It has to be a difficult task to take on a project bound to face tremendous criticism. I mean, we’re not talking a film that takes a political stance or shines a spotlight on divisive social issues (well, one could make an argument, I suppose). We’re talking about taking an animated classic and bringing it to the screen in a way that induces a sense of reality. Since viewing a media screening for Disney’s The Lion King, I’ve heard a variety of thoughts and opinions from friends who viewed the same film I did. Some were mesmerized by the visuals. Others were ready to nap after hearing the same story they’ve known for decades. When it comes to my opinion, I definitely lean more towards one side than the other. So, which way do I lean? Take a peek at my Disney’s The Lion King Review and see for yourself.
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Disney’s The Lion King Review
We all have our opinions. We all have our thoughts and viewpoints. Sometimes they corroborate and sometimes they don’t. After seeing a screening of Disney’s The Lion King, I’m noticing that those thoughts and viewpoints among my friends are quite diverse. I have friends who felt the movie was boring, while others were truly mesmerized by the stunning visuals.
In my honest opinion, I feel that Disney’s The Lion King has come full circle. Yes, I’m playing on the words, but doesn’t it seem fitting that what started out as an animated classic that moved into a spectacular Broadway production completes its course by making its way to the big screen? Created with some of the most innovative, pioneering technology out there today, the “live action” version of Disney’s The Lion King takes the audience on an African adventure that has us wanting to cuddle with lion cubs and brace ourselves during ferocious battles.
I believe it would be safe to say that most of us, if not all, are familiar with the tale of Disney’s “The Lion King.” The story takes us on a journey to the African savanna to witness the entrance of the future king. As the lion cub grows, he learns from and idolizes his father and , in time, grasps his own royal destiny.
However, not everyone in the kingdom is all that jazzed about the little one’s arrival.
Uncle Scar had been the heir to the throne and has envied the position his brother has had for years. In that vein, Scar makes every attempt to alter the current line of succession. As the movie unfolds, we watch as the battle for Pride Rock ensues, ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama. Ultimately, the future king finds himself in exile, leaving the Pride Lands to suffer under new rule. It takes a curious pair of newfound friends to help the future king figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
Disney gave Jon Favreau (Jungle Book) a difficult task in directing this completely CGI film. Interestingly, Favreau chose to stick to the original story-line without compromise and did not sway from what we all expected to see. Instead, he put his resources and efforts into creating a life-like backdrop that had us believing we were truly out on the savanna, walking through an elephant graveyard or watching two grown lions battle for the throne. It was as if we were in the middle of a Disneynature film. Not only did he create a visually stunning landscape, he kept very close to the individual character development and order of events throughout the film. He added nothing unless it contributed to the overall story-line.
Here’s a moment of honesty. I’m a little exhausted with the “live action” genre, as it is getting to the point of being overdone and predictable. I mean, I know this particularly film isn’t true “live action,” per se, but it is a remake of a Disney animated movie with which we fell in love decades ago.
Now, in saying that, I do think this was one of the most well done CGI movies out there. Favreau topped the brilliance he demonstrated in Jungle Book and gave us a reason to ooh and aww at cuddly lion cubs and wince at dung beetles and maggots. We felt the oncoming stampede (it helped that we watched the movie in a Dolby theater) and were near teary-eyed when THAT scene occurred.
Yes, that scene is in there….but it is pretty much carried out the exact way we see in the animated version.
This is not to say that you can’t spot some of the discrepancies between reality and computer generated images (for me, it was more in the beginning of the film with the giraffes). I’m just saying that I don’t think the job could have been done any better. I could literally “see” the texture of the elephants’ skin and the fatigue of battle on Scar’s face.
Overall, the acting was fantastic. I think that Chiwetel Ejiofor was spectacular as Scar and hearing James Earl Jones reprise his role as Mufasa was legendary. I will admit that I had a difficult time at first with Donald Glover as Simba and Billy Eichner as Timon, but they both won me over in the end. Perhaps I was just so accustomed to the actors who had taken on the animated roles. It simply took a little bit for me to adjust.
Someone who did surprise me was Beyoncé Knowles-Carter in the role of Nala. I willingly admit that I went in skeptical, not a huge fan of hers. However, I walked away fairly impressed with how she portrayed the lioness. It wasn’t that she did anything different or unique with the role to stand out. It just felt as if she fit into the character.
The Character Development
As noted above, Favreau stuck very close to the original script with this one and I am actually glad he did. Scar’s envy was dripping from his jawline. Mufasa held his head up high and proud as king. Sirabi was powerful and dignified and Nala was courageous and curious. Even the roles of Timon and Pumba remained as the movie’s comic relief and gave us all a reason to laugh out loud in our seats.
The only change in character development I saw was taken with the hyenas. What Favreau chose to do with them intrigued me right from the get-go and I found myself a little more glued to screen when they were on the screen. The primary three from the original remain involved in the story-line, but their personalities were a tad more realistic. We see a more strength and dominance coming from Shenzi and an even darker tone taken when the hyenas are in the scene. We still see a little of the foolishness in her sidekicks, but it’s not as dramatic, or exaggerated, as it was in the animated classic.
See if you can follow along with me here. The instrumentals were gorgeous and truly match the brilliance of its 1994 predecessor. Vocally, however, I was shocked to hear as much contrast as I did. Are you ready? This is where my strongest criticism of the movie lies.
I was simply not as impressed with the vocals as I had hoped to be.
In a way, sure ~ that makes the movie more realistic, but also less professional. “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” was good. However, it was dominated by Beyoncé. I barely heard Donald Glover’s voice shine. “Hakuna Matata” was cute and whimsical. However, it lacked the full on harmonies (and pitch!) I crave when I listen to that song. “Circle of Life” was gorgeous in tone and vibrancy, but there was just something missing. I wish I could tell you what, though.
One song that simply just fell completely flat with me? “Be Prepared.” I expected sooo much more from it.
Being a “live action” film, we had to expect that the violence was going to be a little more realistic. While we don’t technically see an animal taken down horrifically or massive gore spewed in the movie, we do see death, tremendous battles and carnivores eating their prey. There is a scene where Scar is enjoying what appears to be a deceased antelope and we do see the remnants of blood stained on his chin.
As noted above, the scene we all both dread and anticipate actually follows very closely to the animated movie’s depiction of it. You still feel the fall and the loss. However, Favreau actually does it justice.
Here is your warning for those sensitive to such scenes or even to death. You may have a little difficulty at these moments. However, it does make the setting of the movie a little more realistic.
Things To Keep in Mind:
There is violence. The computer animators behind this work did a brilliant job creating fight scenes in the wild. They also did not hesitate to show the carnivorous side of these animals. While they did it in a way that is realistic, but tasteful (no pun intended), it may be unsettling for some individuals.
There is no foul language, so to speak. Timon does say “Thank God” and Pumbaa actually completes the phrase he was stopped short of saying in the song he sung in the animated version of “Hakuna Matata.” Other than that, it’s pretty clean in that respect.
With regard to romance, you see lions cuddling, brushing their cheeks up against each other in a sweet, connected kind of way. No canoodling seen.
Would I recommend?
Okay, here we go….
If you are an animated classic snob, you may find yourself bored. However, if you are interested in seeing what I consider one of the best “live-action” remakes to date, then add this to your must-see list. I thought the visuals were stunning and the acting was spot on. It was just the vocal portion of the music that frustrated me. My youngest is 13 and very picky about what he likes and doesn’t like (bet that surprised you!). He was actually captivated the whole time. I think that says quite a bit right there.
If you saw the animated movie, you are not walking into anything unique or altered creatively. While creative license was used in the spoken script it honestly only adds depth to what we already know is going to happen.
I’ll say it. I loved it and I would see it again. In fact, my son asked the night after the screening, “When are we taking the rest of the family to see it?”