I have a working theory that everyone has one film that was the staple of their childhood. Sure, a child would have seen many a film in their youth, but there is still one that stands above the rest. For my little siblings, these ranged from Space Jam (1996), Spider-Man (2002), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), and Dolphin Tale (2011). Without a doubt, mine was 1994’s highest grosser, The Lion King. I have seen over a 1000 movies or so, and can safely say that I have seen The Lion King more times that any other (the only possible close second would be the 1980 comedy masterpiece Airplane!). I even knew the struggles of the SNES video game of the film (it took me years to finally beat “I just can’t wait to be king” without using the cheat on the options menu.) In short, my expectations for the live action remake of The Lion King were exceedingly high.
The plot is unchanged (if you have not seen the original, I don’t know what could be holding you back). The kingdom has a new future king born in Simba (JD McCrary), who lionizes (pun intended) his dad Mufasa (James Earl Jones, the only returning actor from the original), unaware of his scheming Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) planning to reclaim his right to the thrown. After tragedy strikes, Simba runs away, makes friends with Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), and realizes he needs to return to take his place in “The Circle of Life”.
As stated before, my expectations were as high as ever. Sadly, they were (for the most part) not met. First the voice acting. It is true you cannot have anyone other than James Earl Jones (owner of one of the most notable voices in history) playing Mufasa, and he is basically as iconic as he was a quarter century ago (though age has made him sound more of a grandfather figure). However, you want to know who also has an iconic voice? The original animated Scar (arguably one of the top five or so best Disney villains), brought impeccably to life by Jeremy Irons (Ejiefor is undoubtedly a talented actor, but he can’t fit in the shoes that Irons left). The same could be said by the animated films’ vocals by Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Marin (Bonzai), Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Young Simba) and Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba).
The new film has (somewhat) notable performances, including the voice of Adult Simba played by the immensely talented Donald Glover and his love interest Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter). John Oliver also does his own unique take on Zazu. There is also some nicely done chemistry between Eichner and Rogen as the duo behind the immortal “Hakuna Matata” (Eichner manages to make the role his own, even after it was played uncannily in the animated film by the great Nathan Lane). Their take on how to create a “distraction” at the end of the film is just as funny and memorable as the one from the animated film.
One thing that I (or anyone) cannot argue about is the visuals. This is as close to a live action retelling of the pride lands as we can ever get, and all the credit goes to director Jon Favreau (who, along with the original Iron Man, also directed the 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book) and his team of technicians. The effects are nothing short of extraordinary (if you think you know what it is like to see a lion eat bugs, think again).
Proverbs 19:21 says that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails”. After his father’s death (like I said, who did not see the original by now?), Simba runs away from his problems (to be fair, Scar manipulated him to). He tries to take it easy and have “no worries”, but his past does catch up with him. Then (with the help of the ever-wise Rafiki), he sees his true purpose: to take his place as king. It reminds me a bit of Jonah, running away from God, only to realize his fault later on before returning. Something we have all done at one point or another (minus the whole being swallowed by a whale).
Parents, there is nothing new added to the live action that was not in the original. If your kids have seen the original, they can see this film (though the darker moments are still there).
There is a lingering question for The Lion King remake: If the original was not broke, why try to fix it? Undoubtedly, the answer is to make money, but that does not make it any easier to digest. We have many (and I mean many) more remakes of Disney classics on the way (Mulan, The Lady and the Tramp, and The Little Mermaid, just to name a few). It reminds me of a speech from 1993’s Jurassic Park, given by Dr. Malcom (Jeff Goldblum). After viewing the park, he is telling those at the table (as well as the audience) of the dangers of this endeavor. He utters one statement that perfectly sums up my reaction to Disney remakes.
“The were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that the didn’t stop to think if they should.”