Disney released another live action film of a beloved classic this weekend: The Lion King. With each new remake comes more hesitation on the viewer’s side as the age-old question arises: how close are the filmmakers sticking to the original?
In some cases, sticking to the bare bones of the original and changing up everything else is a great thing. Take Cinderella (2015) for instance. The Kenneth Branaugh film starring Lily James gives more depth to each of the characters from Ella to the wicked Stepmother to even the Prince. Sticking to the OG through and through can be a great thing too. In this case, think Jungle Book (2016). Then there is a hybrid approach, which brings you The Lion King.
Everyone knows the story of LK as it is super loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet: son is the heir to the throne, uncle is jealous and tries to rid heir. Son runs away and returns to fight his uncle. Unlike Hamlet, Disney has a happy ending for Simba (despite a tear jerking plot-line).
The 2019 version has an all-star cast as you may know. Beyonce plays Nala. Donald Glover plays Simba. Seth Rogan plays Pumbaa (a match made in heaven) while Billy Eichner plays Timon. James Earl Jones reprises his role as Mufasa, which thank the cinema gods above because it would have been an uproar worse than the Robin Williams-Will Smith debacle. As much as I appreciate an all-star cast, I felt like they took away from the characters. When I watched Nala, I wasn’t watching Nala. I was watching Beyonce in lion form, especially when she told Zarabi “You are the Queen.” Honey please, you are the Queen. Fortunately, it was slightly different for Donald Glover/Simba…probably because I kept expecting Childish Gambino/Weirdo DG when I should have expected more Troy from Community. John Oliver was excellent as Zazu and was able to mask his stardom. Keegan-Michael Key was great as the hyenas, but again I knew it was him and began to compare him to his role as Ducky in Toy Story 4. I really wish Jeremy Irons, who played Scar in the OG LK, came back for his role. Chiwetel Ejiofor was splendid, but Jeremy Irons had a much more sinister accent and vibe for Scar.
The CGI for The Lion King was phenomenal. Though you can’t necessarily call the film a true live-action, you have to admire the crew for creating a near life-like nature documentary. The opening sequence of “Circle of Life” is near shot-by-shot to the original. Add on to Seth Rogan’s jokes as Pumbaa and you got yourself a combo you didn’t know you wanted but actually need. Who knew Seth can keep things PG?
Okay, the omissions and comparisons. Please note these are mostly related to Timon and Pumbaa as they are the ones who steal the show (enough to have their own Lion King 1 1/2 AND a TV series):
- First of all, how dare you 2019 Disney take out the hula in drag scene. That scene of Timon and Pumbaa distracting the hyenas is classic and clever. It’s 2019! They were able to pass that right through in 1994 and now you replace it with “Be Our Guest”? You could have at least played up Pumbaa’s gas problem and turned it into a valuable weapon. Clever what you did but you missed a grand opportunity.
- Secondly, in “Hakuna Matata” Pumbaa sings straight on opera when he says “when I was a young warthog”. I love Seth Rogan, I really do, but he totally half-attempted it, which I guess is understandable since he isn’t known as a singer. You could have at least gotten a replacement for that line.
- Third, going back to the hyenas fight, the confrontation between an angry Pumbaa and the trio hyenas. In the OG, Timon and Zazu are cowering in the rib cage. Pumbaa arrives and one of the hyenas calls Pumbaa a “pig” which causes Pumbaa to go into a nod to the In the Heat of the Night moment of “They call me Mr. Pig [originally Tibbs]”. The remake replaced that entire thing with a 2019-happy-sappy-hippie-dippie “chubby” and something along the lines of “I’m not afraid of bullies”. Like, what? (For OG scene, click here) You can take away the drag, tone down Timon and Pumbaa, but please for the love of the cinema gods did you take away Mr. Pig? SMH
- Fourth: Rafiki. He was an eclectic character, borderline mad scientist possibly. In my opinion, he was toned down in the remake. Am I crazy or did the remake Rafiki did not have his crazy man laugh? Ugh.
- Fifth: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, though beautifully sung by Beyonce and Childish Gambino/Donald Glover, played on during the day. Enough said.
- Sixth: Simba talking to the cloud formation of Mufasa was not a full cloud formation of Mufasa. We are a tech advanced society people. Am I asking for too much for a cloud formation of Mufasa?
- Seventh: “Be Prepared” is creepy and villainous in the OG. It has some major allusions to historical moments (i.e. hyenas marching in formation facing Scar). I understand it’s 2019 and some of those things are too dark/controversial to play up. However, it downplays Scar’s aura of evil, darkness and full on sinister. Was it a good decision to kind of cut the song short and rework the choreography, I’m still trying to figure out.
- Eighth: I promise this is a compliment rather than a critique. This remake added extra time. This extra time was allotted to clarifying and clearing up questions left unanswered in the OG. We finally learned how Nala escaped the pride to find help. We also learned how Simba’s hair reached Rafiki’s tree allowing Rafiki to discover that Simba was alive. Thank you remake. You sorta did something right.
- Ninth: the ending. Simba, Nala, Timon and Pumba are together on the edge of Pride Rock when they present Simba and Nala’s cub. Remake had Timon and Pumbaa in the back. I’m hurt yet okay with it.
The movie’s effects and CGI are worth the watch. The all-star cast takes away from the characters themselves as some moments. Questions have been answered and character developments were deeper. The remake was an 8/10, mostly because they took out some classic lines and scenes that made the OG the epitome of 1990s Disney. However they replaced it with some new jokes and gave former comedic characters darker tones. If you want the nostalgia factor, I highly recommend the film. There are some potential Academy Award nominations in The Lion King‘s future, namely music-wise.