Rating: 1 ½ out of 4 Stars
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years or so, Disney has made an inescapable money-making frenzy with their latest (and sadly) still running cinema plan: remake all of their classic animated films into live-action movies with modern technology. Ever since “Maleficent” took its warped crack at “Sleeping Beauty,” Disney has found never-ending success with taking their classic films and transforming them into live-action child aimed blockbusters. For the most part, all of them have featured human characters/actors and required CGI here and there for effects. The most extensively computerized film was the new “Jungle Book” movie by Jon Favreau. He’s back again with an all CGI animal cast with their latest retold tale: “The Lion King.”
The story (as we all know it by now) follows young Simba (Donald Glover), a lion cub destined to rule the pride lands via grooming from his father; the king, Mufasa (James Earl Jones). Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well with Mufasa’s brother and Simba’s treacherous uncle, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He murders his brother and fools Simba into thinking it was his fault. After growing up alongside newfound friends Timon and Pumbaa (Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen), he is called back home by his past girlfriend Nala (Beyonce) who needs him to reclaim his throne from Scar and save the Pride lands before his greed and tyranny destroys everything and everyone.
Say what you want about cartoons being for children, if there’s one thing animation does exceedingly well it’s being expressive and highly emotive. Seeing real live lions voiced by amazingly talented casts like this sounds like a good idea, it really does, but when you strip away all the human elements and focus on just animals with no Mowgli, you realize very quickly that CGI animals can’t beat the real (animated) thing. “The Lion King” is full story components and elements that scream compelling emotion, but all of them fall painfully flat coming out of emotionless, indifferent looking animals that can AT MOST raise an eye or wiggle a CGI mouth a little.
The original “Lion King” is my all-time favorite Disney film and a classic, it pushes boundaries and emotional depth that I felt most Disney animated films were incapable of doing. Here, with the 2019 remake, all of that is either gone or pitifully wasted. Take Mufasa’s death for example. The animated original, Scar looks right in Mufasa’s eyes and we can see the genuine horror in Mufasa’s face as well as the malicious enjoyment in Scar’s as he throws him to his death. In the 2019 remake, all of that emotional reaction is gone and Scar swats at Mufasa’s face; making it look like he was swinging at a fly rather than murdering his flesh and blood. Even Jones who is the only returning cast member feels and sounds like he’s all dried up and gave everything he had at the animated original; leaving nothing but tired old wheezes for here.
The songs are barely passable renditions. I’ve seen amateur Youtube users who create better remixes of these songs with their own software. There are only 3 actually good things in this film and their names are Zazu (John Oliver), Timon (Eichner) and Pumbaa (Rogen). Their mannerisms align perfectly with their personalities and the actors feel right at home portraying these characters. Their humor is spot on, their writing is accurate as well as very meta which is a great addition to the film’s painfully vacant humor department and they just steal the show every time anyone of these 3 jokers are on screen. Everyone else is bland, forgettable and sorely lacking emotion.
Overall, “The Lion King 2019” is a shot-for-shot almost word-for-word remake of its animated predecessor, copying every scene, song, and sequence but failing to copy any of the emotion and heart the original had. Relationships and important character dialog are rushed or changed altogether, the songs are horribly butchered and the few changes they do make are entirely unnecessary and detrimental. This is nothing but a gorgeous looking Disney Nature documentary with popular voices adding commentary, do yourself a favor and stick to the original animated film and maintain your childhood memories from this digital dung heap.