MOVIE REVIEW: The Lion King
Majestic is the word I'd use to describe Disney's most recent "live action" remake. I put live action in quotation marks because its a misnomer. There is no live action in here. But, it feels like you are in an African savanna watching these animals interact. It feels every bit as majestic as a nature documentary. But with music and words.
People always complain when these remakes get too close to the original, but I think they only think they want something new. During the "Circle of Life" number, we see the beetles walking across the branch and then they go out of focus to where we see the zebras running on the ground below. This is almost right out of the original and I have to admit that I shed a tear seeing it jump to life.
One cannot watch this film without marveling at the work the computer animators did on the film to deliver us a photo-realistic product without taking us out of the story. Or maybe its just me. I am a magician's dream because I truly want to believe in magic. With this, I truly want to believe these are live animals. The amount of research on the movement of the animals must have been staggering. Toward the beginning of the film, we follow this mouse around. If you didn't know any better, you would think you were watching a DisneyNature documentary. The behavior and movements of the mouse were quite astonishing and I sat at the edge of my seat in wonder of the little creature. The whole film is like this, but these moments with the mouse really made me realize how special the film was.
Much has been said that the animals lacked emotion, but I honestly feel like it would have taken us out of this gorgeous almost nature documentary film. I felt the emotion was expressed in the eyes and the movement of the characters rather than through their facial expressions. When young Simba sees his father having been killed in the gorge, we feel his sadness.When Simba and Nala are reunited, you can feel the affection they have each other by the way they rub necks. And, when Scar addresses the hyenas, you feel scared by his stoic face. There is enough emotion there.
As for the casting, I thought everybody was great.
First of all, it was wonderful they could get James Earl Jones back as Mufasa. I know I also shed a tear listening to his voice come out of a photo realistic lion.
Danny Glover and Beyoncé were fine as the grown up Simba and Nala. Beyoncé's voice did not take me out of the movie. But, it was really the kids, JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph, respectively as young Simba and Nala, who are the true stars. They really conveyed that sense of wonder and fear of being young in the savanna.
Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance as Scar was more subdued than Jeremy Irons's performance, but there is something terrifying in that because it isn't so caricatured. His voice had weight and gravitas, each syllable of his words expressing his treachery. Of all the songs that changed the most was Scar's "Be Prepared." I thought this performance was much more frightening than the original because it wasn't so much Scar singing than issuing a battle cry.
But the ones who really steal the show are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan as Timon and Pumbaa. They are close as you're going to get to the original, but they add their own flair. Just wait until you see what they do instead of the hula distraction scene. It's hilarious. And who would have known that Bill Eichner could sing that well?
Before this film, Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book was my favorite of the Disney remakes. Favreau delivers again in this film, getting the most out of his voice actors and delivering the flavor of the original film.
This version of The Lion King is not going to be for everyone, particularly those who want to hold on so strongly to nostalgia. The Lion King was a film I watched later on in my life. I had already graduated college when it first came out and thought it was a great film. But, my nostalgia of the film is probably not as strong as young people who grew up on the film. I recently watched the film again and was reminded as to why it is a beloved film.
To me, this film is every bit as faithful to the original.