Review of the Lion King

Watching Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King left me with mixed feelings.

I’ll admit I didn’t see a need to remake the 1994 original, which I thought was an endearing, beautifully animated (and voiced) piece of work complete with some lovely Elton John songs. However, Disney has been remaking just about everything recently (with Mulan and Pinocchio to come—among others). Favreau usually displays a sure hand, the actors seemed to be well-chosen, but the fact that the film was to be a CGI extravaganza—with no effect neglected—made me think the magic of the original might be lost. I was not wrong.

It’s not that the new Lion King is a bad film—in fact, it is a perfectly competent, and sometimes visually dazzling film. The story still holds up, as noble Lion King Mufasa (powerfully, yet tenderly voiced, as in the original, by James Earl Jones) is killed due to the machinations of his scheming brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who then succeeds in making Mufasa’s son/cub Simba (and rightful heir) feel mighty guilty. The young Simba flees (and is presumed dead), the kingdom become Scar’s (aided by a pack of hyenas), years pass, and it is left to Simba’s friend Nala (Beyonce) to set things in motion to make things right. Favreau and his craftsmen follow the story fairly faithfully (although this version clocks in twenty minutes longer—you feel it); some of the CGI is so “real” that it occasionally seems like you’re watching a restored Disney wildlife film from the 1960s. The voice actors are pretty capable, ranging from Chiwetel Eliofor’s proudly duplicitous Scar to Donald Glover’s Simba, to his companions Timon and Pumbaa (Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen).

Yet for all the verisimilitude on display, this new Lion King lacks the emotional impact the original had. While I was watching it, I felt a profound disconnect between the images and the voices. It’s as if they were two separate entities, so I was always aware that it was Glover or Rogen—not the characters they played. It was hard to be swept up in the proceedings—I found myself admiring elements on a technical level, but these did not coalesce into a moving, complete movie experience. I will say that the kids in the audience liked it (and I daresay many of the adults did).