REVIEW: The Lion King

Put simply, if I was reviewing Disney’s original 1994 animated classic, The Lion King, this page would still be buffering in year’s to come, as I’d have flooded it with a trillion, gazillion star rating.

Alas, it shan’t be loading for that long, as it turns out that WiFi’s pretty good now – who knew? – and I am, in fact, discussing the “live-action” adaptation, directed by Jon Favreau.

In Disney’s attempts to dominate the film charts and to brainwash viewers into singing ‘The Mickey Mouse Club March’ every time they walk past a CineWorld, Disney has released its 13th live-action remake with The Lion King, which boasts an exceptional cast, including Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen and James Earl Jones.

I reckon I’ve watched the original The Lion King at least 83,294 times. I wish that was hyperbole. I really do. I’m starting to think that my regular screenings of The Lion King might explain why I am yet to lose my virginity.

(I am, of course, kidding – I love to do the sex. Am – am I saying that right?)

The Lion King is one of my all-time favourite movies, and that is why I was so disappointed by how lazy the adaptation was. As the movie opened, I was mesmerised by the opening moment, perfectly recreating the original’s first scene, shot-for-shot. It paid homage to the 1994 movie beautifully; nodding to the fact that it was a remake. Yet, as the film progressed, I noticed that the 2019 The Lion King was lazily copying, pretty much, every other scene’s dialogue. I could correctly finish of lines of dialogue before they were even uttered on screen. I’ve spoken to several fans of this adaptation, who questioned “Wouldn’t you have been upset had they have tweaked the script too much?”, and the answer is no, I wouldn’t have been. From Beauty and the Beast to Jon Favreau’s earlier The Jungle Book, Disney’s live-action remakes have told the same story with a new script. I found The Lion King lazy and, frankly, boring – I was just watching the exact same film, but this time, characters were 3D. Was it worth the 15 year wait? The answer is no, too.

Now if you’re asking me if I want a McDonalds Happy Meal right now, the answer is yes.

Maybe this summer heat is making me cranky, as well as sweat-ridden. I can’t hate the entirety of the movie for being unoriginal. On occasions, The Lion King does strive to add new elements to the story, for example, it shows how Scar went on to befriend the army of hyenas, and later on persuade them to work for him. Even if this scene was very brief, it was a welcome relief.

There were several characters who made it clear that their voice actors didn’t read the original’s script, and, in fact, improvised a lot of their scenes. Without a doubt, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who play Timon and Pumbaa respectively, steal the show. If we don’t tweak that Tiffany Pollard Beyonceé meme to have her shouting “BILLY EICHNER”, we’ve failed as a human race. Seth and Billy were an exceptional flare of comedic genius in quite a glum, dark story. The chemistry between the two is electric, both on screen and off – I don’t mean to brag, but I have met them. Just excuse me while I pick up those names that I just dropped.

What really surprised me was the meta nature of Timon and Pumbaa. During ‘Hakuna Matata’, everyone knows Timon stops Pumbaa from saying “farted”, but in the updated version, Pumbaa actually blurts out the word and questions as to why he didn’t censor him. The pair continue to be self-aware of the fact that they’re in a movie throughout, until the point Timon substitutes his Hawaiian luau to sing ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and the Beast. I don’t care who you are – that’s funny. Unless you’re Meryl Streep and you don’t find it funny. I would punch Billy Eichner’s elderly grandmother in the throat for Meryl.

On the other hand, there were characters I was disappointed with. There’s no denying that Chiwetel Ejiofor is an incredible actor – his performance in 12 Years A Slave is harrowing. Heck, his two and a half lines in Love Actually deserve all the Oscars. But his outing as Scar left me a little underwhelmed. Jeremy Irons was so iconic as the antagonist; he was exaggerated and flamboyant, while Chiwetel just played Scar a bit straight, and this made him just a bit boring. Honestly, I’d have preferred The Lion King brought back Jeremy to reprise his role and recast James Earl Jones’ Mufasa. And that’s saying how little I liked Chiwetel’s performance; so much so that I’m willing to hire a bloke who compares gay marriage to incest between a father and son. Seriously. Google it.

While most young kids sing Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus in the shower, I was singing Scar’s anthemic ‘Be Prepared’. That was – not to sound distasteful – my shit. I knew it, and still do to this day, word-for-word. It was a camp, colourful spectacle on screen, with hyenas marching quite literally like Nazis as green explosions of gas burst throughout. 2019’s rendition of ‘Be Prepared’ was a dreary spoken word version, which was one of the biggest mistakes of the entire film. All of the fun had been sucked out for no reward whatsoever. It didn’t make Scar appear more menacing. It just made him look like a bloke who doesn’t like show tunes. And I will never, ever get along with a bloke who doesn’t like show tunes.

This was the case with most of The Lion King’s musical numbers – they lacked fun. As the adaptation was hyper-realistic, it was always going to be hard to have Simba slide down a giraffe’s neck as Nala sings from a monkey’s grasp. Instead, we were given boring tracking shots of Simba and Nala as they hopped from stone-to-stone singing. I’d have been much more impressed if, possibly for a song, the design of the film changed, and the scene was illustrated in an African art style, allowing more fun and whimsy to be displayed. Throughout the entirety of the musical’s numbers, there’s only one song that has some mild fun; Timon and Pumbaa’s rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, which sees other animals jump beside the meerkat and warthog’s side to sing along, and make the songs backing track with a series of stomps and noises, almost in an a capella way.

I’m sure if I’d have seen 2019’s The Lion King, without having even known about the original, I’d have found it a fun, enjoyable romp. The sad thing is that I have seen it, and it trumps it by miles. While it was visually stunning, and brought back a lot of happy memories as a kid, I just didn’t think this was the right remake. With the likes of Dumbo and Aladdin, I’m starting to wonder if Disney should stop thinking “Hakuna Matata”, and start thinking “Why are we saying ‘no worries’? We really should worry, and start making better live-action movies, shouldn’t we?”

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