Movie Review: The Lion King

By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor
[Disney; 2019]
Rating: 3/10

Let’s get one thing straight: this movie only exists as a cash grab and a guarantee that Disney can keep The Lion King and other movies like it out of the public domain so long as the mouse wears gloves. The Lion King (2019) is almost a shot for shot remake of the original. It just lacks all of the soul and magic that made the original 2-D animation have so much more impact.

Read more: Movie Review: The Grinch

The film opens with the classic “Circle of Life” sequence, where the cinematography is a clone of the original. The music is blasting, animals gather in front of pride rock, the sun glows red in the sky … it’s powerful, especially if the audience has a deep-seated nostalgia for it. For a moment, it almost works, and Disney almost pulls it off. Then the animals start talking. It’s brain shattering.

“But the technology! It’s groundbreaking!” OK, yes. It is. Fur rendering has literally never looked better. The tech is at the point where Jon Favreau could make his own nature documentary and we could never ever see the difference. But does it really matter when soulful songs and emotional moments don’t hold up because lions can’t cry? Or have enough facial movements to convey how sad it is when Mufasa dies? Or how glorious it is when Simba finally takes his rightful place as king? (It’s not a surprise. You all saw the same movie when you were kids). Adherence to realism is the movie’s greatest downfall.

This problem exists any time a song shows up in the script. In the realistic world of the Pride Lands, colorful sequences are replaced with repulsively drab choreography on a brown or washed-out green backdrop. Even simple changes that stray from realism could have elevated these scenes. The biggest losses are in “Be Prepared” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, the latter of which is shot in the middle of the day. The song is “Can You Feel the Love TONIGHT”, not “Can You Feel the Love This Late Afternoon.” It’s drab, and the romance is gone. Plus, it’s disappointing, no matter how amazing Donald Glover and Beyoncé sound. “Be Prepared” is a shadow of its previous self. If a shot-for-shot remake was going to happen, the villain song can’t be cut and then half-assedly finagled back in. The contrast is gone. The hyenas don’t assemble in sync. And, Scar looks a lot more pathetic than he could have been. Where is the panache? The drama? Scar is drama, no matter the interpretation.

Not all is lost. The voice acting in this version holds up well. Everyone in the cast fits the role, but the emotion they bring is lost behind an unmoving lion’s face. It’s a disservice to their performances. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen bring great comedy to their roles as Timon and Pumbaa, and it feels organic and fresh. The songs sound beautiful and Beyonce’s new song fits the film and pays homage to both traditional and modern African music.

If the “Circle of Life” scene was the only thing that was released along with a soundtrack, it would have been an incredible project. But then people would be asking for a full movie, and we would be back in the same place of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Watch the trailer here:

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