As I do everytime I review one of these Disney live action remakes, I feel the need to point out that I do not automatically hate remakes for just being remakes. I loved The Jungle Book, for example, but because, rather than simply retelling a tale, it improved on the source material.
I also enjoyed Maleficent if for nothing more than telling the story of Sleeping Beauty from a different point of view and putting a new spin on it.
Those two things, improvement and/or a different narrative, are the only two reasons a remake should be made and, let’s face it, with those two gleaming exceptions I just mentioned, Disney isn’t interested in either… they just want to redo their classics for money which, admittedly, is a brilliant business model that is working amazing for them, but artistically, it’s poo.
The Lion King is, hands down, my favorite traditionally animated Disney movie. In my opinion, it is a masterpiece and to improve the story would be no small task which is probably why Disney didn’t bother. If you’ve watched the original Lion King, you’ve seen the remake… only not because the remake is duller and more lifeless. Instead of expressive faces full of emotion, you have blank photoralistic animals emoting in the way that you would expect an animal to emote. You can’t tell that they’re happy, sad, angry, or scared just by looking at them. The largely uninspired voice acting doesn’t help either.
I love James Earl Jones and cannot picture anyone else playing Mufasa, but in this remake, he phones it in like he didn’t really want to be there.
Even Beyonce is dull. I know I just committed a crime in nine states, but it’s true… she sings beatifully, but speaking… not so much.
Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, and Seth Rogan are the true MVPs of this movie and, I hve to admit, that The Lion King doesn’t even become enteratining until Timon and Pumbaa show up. It’s only then that the movie feels like it’s trying to be even a little bit different and the meta jokes actually illicited some laughs.
The real problem here is the mind-bogglingly silly decision to makee the animalss photorealistic. I’ve already talked about the blank emotionless faces sporting dead eyes and comfortably nestled in the uncanny valley, but even the set pieces are dulled and downgraded: From “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” to the wildebeest stampede, everything seems smaller and less epic — as a famous politician and philosopher once said, reality can often be dissapointing.
The Lion King is not a bad movie and, if you’ve never seen the original, you might find this movie as magical as I found the original all those years ago, but when a remake is made of something iconic, one expects comparisions and, in this case, there is no comparision… this new Lion King is a pale imitator, a copy that looks great in still images, but in practice is a souless and empty experience.
The Disney back catalogue is full of animated movies that could be improved. Mulan is a nice choice, The Black Cauldron, The Fox and the Hound, Treasure Planet… take your pick. There’s no reason other than a love of money to redo a classic like The Lion King without doing something dramatically different. Why not follow Nala and call it The Lion Queen?
Truth be told, Disney did a remake right a few years ago when they made The Lion King 1 1/2 and I’ll fight you if you disagree.