Earlier this year, we had “Pet Sematary,” a remake about burying your family pet and having it come back to life ugly and without a soul. Now we have “The Lion King,” which is like what would happen if there was a “movie sematary” that played by the same rules.
“The Lion King” is a remake of the 1994 classic Disney animation, and follows a lion named Simba who must take his rightful place as king of his African plains home. Jon Favreau directs an ensemble cast, including Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Beyonce Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones.
As far as the actual animal designs go here, it’s incredible. Being just 24 hours removed from seeing (the meh) “Crawl” and some wonky alligator creature animations, this felt like I was watching a nature documentary. Lions’ ears twitch, smaller animals scratch their nose or lick their paws, the attention to detail by Favreau and his team cannot be sold short.
The songs are all great, too, but that is not a surprise seeing as they were great when they won Oscars back in 1994. Where the film’s faults start to creep in is the way they present the songs. The film’s version of “Hakuna Matata,” instead of being done swinging off vines and leaping through flowers, is literally the characters trouncing in a straight line on a beaten path. No flair, no color. Say what you will about “Aladdin” and its numbers, but at least that film either tried to pay homage or even out-do the original. Not even comparing this directly to the 1994 film, there are just filmmaking choices that ruin entire moments. Like the classic Academy Award-winning “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” being sung in broad daylight.
Other direction choices that just seem odd are the interactions between characters. When Simba first reunites with Nala, he literally takes one second to recognize her. No pondering, no questioning. Again, I’m not even saying this seems off compared to the original; it just feels poorly executed at all.
And the vocal performances. OK, how do I put this diplomatically? I think that Donald Glover and Beyonce are both perfectly nice people who normally have talents in both singing and acting, and should not let one film disparage them! No, but seriously. Both of them often seem like they’re phoning in their lines and they share zero chemistry, romantic or otherwise. At times the voice coming out of their lion counterpart’s face just seems like it doesn’t synch up, or that there should be an echo or something; it is just too clear given their surroundings or circumstances.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, voicing our villain Scar (who either got stuck with a mean nickname after getting a mark or had a huge coincidence occur upon birth), is solid, but his grimmer take on the character cannot compare to the British wit of Jeremy Irons. Also worth noting: *that* scene involving Scar and Mufasa is almost laughable in its execution, again falling on Favreau.
“The Lion King” isn’t bad, but it just doesn’t seem like it has any reason to exist outside making Disney another cool billion. And sure, you could argue that is what this entire “let’s remake all our classic animations with real actors” trend is for, but at least with (most of) the other films I came out thinking at least kids nowadays will have their own take on the tale. “Aladdin” was a nice trip down memory lane for me and even “Dumbo” had some charm (and almost no restraints remaking a 75-year-old 64-minute cartoon). But not for one second watching this film did I feel a purpose, a heartbeat or a true sense of joy. Really the only two things really working here are the cool animal activities and the music, so you’re better off just playing the original film’s soundtrack over a NatGeo special.
Critic’s rating: 5/10.