The Lion King (2019)
The Lion King (2019)

Genre: Adventure and Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: July 19th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Jon Favreau Actors: Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph

 


 

R

evered lion king Mufasa (James Earl Jones) rules over the Pride Lands with honor and compassion. He hopes to one day pass leadership on to his young son Simba (JD McCrary), but his jealous brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plots in the shadows to usurp the throne for himself. When Mufasa’s guard is down, Scar sets his scheme into motion, resulting in a tragedy that forces the lion cub to flee his home. Years pass and Simba (Donald Glover) has successfully left his old life in the past to live in carefree reverie with newfound friends Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). But conditions in the Pride Lands have deteriorated rapidly under Scar’s rule, sending Simba’s childhood friend Nala (Beyonce) to seek help. When the two reunite, Simba must decide if he will fulfill his destiny and reclaim his place as the rightful heir to the throne.

As per Disney’s curious request, “The Lion King” is not supposed to be classified as a live-action remake, but rather a “photo real movie.” It’s a ludicrous condition, hoping to coin a new phrase that doesn’t mean much. But with an explicit absence of human characters, it’s true that this isn’t technically live-action. There’s nothing “live” about it. And to its credit, it’s frequently difficult to tell when the animals – and especially the backgrounds and environments – aren’t actual photography (and none of it is). It’s like a nature documentary, complete with such attention to infinitesimal details that the visuals are an undeniable revelation.

The hyper-realism of the lighting and texture and fur and movement is absolutely jaw-dropping. The odd scurrying mouse or fluttering insect or rustling weed looks perfect. Like “The Jungle Book” (2016) before it, also helmed by Jon Favreau, the imagery is so lifelike that audiences might not be able to tell the difference even in a direct comparison to footage of the actual flora and fauna. But with this uncommon look comes a few drawbacks: the cuteness from the original 1994 traditionally-animated cartoon has all but vanished. Baby animals still possess a lovableness with their big eyes and chubbiness, but adult versions are more fearsome than adorable. Pumbaa is borderline grotesque, while the hyenas are downright frightening.

Another problem is in behaviors. They no longer appear as exaggerated caricatures, so the fantasy elements quickly subside. There’s no reason for a mandrill and a hornbill to cooperate with lions, or for hyenas to follow orders from other species, or for any of the carnivores to exist peacefully among the herbivores. The concepts of marriage and prey also don’t fit comfortably, let alone the fact that the animals can sing and talk. Plus, like in the world of “Cars,” where everything is an automobile, here there’s an inexplicable separation of sentient animals and mere pests; what dictates whether or not a particular species has human-equivalent mental capacities or are instinctual organisms (like dung beetles and dragonflies, which never speak)? And even though it’s entirely expected (since this is a Disney production), it’s immediately obvious that none of the animals have genitalia; when painstaking efforts are made to recreate the musculature, pelage, and physicality of every creature, down to the veins under their skins, it’s certainly noticeable when things are missing. After all, anyone who’s seen a National Geographic documentary knows that animals have reproductive organs.

Ultimately, since the plot, the songs, a few lines of dialogue, and even specific shots have been redone to preserve the effectiveness of the original, this 2019 update struggles to justify its own existence. It’s indisputably impressive what the digital artists have been able to craft, but the motivation behind doing so rarely seems like anything other than an attempt to cash in on pre-sold audiences. The stampede sequence has been upgraded, but the emotional impact doesn’t increase correlatively; various spectacle moments are more mesmerizing, but also less fun. Due to the realism, the severity has escalated; lion brawls and hyena hunting have become terrifying, and the finale is a mess of indistinguishable skirmishes and embarrassingly unnecessary flashbacks. Unlike “The Jungle Book” (1967), which had room for improvement, “The Lion King” (1994) was celebrated as a prominent masterpiece; any changes would most likely be dodgy at best. At least the voicework by Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon are spot on, providing modernized comic relief and a fresh spin on their signature mantra. “Life is meaningless.”

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10