A technical achievement, but a carbon-copy of the original.
Young lion cub Simba has to come into his own and defend the Pride lands from his power-hungry uncle, Scar.
Next in the procession of Disney live action remakes, following Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, and Aladdin, making this the third of these released in the year 2019, The Lion King is another seemingly unnecessary retread of the studio’s best films. Directed by Jon Favreau, the man behind Disney’s first (of this recent spat) live action remakes, The Jungle Book, in 2016. Having succeeded at introducing impressive animal animations in that film, he was a shoe-in for creating the entirely animal-centric classic The Lion King.
The original 1994 hit was considered by many audiences to be the peak of Disney’s animated films; two years after the original Aladdin, and one year before Pixar shook up the animation genre with Toy Story. So the studio making a live action remake of this film is not very surprising…
Of course, the term “live action” is a misnomer.
Perhaps the remake’s best feature is its technical achievements. Much like James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009, the film was filmed entirely with computer generated images. In fact, nothing in The Lion King is real; all of the animals, landscapes and skies are generated in a computer; to the degree that the filmmakers, including director Jon Favreau, would enter the digital environment with virtual reality headsets. This technology is incredible in this instance; the virtual cameras and shot compositions can be made from within a virtual environment. Certainly, in terms of animation, this film is a step above many other attempts. There is nothing “live action” about this movie, only that it is animated “realistically”.
It is certainly a very impressive level of animation; the movement of the animals, the dust they kick up from sand, the motion of clouds and water. Everything is lush and beautifully rendered. Little hero Simba is very cute.
This, however, is where the positives end.
It is said often that these remakes are “shot-for-shot” remakes; a great deal of Beauty and the Beast was precise to the original animated movie, for example. But this new film is so opaquely shot-for-shot it is actually quite terrifying.
Certainly, the original is 90 minutes, this film is 120 minutes, but that extra thirty minutes is not noticeable; each scene is only slightly extended, adding to atmosphere without adding any character depth, motivations, backstory, scenes, improvements or downgrades. (For example, the field mouse that Scar catches at his introduction, gets a little silent sequence running around. Or music number “Lion Sleeps Tonight” got an extension… the song that isn’t even a Disney song…) The opening is tiresomely dull; the “Circle of Life” musical sequence is literally the same shot compositions to the original. Exactly the same.
This progresses through the entire film, beat-for-beat, scene-for-scene, exactly the same.
Possibly the most jarring thing is comprehending the lions speaking. Much like a 1990s animal movie, these animals do not have mouths designed for subtle human vocals; so the voices when they aren’t shouting or exaggerated, aren’t visually obvious. It at times feels like listening to inner monologues. Worryingly, this even happens with the songs too; “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” may as well be a voice over on top of the visuals because we can barely see the characters singing, let alone “lip synced” with the lyrics.
There’s also the visual design, which is realism first, character design second. The original had characters designed to look distinct from each other. While Scar has the scar, it isn’t exactly a visible one, and his mane is only slightly black. Lioness Nala has a sequence with minimal vocals… and as such, it is almost impossible to tell which lioness it is until someone addresses her (which they do). As such, this film owes a lot to the original in terms of comprehension.
But the bottom line here is, this film cost $260 million, the filmmakers hand-crafted an entire landscape and could achieve anything they wanted with the technology at their fingertips… Why, why, why… didn’t they do anything new with it?
Sure, you can exaggerate and say; “Why didn’t they make an entirely new story, so the new technology can go hand-in-hand with a new story, ushering in a new era of Disney movies?” but even the simpler question: “Why didn’t they add more to the movie?” For instance, the original is quite simplistic at times. Nala just escapes the Pride Lands and finds the exiled Simba no bother. While the 2019 film does add one three minute sequence, it could have given her a lot more. They boosted Jasmine’s story in Aladdin (and gave her two songs that didn’t happen outside of her own head) why not Nala, a character available to be expanded upon?
If someone hasn’t seen the original (and somehow hasn’t seen most of it anyway because “pop culture”) and goes to see this… chances are they will probably love it. Story and character-wise, what can be said about the original can be said about this one. It is a baffling thing to rate and review. Can it be appreciated as equal to the original, given it copied it word-for-word? Or does that very fact cast it into Pride Land exile? Ultimately, it is up to the viewer.
The Lion King remake sets a dangerous precedent; the continuous recycling of movies, where art is forgotten when its better, flashier copy arrives. But even “better” isn’t true in this case… For dazzling CGI technology aside, we have lost the artistic charm and flair of the hand-drawn craftsmanship. We’ve lost bright colours and painstakingly animated sequences for gritty realism.
Such as with every Disney remake so far; watch the original first, then decide which one you prefer. Don’t let award winning movies, historic movies, be forgotten in a landslide of Disney dirge.
You could say though, this film is a must see for those interested in animation techniques.