‘Lion King’ is most anticipated remake of season
Disney is banking on the fact that you enjoy their remakes of classic films. They have no fewer than 15 in the pipeline, which for some strange reason includes a focus on building a “Snow White” universe.
“The Lion King” marks the third remake this year alone, and it is perhaps one of the most anticipated on the schedule. When the original animated film was released in 1994, it shot to the top of the box office that year, and became one of the most successful and enduring films in the canon, launching two sequels, a spin-off TV series, a long-running Broadway musical, and staple performances in its parks.
Disney enlisted as “King’s” director Jon Favreau, who is no stranger to transforming anthropomorphic beasts into CGI creations after successfully resurrecting “The Jungle Book” in 2016.
In “King,” he pushes the technical marvel even further, crafting these Serengeti-dwelling beasts to nearly nature documentary levels. But the detail, while adding to the visual awe, eliminates much of the expressiveness afforded characters existing in an animated world.
James Earl Jones returns to voice Mufasa, the king lion of the Pride Lands. And his voice is a welcome, familiar bellow, but it is far from the only similarity with the original film. Despite many of the new voices added to the cast – JD McCrary and Donald Glover as the younger and elder Simba, respectively; Shahadi Wright Joseph and Beyonce Knowles-Carter as Nala; Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar; John Oliver as Zazu – the script does not stray far from its original 1994 pride.
The film’s opening number “Circle of Life” is almost a shot-for-shot remake, with a few updated vocals to push sales of the new album. It is staggering to witness the level of detail that has been given this world, down to individual dust particles that swirl across the landscape.
But after we get comfortable with our new surroundings, there is little else added to this version that distinguishes it from the original, which makes it feel more like a blatant cash-grab than previous remakes of this sort.
Adding to this, the animation department has crafted the animals to such documentary-like precision (down to various animalistic tics such as ear-twitching and paw-licking) that when they emote or break into song, it feels ... off. We expect this Simba to take down and tear into a passing zebra, perhaps, but it is not as easy to accept him singing and dancing his way through “Can’t Wait to be King.”
I realize the film is impervious to criticism, and fans of the original will most likely be comforted by its familiarity. The comical elements are certainly elevated by Oliver as Zazu, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are sporadically cute as the new Timon and Pumbaa. But it is hard to see this incarnation having the lasting legacy of the original, as it seems audiences will continue to favor the lively, colorful animation of the original over the muted, limited photorealistic movements of their CGI counterparts.