© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
THE LION KING
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: James Earl Jones, Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key, Alfre Woodard, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, John Kani, JD McCrary, and Shahadi Wright Joseph
UK Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Genre: Musical | Adventure | Family | Drama | Animation • Year: 2019 • Country: US • Running Time: 118 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 | 1.43:1 (IMAX version: some scenes) • Image: Colour • Language: English • Rating: PG
When plans for a live action remake of The Lion King were first announced back in September 2016 it quickly became one of the most anticipated summer blockbusters in recent years, and understandably so. With director Jon Favreau’s new photorealistic (“live action”) adaptation of the treasured 1994 Walt Disney Animated Classic now playing in cinemas and IMAX theatres across the globe, one question in particular is raised: does it live up to the considerable hype? The answer: yes, for the most part.
There is of course a great deal to admire about the film, and for audiences that grew up with original film, the sense of nostalgia is there in abundance. There are the often jaw dropping visuals – sometimes so lifelike that you begin to question whether or not certain sequences and animals are in-fact real – and the extraordinary animation direction and movement of the various creatures, making excellent use of cutting edge technologies.
The eerily lifelike visuals too offer audiences a much more immersive look at the various landscapes, whisking us on a hyper-realistic virtual safari from the vast, sun-kissed African plains, bathed in a warm magic-hour glow, to the dark, barren wasteland of the forbidden elephants’ graveyard, and the breathtaking natural beauty of Timon and Pumba’s luscious green jungle home.
The expanded running time also gives Favreau and writer Jeff Nathanson a chance to flesh out the plot a little more, filling in a few of the gaps that the much shorter original did not allow for, though for the most part it often feels like a shot-for-shot carbon copy of the cartoon, and it does lack the overall originality of Disney’s other recent live-action updates.
Favreau’s The Jungle Book was so effective because it gave Disney fans something new, and succeeded in putting a unique spin on the familiar tale. Disney also did similar things with the recent live action remakes of Dumbo and Aladdin, directed by Tim Burton and Guy Ritchie, respectively. Here, however, there isn’t enough originality to truly set it apart from its traditionally animated predecessor.
The film is at its least effective however when it attempts to inject unnecessary comedy at times that simply don’t require it. For instance, the intensity of the hyena chase through the elephant’s graveyard is completely shattered by a pointless and utterly nonsensical comic interlude between two of the hyena pack that just doesn’t work and only threatens to spoil the scene.
Added to that is the cringe-inducing appearance of a very famous (non-Lion King) Disney song which again, feels utterly pointless, and strikes as both sloppy writing and a complete lack of originality.
© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Reprising his now iconic role as King of the Pride Lands, Mufasa, James Earl Jones is once again the stand out in a what can only be described as a star-studded voice cast, giving great depth and weight to the piece with that stirring and unmistakable bass voice. Beyoncé doesn’t disappoint and adds a soothing quality as Adult Nala, and Donald Glover does well to make the role of Adult Simba his own. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen clearly have great fun as Timon and Pumba, and JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph do well as Young Simba and Young Nala. Chiwetel Ejiofor is suitably menacing as the villainous Scar, though he does have very big shoes to fill and his performance lacks the effortlessly sly and scheming quality of Jeremy Irons’ original. As Mufasa’s majordomo, Zazu, John Oliver does his best to inject the role with a natural air of pomposity, though again he has considerable shoes to fill, and it is rather difficult not to hear Rowan Atkinson when he utters many of the now famous lines. The hugely experienced pairing of Alfre Woodard and John Kani add a further injection of quality as Simba’s mother, Sarabi, and the wise old wise mandrill, and shaman of the Pride Lands, Rafiki, respectively.
Original composer Hans Zimmer makes a welcome return with a revised and expanded score that sounds every bit as powerful and glorious as ever, this time giving greater exposure to the great South African producer and composer, Lebo M, whose hair-raising vocals are used to great effect throughout the score.
Elton John and Tim Rice also return to rework their now classic songbook, which now features a couple of new additions including a new end credit song, Never Too Late, co-written by the pair, and the OSCAR-tipped Spirit, performed and co-written by Beyoncé.
The Lion King is an undeniably powerful, moving and visually dazzling experience, and the immersive IMAX presentation – which expands to a colossal 1.43:1 aspect ratio for certain musical sequences – can be rather overwhelming, though it’s not without it issues and sadly just feels a little too light on original content.
* Exclusively in select IMAX theatres, sequences of The Lion King will be presented in an expanded IMAX 1.43:1 aspect ratio and fill the entire IMAX screen – offering moviegoers more of the image than standard cinemas for a truly immersive experience. This means that only in IMAX during select musical sequences the picture will expand vertically to fill the entire IMAX screen up to a 1.43:1 aspect ratio, for a truly immersive experience. IMAX provides audiences with the biggest screens, greater scope, breathtaking detail, crisp image quality and powerful sound.