Another month will soon be coming to an end, and with it the release of yet another Disney remake. Notice that I opted out of referring to this film as a ‘live-action remake’, because at the end of the day it isn’t. And I truly believe that, to date, John Favreau’s The Lion King is the most pointless and unneeded of the new Disney stock. It may also be the hardest film to review, because there is nothing truly new here to discuss and critique.
This film is a remake in the every sense of the word, to the point where some sequences literally use the same shots and camera angles. The opening of the film alone is enough to evident this, with the iconic ‘Circle of Life’ sequence literally being remade shot for shot, with nothing fresh or significant setting it apart from the animated original. Everything from the sweeping shots of the African plains to Simba’s adorable sneeze is lifted directly from the original. And although it may look breath-taking, it also signifies what this film is – another mindless cash-grab for a studio that already rules the world.
From there the film continues in the same vein, with the narrative events unfurling in uncanny similarity to the original classic. But now rendered in stunning, photo-real CGI – which leads to another primary issue with the film. Favreau injects the movie with a sense of gritty realism which strips the movie of any of its fantastical elements. Gone are the colourful and quirky backdrops of ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ and gone is Mufasa’s domineering spirit at the climax of the film. Which in many ways robs the film of its charm, making it feel more like a Attenborough documentary with random musical numbers.
And the musical numbers are nothing to ride home about. The only one that still amazes is ‘Circle of Life’, but again it’s a literal shot for shot, so there’s not much they could have done to ruin it. ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ suffers from being sung by two children with very different ranges, JD McCrary sometimes sounds disinterested in the song and at other times he belts out the high notes with more gusto than anyone else in the film. While Shahadi Wright’s Nala delivers a punchy little performance. In terms of Scar’s villain song, ‘Be Prepared’ is shortened down to a single verse, which plays more like a monologue than it does a bombastic musical number. Timon and Pumba do add a little hilarity to the film, however neither Rogen nor Eichner have particularly strong vocals, but they do produce some energetic tracks, which clash with the stagnancy of the overall film. ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ continues these remakes strange tradition of not wanting to set anything during the night, with the majority of this song taking place in the burning African sun. Donald Glover’s vocals are also dominated by Beyoncé’s signature belt, which doesn’t make this song a ballad between equals.
However, the worst offender has to be the new song ‘Spirit’ which simply plays over Simba and Nala’s journey back to Pride Rock. I will praise the director for not putting the film on halt for Nala to burst into song (yes this is another dig at Aladdin), but it also makes the track feel pointless, as if Queen B was simply advertising her next album instead of writing new material for a beloved piece of cinema.
The overall vocal performances are fine, but there is definitely a dissonance between what the actors are trying to emote and the deadpan faces of the CGI animals. Because of this, the performances also sound bland and tired, as if the actors were simply picking up a pay check. In a strange twist, James Earl Jones may be the worst offender for this, with this iteration of Mufasa sounding more bored than wise and regal. And if you are going into this film hoping to hear Beyonce’s voice you may be sadly surprised. Because for all of Disney’s talk at giving Nala more depth in this film, I feel like we know this particular Nala less than any other. It’s sad when a film project of this size is unable to accomplish what a Broadway musical could in only one song, but this film only helps to strip Nala of her agency and role.
This film also suffers from some severe pacing issues. With the most menial of sequences in the original film being drawn out into ten minute monstrosities. If you love the sequence of Simba’s essence traveling to Rafiki’s tree in the original film, then you’re going to love how Favreau draws out the sequence for six minutes! Giving a piece of lion hair more journey and development than most the characters get in the whole film. But when we do finally reach the meat of the original story, it is shocking how quickly it all comes undone. In five minutes Simba has reunited with Nala, fallen in love, met Rafiki and had his spiritual epiphany – demonstrating how sometimes drawing out a simple story can lead to causalities in the overall narrative.
The film still remains to be a visual masterpiece, as well as a true testament to what film technology can do in our day and age. But even that cannot save this film from being the most unneeded piece of cinema to ever come from the ever-growing mouse house. Maybe this film will be the one that will kill these remakes in their tracks? Or it could be the one to further Disney’s obsession with returning to their most successful media.