Walt Disney Pictures gives one of its most beloved animated features a modern-day spin in The Lion King, from director Jon Favreau. The voice cast includes Donald Glover (Simba), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala) and, reprising his role from the original version, James Earl Jones as Mufasa. As with the original film, I wasn’t too fond of the remake.
Lion Mufasa and his mate, Sarabi (Alfre Woodard), rule over the animal kingdom in the Pride Lands of Africa. Parents to a newborn son, Simba (JD McCrary), Mufasa enjoys guiding the cub through the journey of kingship. Mufasa is unaware that his younger, envious brother Scar wants the throne for himself. After murdering Mufasa, Scar tricks Simba into survivor’s guilt and advises him to leave the Pride Lands. Simba does so and soon he meets Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa, who teaches the cub the joys of a carefree life. When an adult Simba reunites with his childhood friend Nala, he decides to return home to reclaim his throne.
From the moment The Lion King starts, the film is a visual wonder. The one thing I will commend the remake for is the digital effects and the realistic looks of the animals. There were moments in the film where I felt as if I had VIP access to a zoo, as everything from the eyes of the animals to their fur had pristine detail. However, once the animals begin to speak, The Lion King starts to fall apart.
The supporting cast of the film were all fine with Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, and Chiwetel Ejiofor standing out. All three actors provided a natural flow to their character’s voices. There was never a moment in their voiceover work where I felt the actors were just reading a script. The sentiment doesn’t hold true for Donald Glover or Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. As a modest fan of Donald Glover, I know that he is a vast talent; however, voicing Simba, Glover comes off as monotone and amateurish. In one particular scene where Simba faces off with Scar, Glover is no match for Ejiofor. During that scene I found myself rooting for Scar as opposed to Simba.
The announcement of Knowles-Carter as Nala was met with massive disdain from fans of the original film. I was in the minority because I was generally optimistic about her as a casting choice. Sadly, Queen Bey let me down as Nala. Like Glover, Knowles-Carter’s line delivery came off as amateurish and borderline dress rehearsal. It’s crystal clear that both Glover and Knowles-Carter were cast to get butts in seats. Personally, I would have liked to see Disney cast unknowns in the roles and find new stars. Given the popularity of The Lion King franchise, Disney could have gone this route and still had a hit film on their hands.
One of the key components of the original Lion King is the film’s songs. I can recall during seventh grade in middle school, my chorus class had performed songs from the soundtrack. Die-hard fans of the original will find some key changes to a few of the big musical numbers. “Be Prepared”, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” are all changed from their original presentation. Ironically, the studio made the odd choice to simplify the musical numbers, which, while giving the film a more realistic approach, lacks the magic which made the songs memorable in the first place. The sold-out audience I was with did not seem to mind though, as there were applause and singing during these moments. Similarly, the audience was filled with laughter and even tears during key moments.
My stance on The Lion King franchise remains the same, in my eyes it’s still nothing more than a mix of Hamlet and Kimba the White Lion. While I personally didn’t care for The Lion King remake, I do recommend seeing the film for the nostalgia and if you have kids of your own.
MPAA Rating PG
Final Grade: C+