by Kyle Arango
Disney’s beautifully animated classic films are what they are known best for. They revolutionized the medium and created some of the most celebrated films of all time. The Lion King is their Crown Jewel. Everybody knows the songs, the characters, and the story and it has been passed down through two generations. Now it is getting the remake treatment in a new form of animation. Can this new version justify the story being remade 25 years later? It surprisingly can. Unlike some of Disney’s other remakes, The Lion King understands its great source material and improves upon it by giving depth and more focus on the story.
Everyone has seen The Lion King and know the story but for the three of you who haven’t, it is essentially Hamlet told with African animals. A lion cub goes on a journey to become who he must be in order to avenge the death of his father at the hands of his uncle and assume the mantle of king. This new version is the exact same story with an animation style that is changing the game. Now this will be a point of contention that divides people. There are those who think these remakes should do something different or else they’re pointless nostalgia cash grabs, and those who just want to see the story they know and love played out in a new form. Both sides have valid reasons for where they stand but for me, I am in between. Remakes have worked in the past such as The Thing or even The Jungle Book which have become the defining options of those titles. What they did was they told the same stories but improved upon them and that is exactly what The Lion King did. This is by no means a perfect film but story-wise, it is a thing of beauty.
The selling point for this film was the animation style. Just how realistic can you make The Lion King become? This animation is stunningly beautiful and almost looks like someone put a camera out in the wild and followed these animals around. The details are impeccable from the littlest piece of hair on an elephant to the flop of a lion’s ear when a bug flies near it. I also believe this perfect animation backfired on the film. While the animals look as real as can be, it hurts them in other aspects. It is much more difficult to see emotion come off the animals when they always have the same expressions on their faces. The advantage the original has was it was all hand-drawn animation and you could get expressive with the facial features. Here it is much more difficult to do without making the animals look abnormal or ridiculous. As a result, some musical numbers can come across as animals just opening their mouths and voices coming out. It doesn’t kill the sequences because the songs are just breathtaking, it just limits them to what they could’ve been.
Speaking of these voices, they were some of the most perfect castings I have seen. Jon Favreau really went on a hunt to find the people who most embodied these characters today and made great choices in all of them. In some cases, he couldn’t find anyone better than the original like James Earl Jones who brings that same gravitas he did 25 years ago. Every choice is great such as Donald Glover as Simba, John Oliver as Zazu, Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, and yes, Beyoncé as Nala. However, there are a couple who stand out. My favorite characters in the original were Timon and Pumba and in this version, they are voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. Wow are they funny! They have perfect timing and chemistry with each other and made the characters feel new and familiar at the same time. JD McCrary is awesome as young Simba and brings the perfect youthful wonder the character needs to carry the first half of the film. The real standout, however, is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar and hot take here, he is a better Scar than Jeremy Irons. How about that? In the original, Scar is menacing but also a caricature. Here Ejiofor elevates the character by making him ruthless and terrifying. A character you fear. You believe he will accomplish everything he sets out to do and Ejiofor’s powerful performance only makes the character better.
So, if you were a fan of the original Lion King and grew up with it being your favorite film, you will love this one. It takes the already great story and makes it impeccable while also adding more context to the plot and depth to the characters. The voices are terrific, and the songs are just as great that are sure to give you the nostalgia you desire. Jon Favreau has done it again with these remakes and what he does next, I am there for.
The Verdict: 3.5/5 Stars