The Lion King (2019) Review

We are in a climate where Disney seems to be taking over the media world. Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame have both passed the 1 billion dollar mark. (Endgame has actually officially beaten Avatar for the all time box office record) Aladdin sits at a quiet $965 million, and they still have films like Frozen 2 and Star Wars left this year. Another film that will undoubtedly add to that giant total is the new remake of The Lion King. Directed by Jon Favreau, The Lion King uses that same photo-realism used by The Jungle Book (2016) and dials it up. But how does it compare to the original?

“Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

By now everyone knows the story of The Lion King. One half Hamlet, one half Kimba the White Lion. The Lion King is the story of family, loyalty, betrayal, and revenge. The film opens with the iconic shot of the rising sun set to ‘The Circle of Life’ and the nostalgia instantly hits. You are there to see and hear those moments you grew up with and in that moment it feels amazing but once the novelty starts to wear off you begin to realize what you are watching really isn’t all that great.

The aspect that suffers the most from these photo-realistic visuals is they decide to go with is 100% the music. ‘The Circle of Life’ is great but after that every song falls flat on its face. The song that gets hurt the worst by this is probably ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’. A song that in the original finds Simba and Nala in an ever changing and beautiful color palette running around rising giraffes and ostriches, teasing Zazu, and just having well… fun. The fun and candor of the original is all thrown out the window for almost 3 minutes of just running around near other animals while their mouths move ever so slightly.

That isn’t the only song that was a disappointment as ‘Be Prepared’ was reduced down to one single verse. Scar decides to start speaking the lyrics and then for a couple seconds sings a couple words? It’s so awkwardly place and almost certainly an answer to the backlash the internet had when it was originally announced that ‘Be Prepared’ wouldn’t be in the movie but at this point, I wish that had just decided to cut it.

“Mufasa and Simba are gone. I am your king.”

The 2019 version of The Lion King is basically a shot for shot remake of the original. There are some decisions and new shots that add about 30 minutes of run-time but add nothing of substance. Any added run-time on the film is there in the form of holding the camera on and animal or object and watching it for way too long. They also added a new song from Beyonce which replaces the iconic Han Zimmer score at very well known moment. That’s exactly what The Lion King did not need is a poppy Beyonce bop in place of the emotion and greatness that is it’s original score.

Watching the original version, you could probably pick any character as a favorite due to them all having their moments and distinct personality. In this new version you can’t say the same. The character that takes the biggest hit in this comes from the intelligent and funny voice of reason, Rafiki. Rafiki in this film is cut down to just some weird monkey that you have no idea why he is doing these things. His amazing “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past speech” is cut. Instead they turn him into a retired warrior that brings out his battle staff at the end of the film. It’s an awkward change and turns the emotions you should feel into an emotion that just confuses the hell out of you.

“Run away Simba, and never return.”

Let’s take a second to talk about the voice acting in this new version of The Lion King. James Earl Jones comes back as the only star of the original and just might be the biggest disappointment. Sounding bored is the best way to describe his new “take” on Mufasa. No line carries and weight or has any inflection whatsoever. Other than James Earl Jones, the only voice acting that really is hit or miss is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar. He has some great moments followed by lines that make you wish you were just listening to Jeremy Irons. That isn’t to say some of the new voice actors don’t do amazing work.

The voice of young Simba, JD McCray, does an amazing job having the excitement and wonder of the character come through the screen. You also get a great performance from Florence Kasumba, who plays Shenzi, the leader of the three main hyenas. She has this feeling of horror and malice that really comes across in every line she says.

“We’re just getting into the groove.”

When it comes to stealing and I would actually say saving the show, it doesn’t get much better than what Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner do with Timon and Pumba. They add some amazing and new humor to this duo that we love. They remind you that what you are watching is supposed to be fun and lighthearted at times. It’s as if they put them in a room and just let them improv and really pulled out the best possible bits they could. They 100% stole the film and were the two perfect choices to play those characters.

The visuals for The Lion King are out of this world and something that has never been achieved before at this level. The realistic nature of the visual effects actually add to the tension of the movie. Chases and fights feel more real and get your heart racing as if you don’t know what’s going to happen. The hyenas come across as an actual threat which isn’t the case for the original.

“You must take your place in the circle of life.”

As a firm supporter of the live action remakes, The Lion King may have just soured me on them. It feels like a lifeless shell of a movie. After a while feels like you are watching a National Geographic documentary. I truly believe that in another life this film was called ’50 Shades of Tan’. Nothing pops and nothing is a fun time. While this review has been mostly negative, I still think anyone who is a fan of the original should check it out. The nostalgia and visuals just might carry you past all the flaws and problems a film like this has. As for me, if I ever want to watch The Lion King again I’ll just throw on the original and have a wonderful time forgetting that this one exists.

Overall Score 2/5

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About the Author
Andy is a contributing writer on the Back Lot 605 team. Movies have always been a big part of his life but his biggest influence in his joy of movies comes from growing up around his step brother, who worked at a video store and wanted to be a director. This led to seeing a lot of dramas and John Wayne movies as a kid. Since then some of his favorite movies include Whiplash, Interstellar, Lord of the Rings, and Gladiator. There isn’t a single genre Andy doesn’t like, but he has a soft spot for Disney, romantic comedies, westerns, and dramas.
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