Wednesday 24 July 2019

Movie Review - The Lion King (2019)

Disney's live action updates of many of their greatest animated hits continues, this time with The Lion King: arguably their most renowned animated classic in the eyes of many. An enormous success upon release in 1994, The Lion King's global earnings now sit extremely close to the $1 billion mark, making it one of the highest grossing animated films even 25 years on, and easily the highest earning among the traditionally animated. So with all this fame and success surrounding it, one would expect a live action remake to be handled with extensive care; sadly, this is not quite the case.

The core story, influenced largely by Shakespeare's Hamlet, matches the original without any major changes. Following the murder of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the hands of his sadistic uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), young lion Simba (Donald Glover) finds himself exiled from his kingdom and left in despair, though soon learns he must follow his destiny and take his rightful place as leader of the Pride Lands before all falls into ruin.

The narrative doesn't need to adopt any significant changes to be good, but when many scenes have near identical shots and dialogue to those in the original, the lack of originality is extremely apparent, leaving us with a film that essentially feels like a discount alternative with a different aesthetic. While the visuals themselves are a major achievement in photorealism, beautifully rendered throughout, such a strong focus on realism leaves no room for any unique style or charm, making many of the story's most iconic moments tragically dull and uninteresting. Consequently, the characters find themselves as little more than well rendered animals with moving mouths; a real shame considering Disney did a great job making similarly realistic animals in 2016's remake of The Jungle Book full of personality for the most part.

The work from this largely decent cast also fails to meet expectations, with the efforts of Donald Glover and Beyoncé (a strange choice...) leaving their respective protagonists hugely forgettable; such criticism applies even more so to James Earl Jones' lifeless performance, making his initially welcome return an unwanted one without a doubt. Perhaps the only real praise can be aimed toward Ejiofor as a suitably sadistic (if slightly cliché) Scar, as well as Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as an admittedly funny Timon and Pumbaa, but they just aren't able to carry the weight of all this alone. Those in love with the original's musical achievements should also be prepared for mixed results; while it's good to see not every song being a complete rehash, they still can't help but feel painfully inferior to the originals.

This update of Disney's animated classic has its perks, especially when it comes to the technical side of things, but still finds itself as little more than an uninspired and lazily structured retelling. Disney's ongoing string of live action updates are still met with significantly polarised opinions, and considering The Lion King remains my favourite film of all time, this poor and disappointing remake is definitely a deep and personal loss.

Wise old mandrill Rafiki is also one of the most loveable characters in the original, and sadly one of the most, if not the most, forgettable characters this time round. For shame.