Film Review – The Lion King

The Lion King (PG)

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Starring: Donald Glover, Beyonce, Seth Rogen

Three stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Have you ever thought to yourself “Gee, I wonder what the beloved The Lion King would look like if real animals recited the dialogue.”? Don’t worry, the good folk at Disney have got your back and have delivered the next best thing.

It is the latest achievement in film making technology – eye popping photo-realism. Disney can do many things, but clearly it can’t make wild lions recite Shakespeare adaptations so they have recreated some of our favourite characters for another trip to the animal kingdom.

As we all know already with this Hamlet inspired tale, lion cub Simba is born into African wildlife royalty to parents Mufasa (James Earl Jones) and Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) making him the next in line to be king, knocking his bitter uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) out of the running.

Scar kills Mufasa, convinces Simba to run away and never return, then takes his place as the king, forms an alliance with the Hyenas and puts the kingdom in danger.

With the exception of a couple of additional sequences (which essentially just pad out the running time), including one heavily featuring a big ol’ photo-realistic giraffe turd, (what a way to showcase this incredible technology!), The Lion King 2019 is basically a copy and paste job of the 1994 script, and a visual replication as well.

Scenes carry out virtually word for word and shot for shot, only this time with realistic looking animals and a different voice cast.

The realism of the animals and their surrounds are uncannily spot on; a credit to the team behind the technology, however Favreau’s dedication to realism is flawed – the animals faces to not emote.

In the recreation of one of the original’s most iconic and heartbreaking scenes, Simba is heard to be sobbing in the aftermath of a nightmarish event, yet his face is rock solid and not a single tear drop evident.

Such a disconnect between the emotional voice work and what we see on the screen is often a distraction and proof that technology can only do so much.


Additionally, the musical numbers, while the songs themselves still have an impact due to their catchy tunes and memorable lyrics, are a bore. Why? Again, because Favreau is going for realism here and real animals don’t dance (they do, however, talk and sing?). Instead, they just kind of trot around on screen without any rhythm or flair.

And yet, despite the emotionless faces, uneven voice acting (the Hyenas’ banter sinks like a lead balloon), I was strangely drawn into this CGI recreation.

Everything is so hypnotically detailed that it is hard to take your eyes off it, and the story still enthralling enough (Shakespeare was onto something) to keep you interested and it is a thrill to have a culturally diverse cast voice this version.

Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa are a pure delight and a much needed jolt of fun and freshness to the film; they absolutely steal the film.

Could Disney have just remastered the original and re-released it in cinemas on a milestone anniversary instead of remaking it? Absolutely.

Could Disney have applied this groundbreaking photo-realism technology to an original story to give audiences something fresh? Sure.

Instead, we have The Lion King 2019, which now exists and will likely strike a nostalgic nerve for those that grew up on the original and for youngsters to discover and potentially fall in love with.

There are worse attempts at nostalgia bait that have become worldwide hits.

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