seemingly copied and pasted from the original and slightly tweaked. The film follows an almost shot-for-shot similarity to its predecessor with the same score, making it lack any originality or soul of its own.
However, while I am not a fan of Disney’s reliance on remaking past films for guaranteed profits, the beauty of “The Lion King” is too breathtaking to resist. Few films have been as visually spectacular, each image appearing as if viable for being in an art museum. Not only do the various creatures and African savannah landscapes inspire a deep sense of wonder, the level of detail in each shot in unparalleled. Director Jon Favreau has created a vibrant African world that makes you want to go on a safari. Not only do the animals look real, but they also move and operate as the creatures that roam the plains of savannah in precisely the same fashion. There were times where it felt like I was witnessing a BBC nature documentary and not a live-action film.
While feeling very much like a remake and not taking any creative leaps to make a fresh film, this is a “Lion King” that still has bursting energy and spirit. The visual brilliance instilled a sensational feeling that no other Disney experience has ever captured. Each character is voiced perfectly, most notably John Oliver as Zazu, Beyoncé as Nala (the Queen playing a queen, only fitting), Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon. James Earl Jones returns for the voice as Mufasa, a role only he can play, for his speaking role as Mufasa is too iconic to replace. Donald Glover is the only poorly picked actor, his voice as Simba unenergetic and not possessing the level of depth to be a voice character.
It seems Favreau made the film solely for the upgrade in visual effects and digital technology, which one could argue isn’t a worthy cause to remake an entire film. While the stunning imagery wasn't quite enough to win me over completely, they created a truly remarkable film experience.
It is a bit challenging to blend realistic looking animals with dialogue, and at times it was a bit awkward when they spoke due to the eccentric voices coming out of the stoic wildlife's mouths. It also poses the challenge of making the film emotional. The original “Lion King” made each cartoon creature bubbly and did a masterful job of making the animals humanlike with their facial expressions and movements, while now we see animals look so real that it seems impossible for them to be humanlike and emotional. Additionally, the singing aspect of the film doesn’t quite fit well with live-action animals as opposed to animation for the same reason.
“The Lion King” feels very much like a remake, for virtually everything was the same except the change from animation to digital live-action and the characters' voices. I don’t encourage Disney to continue remaking all of their past films, but with “The Lion King,” they won me over. I couldn't resist being blown away by what was on screen and was completely entertained despite knowing what would happen.
This is a remake that may not have much soul and doesn’t capture the creativity of the original, yet the enhancements in visual effects and thought-out direction make this a remake worth seeing.
Final Grade: B+
Dominic LeRose is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.