This isn’t the cub club, this is the adults’ table.
The Lion King is the latest release in reimagined classic films from Walt Disney Studios. Disney doesn’t need advice from little hornbills, that much is certain. The Lion King (2019) is a nostalgic beauty. Everything the light touches on the big screen in Disney’s latest remake The Lion King, in theaters today, will help you to journey back into the Pridelands once again in the live-action (well, beautiful CGI at least) take on this iconic Disney animated film.
All my life I have been a fan of The Lion King. Being a child of the 1990s, above all else it is my favorite animated Disney movie. As a kid, I’m pretty sure I was more excited about Simba becoming king than he was. I don’t even remember my first time watching it, but I do remember wearing out not one but two VHS tapes that my family owned of this particular movie. It’s a movie that I know intimately, shot for shot, beginning to end, and I’ve seen it at least once a year (scheduled on the same day every year) for more than a decade now. Needless to say, I’m more than familiar with the source content for the live-action film, The Lion King, released in theaters today, July 18th, 2019.
In writing this review I found that there were things about the movie that I really liked and things I didn’t necessarily care for as a fan of the original. I constantly found myself mentally inserting pieces of the original into the new film as I watched and compared the two. To be clear, this new take is definitely worth watching, but “be prepared” for some changes. If you want to watch the original movie you should go watch that one. With that out of the way, let’s get into it…
Naturally, one of the things fans are most afraid of with a remake of any kind is that important pieces of the story will get lost in translation (Disney producers themselves are arguably guilty of this with a few of their remakes). I’m happy to report that this is not the case with The Lion King. The story came out fully intact and in some surprising ways, improved by additional scenes or minor changes to existing ones. No, it’s not the exact same movie but all the pieces of the story that should be present are there. By my estimation, the script is lifted somewhere in the vicinity of 70% from the original. There are so many lines in the movie that are exactly the same as the source content and countless shots pay homage to the 1994 version. It’s clear that Disney made this movie with the original at the forefront of their minds. The movie flows like the original did, and I loved that.
In many ways The Lion King (2019) is like a good film adaptation of a book. While the movie both looks and feels notably more serious than the original movie, there is still some good, well placed, humor throughout. The humor, however, is far less frequent than in 1994’s version and is primarily isolated to certain parts of the film. The content that doesn’t match the original script is well placed, it fits the heart of the story properly, and makes the movie feel fresh despite the fact that the story is over 25 years old. At 1 hour, 58 minutes run time vs. the original’s 1 hour, 28 minutes, a good chunk of new story content was added as well. At first, I was wary of this, but quickly came to the same conclusion that the new writers inevitably did, that the new content made the story so much better. In fact, I’m glad Disney had the guts to do this with one of their most beloved classic movies. I’ll skip the specifics for those who haven’t seen it yet, but several of the questions I’ve had since childhood have suddenly been answered.
Just as important as the story is the cast of the film. Without a good cast to portray the characters in the story, a movie will be bad every time. Have you ever wondered what Darth Vader would sound like with a different voice? What about Mufasa? Uncomfortable, right? James Earl Jones played both characters, and for good reason. The man is simply irreplaceable. I just told myself, “no one else could do that voice”, when it came to Mufasa (I mean… ¿Que pasa?). Much to my delight, Disney felt the same way and the great King of Pride Rock returns to reprise his role.
The rest of the cast are newcomers to The Lion King but certainly not to Hollywood. Donald Glover does a great job as adult Simba (Matthew Broderick set a pretty high bar for that role in my opinion). Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a sinister and notably darker Scar performance. Surprisingly, the performances that jumped (er, pounced?) out at me the most in the movie were Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. I wasn’t expecting these roles to be as delicious (yes, they still eat ants) as they were, but they did an outstanding job and really added a lot of style and flair to the film.
Unlike the original film, the voice cast had an extra hurdle this time around. In the original film, the characters were cartoon animated; there were tons of humanlike facial expressions, gestures, and emotion put into the animation itself. Due to the much more realistic visual style Disney chose for this film, facial emotion is all but nonexistent in this version of The Lion King. This decision has consequences in serious moments and humorous moments alike. You hear the emotion, but in many ways, you don’t see it. There is still some humor in this movie but it feels far more serious than the original and it’s partly due to this stylistic choice by Disney. It feels a little strange having the expressed emotion in the voice not necessarily matching the characters physically but I can understand why Disney did this. It really adds to the sense of realism within the movie since the animals always look, well… like animals.
In one sentence. The music in this movie is to die for.
There is hardly a bigger name in film scoring than Hans Zimmer. He composed the original score for The Lion King in 1994, and that score has always been one of my favorites, not just of his, but of any movie. I was incredibly excited when I first heard Hans Zimmer was returning to do the job that he did so well the first time. He takes the original score for the film and expands on that vision. In a very real sense, it’s almost as if the score to the original film grew up. Zimmer took one of his best scores and added a level of composing maturity to it the original simply did not have. Rather than writing all-new music, Zimmer adds incredible depth and shading to his classic cues many of us know and love. There are some new segments to the score, but they do not take precedence and because of that, it all fits very well. Rest assured, the parts of the score you want to hear are in there. Everything was in the right place and fit the tone of the film wonderfully. In many ways, it is superior to the original—despite being a rework of the very same score. Another incredible work from Zimmer and no one else could have done it as well.
Just listen to Hans’ reimagining of the Stampede cue below.
One of the very best things about the original film are the musical contributions of Elton John and Tim Rice. I’m sure audiences everywhere will be pleased to know that all of the same songs are back for the live-action movie with fresh performances. All the songs you would expect appear in the film, “Circle Of Life”, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”, “Be Prepared”, “Hakuna Matata”, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. It’s all there. Not all the songs are faithful to the originals, but despite the changes, I feel Disney’s approach to it was appropriate given that this is not a cartoon but rather live-action. The new performance of “Be Prepared”, though probably the most different of all the songs, sent literal chills down my spine—it was that good.
Disney rarely disappoints in the animation department and The Lion King is no exception. I saw the film in 4K and could not find a fault in the quality anywhere. I knew the film was animated and yet I had a hard time convincing myself of that. Every detail is crisp and breathtaking. From the sunrise in the first shot (which I was thrilled to see again) all the way until the title pops on screen at the end, audiences will find themselves immersed in a world that looks convincingly real. “Real”—that’s the word I want to focus in on here. The movie was made to look real. Even though this film is technically 3D-animated rather than a true live-action film, it looks as if it had been filmed rather than created on computers. The visuals are, in a word, stunning. I think it’s safe to say they crossed the Uncanny Valley with this one. The realism is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but one thing that was lost in this reimagination is nearly all of the visual styling and elaborate, surreal, larger than life designs present in the original 1994 film. Some audiences will struggle with that, but for a more realistic adaptation, this approach was very satisfying and visually appealing in its own way. Given the visual style that was chosen for the film, it fits astoundingly well.
The movie is made with the object-based Dolby Atmos surround sound format. If you don’t know what this is, suffice to say that it’s incredible and adds some real depth to the already immersive experience of watching the movie. To experience this, you have to be at an Atmos-enabled theater (such as RPX). Otherwise, you can get the proprietary mix in an IMAX theater or regular surround in a standard theater. I’m convinced the movie is made well enough that you can’t lose no matter where you see it. I saw the movie in a standard 4K theater and the sound just danced around the room. Even for standard surround sound, the mix sounds fantastic. The audio helps to add a level of realism to make you feel as if you are actually there. The theater I went to presented the most basic mix available and it was still incredible. When the movie is available for purchase later this year, it will include an Atmos mix so you can enjoy it at home if you have the setup for it.
Disney’s The Lion King (2019) has been met with a stampede of criticism right out of the gate. I suppose we should have expected that, given the original movie is a beloved film by millions of people, some people were bound to hate it. There are plenty of people who cannot feel the love and the peace this film should bring. There really isn’t any way to make everyone happy, but I think Disney produced this movie the right way—and they should be proud of what they accomplished. Disney took what was originally a kids film and matured it considerably to be a movie that, while still just as appropriate for kids, is definitely tailored for younger adults in their 20s and 30s who grew up with the original. If you’re expecting an exact shot for shot remake, then you will be sorely disappointed. If you’re open to Disney taking some creative liberties, tweaking small things, and reimagining this story just a bit then you’ll likely thoroughly enjoy this film. The whole time I was in the theater I found myself appreciating the way they paid homage to The Lion King Disney classic film. Disney has successfully delivered one of their greatest classics to a new generation.
I recommend the movie to anyone who liked the original. If the original set the bar at 10 out of 10 roars for you, you’ll likely consider this at least 8 out of 10. In some ways though, it’s actually a better movie
The Lion King is out in theaters everywhere today, July 19th, 2019. Have you seen it? Do you agree with our review? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below!