The LIon King
Review by Joey Fanthom
The Lion King is a “live-action” remake of the Walt Disney animated classic of the same name from 1994. It is directed by Jon Favreau who previously reimagined the hugely successful 2016 version of The Jungle Book. Arguably Disney’s finest film, the original Lion King is beloved by many so there will have been significant pressure on Favreau and Disney not to taint its legacy. It doesn’t, but it is often faithful to a fault. While not being a shot-for-shot remake, most of the film consists of scenes taken straight from the 1994 version. Therein lies its biggest problem, or its main selling point depending on your perspective. The strength of the story - it’s based on Shakespeare after all - means that newcomers will probably fall in love with this take on it, as many did in 1994 and the intervening years. Old fans looking to relive some of their favourite moments in a new, photorealistic way will be mostly satisfied.
Speaking of photorealism, the visual effects in this film are nothing short of exceptional. In moments of silence, some shots are evocative of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth documentaries. The IMAX screen can seriously put visual flaws under the microscope but every little detail, from the vibrancy of the colours to the textures of the animals’ fur is crafted to perfection. It creates a seamless façade of having real animals onscreen that is even an improvement on the great work done in The Jungle Book. That being said, in making the animals look so real to life, the expressive quality of their features becomes stunted, particularly the eponymous lions. For a story that includes some very emotional scenes some of them lose their impact due to this limitation, resulting in a greater reliance on the voice cast.
Of the high-profile cast, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are the major standouts as fan favourites Timon and Pumbaa respectively. They have the most new dialogue and thus sound the most natural in their roles. I enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar more than I was expecting to, even though his rendition of the fan-favourite song “Be Prepared” is extremely underwhelming. I thought Jeremy Irons was irreplaceable, but Ejiofor manages to add some nuance to what was quite an over the top character in the original. However, the rest of the cast is pretty wasted, nobody more so than Donald Glover and Beyoncé. They are two larger than life personalities in real life, however because they are essentially just reciting dialogue written for someone else, none of that really comes out in the film nearly as much as it could or should. Their version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” sounds amazing. Aside from that, it could have been anyone in the roles.
Overall, this film was a frustrating experience. On the one hand, it is still a story with stunning visuals and moving music – Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning score sounds as good as ever, with some new inflections here and there – but with the cast they assembled and the world they were revisiting, I was left wanting more. The film is essentially a photo-realistic repackaging of the 1994 animated version, rather than trying to expand on it as Favreau’s The Jungle Book remake did for the 1968 film. If that’s what you’re looking for then this film is absolutely for you. However, it was not enough for me. For all the expert craftsmanship on display in terms of visual effects, it will always be inferior to the sublime simplicity of the original in all other departments.
The Lion King is currently screening in theatres across Ireland and worldwide.