Most of the live-action Disney remakes have been at least a little bit disappointing, and The Lion King certainly follows the trend. Beautiful nature-documentary visuals skilfully rendered deserve praise for their artistry… it’s just a shame that there’s none of the spirit of the original to give it the spark it needs to come to life.
Soulless sums it up best – padded out with extra scenes that add nothing except minutes to the run time and populated with blank faced lions that could just as easily be discussing the weather, as seeing their father die. What’s fundamentally missing is humanity.
The anthropomorphised cartoon lions of the original film emote like we would, and even Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2017) captured the animals’ emotions convincingly enough – you’ll be longing for Idris Elba’s sinister Shere Khan when you see how disappointingly lacklustre Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar is.
Gone too is the ominous green fluorescent lighting of the “Be Prepared” sequence, gone the camp theatrics that make Scar such an iconic villain… he’s reduced to playing it straight as a run of the mill antagonist, and that’s a travesty.
James Earl Jones is of course magnificent as Mufasa, his voice catapulting you back to age 5, but that nostalgia can only carry you so far. It’s also a very present reminder of everything you love about the original film, and how far it all falls short here.
I was as excited as everyone else that Donald Glover and Beyonce were to take on the roles of Simba and Nala, but they were outshone by their younger counterparts. Hearing such distinctive and well-known voices throws the audience further out of the viewing experience that nobody was that invested in anyway.
The most entertaining characters are no doubt Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. The pair play off each other well, and put enough of their own mark on the roles that you won’t feel like you’re watching an inferior version of something you love, but rather something a slightly original.
Changes made to the hyenas on the other hand, are unfortunately for the worse. The formidable Florence Kasumba (Black Panther, Wonder Woman) is menacing as the leader of the pack, but Keegan Michael Key and Eric Andre are criminally underused as her giggling henchmen. They have one single joke between them, that isn’t even funny the first time, let alone the fourth or fifth, and those are funny guys! It speaks to how poor the scripting choices are that they couldn’t get me to crack a single smile.
The decision to go hyper-realistic, which has been slated since the first glimpse of the trailer, is what ultimately lets this film down. Fans have cited Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon and Narnia’s Aslan as examples of realistic looking CGI animals that display the kind of human emotion audiences can really get behind. Ultimately, the storytelling magic of it all has been sacrificed for a blank-eyed realism, and though you can’t knock the skill required to produce it, the question still remains – why was that the priority?
The Lion King is out in cinemas Friday 19 July.