HOLLYWOOD—Trying to reimagine a Disney classic is a surmountable feat. I mean “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Dumbo” and “The Jungle Book” are just some flicks that are trying to outdo the animated classic. I’ll be honest, I really only enjoyed “Beauty and the Beast” out of the plethora of flicks at this point. Why? There was a bit of human interaction and that works for a flick of this magnitude. When you take live-action animals and have them talk or move their lips, it creates a frustrating world for the viewer.
“The Lion King” asks the audience to take that journey with them, and as much as I wanted to take that journey I just couldn’t. You’re always going to compare a remake to the classic, especially if you’ve seen the original that is problem number 1. The other issue is if you plan on reinventing or reimaging a classic, you do not always have to weave from the original; I don’t want to see the same movie updated. Same story different people or updated visuals.
This new version of the Disney classic, which is heralded by many as the greatest animated flick of all-time (and I happen to agree), follows the original quite closely, with a few surprises, but not enough to leave me wanting more. The movie doesn’t lack star power in any fashion, I mean Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodward, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Seth Rogen take on some of our classic characters. Glover as Simba, Ejiofor as Scar do decent jobs, but it’s the great James Earl Jones who reprises his role as Mufasa, who is the standout for me. That man has a voice that is phenomenal and his presence echoes how stellar the original was.
I remember “The Lion King” for its phenomenal music, I mean “Hakuna Matata” sung by Pumbaa (Rogen) and Timon (Eichner) just doesn’t have that edge of comedy that I loved in the original. Its tries to be funny, but with real-life animals it’s hard to sell to the audience. The other songs, most composed by Beyoncé just feel too subdued for my liking including “Spirit.” The music was a big selling point of the original, and it just misses the mark here for me.
The original was known for its uplifting spirit. It was the only movie I can recall to this date, where I was laughing one minute than crying the next. That is how powerful the animated version was. This update doesn’t have that same power over the audience in my opinion, and it’s the stark realism that hurts the movie. Visually speaking this movie is fantastic; you don’t get more realistic and eye-opening imagery in a movie as director Jon Favreau manages to capture here.
That’s the problem though, the visuals are relied on too heavily to sell the movie and as we all know, special effects cannot carry a movie, if anything they are supposed to be a by-product of the narrative. They should enhance the story, not distract from it, which is what I felt “The Lion King” did. Look this is not a horrible movie, but when you look at the classic it just doesn’t come close people. Nice effort, but the classic runs circles around this movie any given day.