STARRING: Donald Glover, JD McCrary, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard, John Kani, John Oliver, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre and James Earl Jones
After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.
Jon Favreau’s all-new The Lion King journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolises his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
Based on the 1994 animated classic, The Lion King is the latest film of Disney revamping their animated vault for a new generation and tells the story of a young cub Simba, who is the son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi and heir to the kingdom of the Pride Lands from Pride Rock. Tragedy strikes the land with death, leading to Simba’s exile. With newfound friends, Simba learns some life lessons and has to figure out who he is before taking back what is rightfully is.
The big debate about the film was mainly over what do we call it? Animated or live-action adaptation? The basis of this is some would jump to the conclusion of once they hear animated it’s ‘oh, so it’s a cartoon’ and the other is that the photorealism approach to the film is so precise that it feels like you can step right into the Pride Lands, is it easier to dub it ‘live-action’? Wherever you fall into that question, there’s no doubting that the biggest selling point of the film is its approach to making the land, the rocks and the animals feel as realistic as possible and the Moving Picture Company have outdone their previous work, The Jungle Book (2016), in that regard as the visual effects are incredible here. The opening rendition of the Circle of Life looks terrific on the big screen and immediately immerses you with a wave of nostalgia and getting into the mood of what’s to come. The performances from the young actors, JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph, fit the roles of young Simba and Nala well and in terms of first impressions, I was intrigued by Florence Kasumba as Shenzi, one of the hyenas that looked like we were going to get an interesting arc for her character during the course of the film. The second half of the film is saved by the introduction and performances of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. They had great chemistry together and their vocal performances fit the characters they were portraying.
The main issue with the film that it generally feels…flat. With James Earl Jones reprising the role of Mufasa, it definitely brings that sense of nostalgia from the original, but also reminds of you what came before and while I know some have stated that he doesn’t sound as ‘in to it’ as the original, I’m still saying it’s more of an age thing considering he’s in his late 80’s now, it is one of the many things that reminds you of what the original done better. Outside of Rogen, Eichner and the young kids voicing Simba and Nala, everyone else feels either incredibly miscast or devoid of any personality in their roles. Chiwetel Ejiofor had the tough task of following Jeremy Irons rather evily boisterous performance as Scar and here Ejiofor is so far removed the villain being eccentric and remains menacing in almost monotone form that it didn’t work for me at all. Same can be said for Donald Glover and Beyonce. But the film follows essential the same beats, mostly everything is shot for shot the same as the animated film and bar a few tweaks in dialogue, the original script is mostly recited here, that it feels like the studio said focus on the special effects and the rest will fall into place, right focusing on the special effects in so detail, the finished article feels completely devoid of its heart and charm. With the film so focused on photorealism that once the animals start to talk it all just feels off, in comparison to Moving Picture Company’s previous work in The Jungle Book. Also in terms of musical numbers, the ‘Be Prepared’ of this particular film will be a make or break point for some viewers, depending on how they viewed that song to begin with from the animated film. I wasn’t a particular fan either of the ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ version here, particularly as Beyonce is completely overpowering Donald Glover on it as if it was a song battle in The Voice competition.
For a new generation watching this version of The Lion King, I’m sure it will be viewed as good. But for ones that grew up on the film during the mid 90’s onwards, this film will be divisive. The photorealism effects in the film are stunning, but due to the photorealism choice made here, the film lacks the energy that the animated film had in regards to the characters and vocally allowing the actors to be expressive and emotive, because outside of Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen and even the limited screen time she has Florence Kasumba made an impression on me, the rest just feel flat. Be prepared. 4/10