Just because you can make a hyper-realistic, nearly shot-for-shot remake of The Lion King with photorealistic animals devoid of cartoonish facial features, expressions, or movement, doesn’t mean you should. Just because something looks “real” doesn’t make it interesting or impressive. The 2D animation of 1994 is vastly superior to the brown, muddy hell of the digital mess that is The Lion King (2019). Every moment that lands in this film owes its success to the original animated classic. I don’t even love the original (my preferred Disney Renaissance film is Beauty and the Beast, also a victim of these limp reimaginings), but writing this review makes me want to protect it to my dying breath.
Who is this for? Why are people going to pay for this film? For Beyoncé? She has a lot of other projects that are far more interesting. Do people really want to watch these expressionless CGI animals weightlessly limp their way through a movie they’ve seen 100 times before? There are virtually no script changes in this film, outside a few new jokes from Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. The songs feel arbitrary; there is no interesting choreography to be found. Young Simba and Nala simply walk through a stream while singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing a far less dynamic Scar than Jeremy Irons’ original, talk-sings his way through “Be Prepared” while the hyenas simply… watch. The same happens with “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” which, for some reason, takes place during the day? The film feels more like a tech demo for this admittedly impressive technology. But that’s all it is: new technology. It offers no new spin on the story, unless you count “no emoting” as a spin.
By making the characters photorealistic, it completely removes the dynamic tension created in the animated film. Young Simba cannot scamper at top speed from the wildebeest stampede, he can only run as fast as a real lion cub. It feels sluggish and uninspired. The moving mouths don’t look as bad as I expected, but it’s still off-putting. I also could not tell Nala and Sarabi (Simba’s mother) apart. Because they’re just lions! Even Pride Rock lacks majesty; in some shots it looks like its only about five feet off the ground.
If Disney’s plan for their live-action remakes is to shatter the kneecaps of their animated legacy, it’s going very well. How many more times can they get away with this? Are we going to get a “bold reimagining” of Pocahontas in 2022? When you search “The Lion King” on Disney+, will this film show up first? Were the original screenwriters and animators properly credited? This new film is nearly identical, and owes everything to its predecessor.
Don’t bother with this CGI mess. Just because something is technically “impressive” doesn’t mean it’s good. Dig your VHS out of storage and watch the REAL Lion King instead. You’ll save money.
The Lion King
Dir. Jon Favreau
Opens Friday, 7/19 everywhere (though the Hassle recommends the Capitol, your local mom & pop cineplex, or nowhere)