(SPOT.ph) Who isn't familiar with the cultural phenomenon that is The Lion King? The 1994 animated classic by Disney managed to emotionally scar an entire generation with a single scene between a king and his brother—which, for some, was our first brush with betrayal. Also, we don’t even want to try to count the number of poor unsuspecting babies and pets who were randomly raised up into the air in a parody of that scene (you know which one). But the House of Mouse has now brought the tale to a new level of visual realism in its live-action remake; exactly 25 years after the original The Lion King made us cry our hearts out.
At its helm is Jon Favreau, and though you might be most familiar with him as Carl Casper in Chef (2014)—which he also directed, btw—he actually directed a few other Disney films: Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), plus The Jungle Book (2016) remake. "There is such a rich tradition surrounding this material. Betrayal, coming-of-age, death and rebirth—the cycles of life—are the foundations of all the myths around the world," Favreau said of the original story. Fully aware of how difficult it would be to retell a story that so many cherished, he said "I wanted to demonstrate that we could be respectful of the source material while bringing it to life using mind-blowing techniques and technologies."
Unsurprisingly, Favreau’s Lion King is indeed a visual stunner. Without touching the original storyline too much, Disney focused on bringing the Pride Lands to life. The studio is known for its incredible production, and they pulled out all the stops to bring its audience into the wilds for this remake, including a game engine and virtual reality tools to recreate the savanna. What they managed to create was an unbelievably realistic world—from the Pride Lands to Timon and Pumbaa’s carefree haven—where our beloved characters came to life. Visuals have been Disney’s edge for as long as it’s existed; that, and its heart-piercing stories that always leave the audience with a ton of feelings.
With The Lion King remake though, the original story somehow does not have the same effect: it looks amazing but the storytelling doesn't quite make the same impact. Perhaps it was the focus on hyper-realistic animation, the limits of giving animals emotions, or maybe because the original will always stand out, but the remake has a little less of the gravitas the 1994 version. The studio did bring in some amazing people to give our beloved characters new life: Donald Glover voices the grown-up Simba, and of course, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala. JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph voice Simba and Nala as cubs, respectively.
Glover lends Simba his charisma, and the young king is much the same impulsive and slightly misguided royal he was in the original movie—with his heart still in the right place. Beyoncé’s Nala has a stronger presence: She is as much a leader and hero as Simba is, and her love and sense of duty for the Pride Lands shines. Their version of the classic “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”—originally composed by no less than Sir Elton John and written by Tim Rice—is, as expected, excellent. The two artists recorded the song separately though, and the final version was put together piece by piece, which may explain why Sir John’s original just hits harder. The highlight is the bit of fun they had with the song: Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) add some very welcome banter.
Although they show up nearly halfway into the two-hour movie, Timon and Pumbaa are still very much the scene-stealers. Eichner and Rogen add some much-needed freshness with their lively dialogue. In an interview with Variety, Eichner talks about how being able to record in the same room with Rogen really helped flesh out their conversations. For most of the dialogue, several parts were recorded separately and put together afterwards, he explained.
Another pleasant surprise comes in the character of the hornbill Zazu, voiced by John Oliver in the remake. He is still the somewhat overbearing but incredibly loyal right hand to the King of the original animation, but Oliver brings in a new side and a different level of appreciation for the bird. James Earl Jones, who also voiced Mufasa in the 1994 original, returns to voice the noble king. Obviously, time has done him only good, and Mufasa is given the same strength and presence by his voice.
If only for the sake of reveling in the production magic of Disney, audiences still have something new to take from this retelling. The story may not be as emotionally wrought as before, but there are the performances by Glover, Beyoncé, and the rest of the cast—especially the added comedy from Eichner, Rogen, and Oliver—that give it some flavor. The Lion King (2019) is a wonderful story that reaches across cultures, and the remake is undoubtedly a visual showstopper.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Spots
The Lion King opens in theaters on July 17.