Of all of Disney’s remakes thus far, it’s sad to say that The Lion King is incredibly disappointing. Not only does it fail in its attempts to differentiate itself from the original animated classic, but its verbatim storytelling that’s completely devoid of sincerity and emotion. Directed by The Jungle Book’s Jon Favreau, it’s certainly one of Disney’s most visually stunning films to date and the photo-realistic computer animation is beautiful, even more so on an IMAX screen. However, the film’s issues primarily stem from the lack of creativity and the absence of heart, culminating in a film that falls completely flat.
This review relies on the assumption that you’ve already seen the 1994 movie. There’s nothing much to say in terms of what this movie is about because it is quite literally the exact same movie as the original, but with photo-realistic animation instead of 2D. That’s it, that’s all you need to know. Yes, Mufasa still dies and Timon and Pumbaa exist, but there’s something intrinsically missing from this movie that makes it tedious to sit through.
As Disney carries on with their remakes, the question I keep coming back to is this: What, if anything, is the cultural significance of these films? Who are these being made for? Clearly, the studio is benefiting monetarily, but it’s no longer about nostalgia for millennials. That can only go so far. With a film that emulates the original more often than not, what nostalgia is even left outside of serving as a reminder of the storytelling superiority of 1994’s The Lion King? The impact of their 2D animations is such that the The Lion King’s opening scene is iconic enough that anyone who hears it will know it. So iconic, in fact, that Disney chose to recreate it in its entirety for its remake. You know, just in case you missed it the first time.
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is an example of one of the failings of the film. The song is sung beautifully, but it takes place during the daytime, rendering the lyrics to the song pointless. On the topic of things being set in the daylight hours, the film has almost no dynamism when it comes to its cinematography. There’s no mood lighting during the scene between Simba and Nala, which is meant to capture them in the moments they fall in love with each other, and it sucks the life out of the entire sequence. The rest of the film’s ambiance is terribly bland as well and there’s there to elevate any of the scenes from being anything besides mediocre.
Having the capability to create a visually captivating film means nothing at the end of the day if the film lacks soul. The photo-realistic computer animation can only go so far when it comes to superimposing human expressions onto the lions in the film. This robs the movie of its humanity and the voice cast works that much harder to breathe life into their characters through inflection alone. The outcome is fatal to the enjoyment of the film. With almost zero facial expressions from any of the characters (their eyes convey no compassion, they don’t grin, they don’t do much of anything but stare blankly) even the scene of Mufasa’s death, arguably the most emotional moment in the film, is an empty shell, relying on the memory of what the animated scene originally looked like to recreate the dramatic and emotional impact.
Though The Lion King insists on replicating almost every frame, it eliminates most of the humor (the only characters who remain even remotely funny are Timon and Pumbaa and Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner do their best to add a fresh sense of flair to their characters). Everyone and everything is more serious and takes Scar, a dry-humored, sarcastic, cruel, fiery villain and turns him into a one-note character (though Chiwetel Ejiofor does great work). Even the hyenas don’t laugh and they’re meant to be the comedic relief aside from Timon and Pumbaa. The film plays it far too safe and the result is a stripped-down, dispirited version of the movie everyone fell in love with all those years ago.
For all that The Lion King is gorgeous to look at, the visuals alone can’t save the film from being terribly underwhelming and tragically bad. It’s fascinating that the film can follow the exact same plot and dialogue and still come up short. Rather than delivering an emotionally heartfelt storyline, the film resembles a nature documentary more than anything else and it’s this lackadaisical execution that prevents the film from soaring to its full potential.
Rather than delivering an emotionally heartfelt storyline, The Lion King resembles a nature documentary more than anything else.