The Lion King

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 11, 2019

'The Lion King'
'The Lion King'  

Available digitally today!

Before walking into any of these Disney live-action remakes, what exactly are you looking for out of them? At their core, they're renditions of Disney's own intellectual properties. Stories that are held up as sacrosanct and beyond reproach, especially when it comes to rejiggering these tales to make them anew. If you wanted a shot-for-shot recreation of "The Lion King" so the nostalgia you crave is satiated, then that's what you'll get from this Jon Favreau-directed remake. If you seek a different vision of a tale that you love, cancel that ticket reservation right this very minute.

Where the original "The Lion King" found the sweet spot between fantasy and reality, this rendition saddles itself with making everything photoreal. To a degree, we can't even call this live-action filmmaking, as most of the visuals on display have been designed by humans and rendered through computers. The visuals even try to ape the kind of nature documentaries that are so vivid in detail, like "Planet Earth." Instead, making everything look and feel so real ends up dulling anything fantastical about the breathless animation employed in the 1994 animated film.

Yet, that still doesn't make "The Lion King" discernible from its predecessor. Sure, it shuffles around musical numbers and leaves out the more crazed animated antics, but it does that all in service of the central narrative. If we're to hold stories like these on a pedestal, flaying off the visual irreverence to boost the uncanny valley effect only makes these remakes more terrifying. These are incredible effects tools at our disposal, and they're being used to throw another coat of paint over a story that's already well-worn. If the one thing you desired from "Aladdin" or "Dumbo" is to make them more real, then maybe this wave of Disney adaptations is for you. If you enjoyed the somewhat boundless visual imagination of the original animated movies, then I can't imagine you ever enjoying "The Lion King."

We know the story already: Simba (voiced by JD McCrary in his younger years and Donald Glover when he's older) is the son of the king of Pride Rock, Mufasa (James Earl Jones). Mufasa's jealous brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) leads young Simba into a stampede that ends up killing Mufasa when he tries to save his son. Simba, convinced that his father's death is all his fault, is pushed out of the Pride Lands and lives his days with a meerkat named Timon (Billy Eichner) and a warthog named Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). That is until Nala (Beyoncť), a friend from his childhood, shows back up in Simba's life and implores him to dethrone Scar so that the Pride Lands can flourish once again. After all, he is the rightful king.

The most interesting part about "The Lion King" is figuring out where the filmmaker's interests lie. For instance, the final battle between Simba and Scar feels like a triumph in the original, with all the tertiary characters getting their time to shine during a makeshift rebellion. Here, though, it's this bombastic depiction that borrows more from the finite ideas of current blockbuster filmmaking than anything else. The camera swoops between bodies crashing together, slow motion shots take over the screen and most of all, if not most importantly, the action exists just behind this fiery haze of dust that keeps swirling up. No, there's no sequence in which Timon dances in a hula skirt to draw some evil hyenas away. Comedic moments like that would look awkward in a universe that's more dedicated to making Timon's character movements and tics more in line with the meerkat species.

That isn't to say that "The Lion King" isn't without humor or new flourishes. Those ideas are just never anything more than a line of dialogue here and there, or an inconsequential new character being inserted into a story that doesn't need any more dramatic bolstering. Timon and Pumbaa are once again called upon to throw some personality into the proceedings and for a while, they do. Even their shtick gets tired, though, as the film relies heavily upon these two genuine comedic voices known for improvisation to toe the line just well enough to keep the story moving. Timon even makes a snide remark about his distaste for Simba's slight riffing of "Hakuna Matata," saying that going off the script isn't what the lion should do. That small and very brief remark speaks lengths to how much the filmmakers, or even Disney themselves, trust the audience with information.

This isn't meant to seem dire or anything, but who is "The Lion King" for? One person may say for a new audience. Another may say for the same audience that grew up with original. This writer says it's for no one. It just exists.



Voice of Simba :: Donald Glover
Voice of Pumbaa :: Seth Rogen
Voice of Scar :: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Voice of Sarabi :: Alfre Woodard
Voice of Timon :: Billy Eichner
Voice of Rafiki :: John Kani
Voice of Zazu :: John Oliver
Voice of Shenzi :: Florence Kasumba
Voice of Azizi :: Eric André
Voice of Kamari :: Keegan-Michael Key
Voice of Young Simba :: JD McCrary
Voice of Young Nala :: Shahadi Joseph
Voice of Nala :: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
Voice of Mufasa :: James Jones
Voice of Sarafina :: Penny Johnson Jerald
Voice of Guinea Fowl :: Amy Sedaris


Director :: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter :: Jeff Nathanson
Producer :: Jon Favreau
Producer :: Jeffrey Silver
Producer :: Karen Gilchrist
Executive Producer :: Tom Peitzman
Executive Producer :: Julie Taymor
Executive Producer :: Thomas Schumacher
Cinematographer :: Caleb Deschanel
Film Editor :: Mark Livolsi
Film Editor :: Adam Gerstel
Original Music :: Hans Zimmer
Production Design :: James Chinlund
Supervising Art Direction :: Vlad Bina
Casting :: Sarah Finn