Disney’s remake of The Lion King hit theaters this week to mixed reviews. As someone who grew up loving the original film, I wanted to see for myself whether the remake would reach the level of the original. I’m here to tell you the good, the bad, and whether (in my opinion) this film even needed to be made.
The good parts
Though billed as “live action”, The Lion King (2019) is obviously highly advanced computer animation. That being said, the movie is visually stunning. I cannot emphasize enough how spectacular animation has become. The animals are nearly photo-real, and their movements and behaviors are (98% of the time, if you excuse the talking) pretty darn accurate. I say this as someone who has worked around animals for years, too– I was very impressed with the species represented in the opening scenes in particular, and realized how many animals were in the original, too.
The voice cast is also excellent. Not only does James Earl Jones reprieve his role as Mufasa (and who else could provide that voice?), but Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter are great choices for Simba and Nala respectively. And Beyoncé’s new song, “Spirit”, is right in keeping with the added musical layers from the Broadway production. If you are familiar with the stage show, stick around during the credits for “He Lives in You” as well.
I will also say this– the opening still gives me the kind of chills that only amazing music can.
The not-so-good parts
I’m not going to skirt around it– this is nearly a beat-for-beat recreation of the original. The only real differences, even in the dialog, were mostly from Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), who provided much-needed comic relief in some (I would guess off-the-cuff) one-liners. Otherwise it’s nearly quotable for anyone who knows the original well. Whether or not you think this is a negative is up to you– I’m certain your mileage will vary.
A big part of Scar’s villain song, Be Prepared, is cut from this version. I noticed that right away, especially as everything else was so very similar…but I suppose it is also one of the most stylized parts of the original so it would have been hard to recreate it in a “realistic” or “live action” sort of way. Though somehow they made “Just Can’t Wait (to Be King)” work, so I’m unsure about that.
I also felt like we could have seen some of this pushed a little further. I know there are added bits to the Broadway version that, while not strictly “necessary” to the plot, do a lot to set up the lion society and overall story. This would have been a good way to include some of that world building, but instead it’s nearly a complete retread.
The Lion King (2019): necessary?
So here’s the thing. I feel like this is the question I see come up most often in discussion of the Disney “live action” remakes of their classics. And in some cases, I can absolutely see why Disney feels the need to go back and “re-do” some of their films. The original Dumbo, for instance, is so full of racism, animal abuse, and so on, that in order to continue using the characters in the theme parks, it only made sense to update the story. (And don’t get me started on why Splash Mountain still exists as-is.)
But The Lion King still holds up twenty-five years later. So why make a new version?
The cynics will say it’s just for the money, but I would then ask– why make a stage production of it? Why make it into a Broadway show? (A ridiculously successful and popular Broadway show, I might add.) Why? Because this is Disney at its finest, and with digital animation at the point it is now, with photo-realistic animals moving across an epic landscape, I say why not?
If you love The Lion King, go see it on the big screen if for no other reason than to see the animals and landscapes brought to life. It’s magic.