Disney has been teasing us with the Lion King remake for months now. It’s got a stellar cast including Beyoncé, Seth Rogan, James Earl Jones, Donald Glover, and John Oliver just to name a few, but is it worth seeing the Lion King Remake?
Lion King Remake Review
I was invited to see an early screening of the movie, and was excited to see it. I took my niece, who was then 3 years old, to see the original and was going to take her to see this one. Except now she is almost 30 and has a job and can’t easily get away to see a movie in the middle of the day. I took my 16 year old daughter and her friend – kids who have only ever seen The Lion King on DVD.
Opening Scene – Circle of Life
The opening scene, the iconic opening scene of this movie made me hopeful. The opening scene literally brought me to tears when I saw the original, this one did too, but I think that might be the power of the original. The opening Zulu vocals performed by Lebo M, in the song Circle of Life remain, the rest of the song originally sung by Carmen Twillie has been replaced by another singer, unfortunately, I can’t find who sings it. It’s still amazing, just not the same – which is pretty much how the whole movie is. Amazing, but not the same.
Not the Original Lion King
If you haven’t seen the original animated Lion King, you’d probably like this movie just fine. The story is the same, many of the scenes are exact replicas – especially the iconic scenes when Simba and Scar fight at the end while all around Pride Rock burns is stunning. If you’ve seen the original, there are no surprises, a few dialog changes, and a little more backstory added – the dung beetle scene explains how Rafiki knew Simba was alive (something I thought I’d missed from the original), but I’m not sure we need to see how a clump of Simba’s hair makes its way through a giraffe’s digestive system and to a dung beetle pushing it around til it finally meets up with Rafiki.
While most of the movie is the same as the original, there are some striking omissions. Rafiki doesn’t carry his stick with the fruit on it in the movie. Near the end he pulls the stick out from a pile of rocks so he can fight the hyena’s off, but there’s no explanation for why it was hidden, or why he didn’t use it as a walking stick. This means Rafiki never smacks Simba with his stick when he talks about how the past can hurt.
Rafiki also never utters the words “it is time”. This really bothers me for some reason. Or maybe he did and it was just unintelligible. Rafiki had very few lines in this movie, and when he was talking it was difficult to understand what he was saying. It could be the accent or that he wasn’t speaking English, it was difficult to tell.
Lion King CGI
The CGI aspect of the Lion King didn’t live up to my expectations. The animals were flat, having little to know facial expressions. The movement of their mouths didn’t really sync up with the dialog. It was like watching a National Geographic special that someone had dubbed dialog into. Because the animals looked like real animals, it was strange that they didn’t have genitals or that their buttholes were never visible – tails were always in the down position even when they should have been raised while shot from behind.
Lion King Music
Which brings us to the music. I’ve already discussed the opening scene – an iconic intro to any movie if there ever was one. I was curious how they were going to do the “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” sequence. In the original you had animals performing a pyramid to distract Zazu so that Simba and Nala can get away and check out the elephant graveyard. It’s a stunning scene done beautifully in the original movie. Since this movie was created using CGI instead of real live animals, there’s no reason the scene couldn’t have been done the same way, it just would have looked funny since the animals were so realistic.
Many of the songs simply didn’t seem to fit, even though they had in the original, because the CGI was so realistic. The one that did work was the remake of Can You Feel the Love Tonight, performed by Beyoncé and Donald Glover. I love the original, and this one is just as good. Beyoncé contributed another song to the movie – Spirit – a lovely enough song, though forgettable in the movie.
It took me until the final ten minutes of the movie before I realized Seth Rogan was Pumba. I knew Seth Rogan was in the movie, and Pumba would be the obvious guess as to which character he would play, but the voices of all the characters weren’t distinctive enough. Except for Beyoncé, John Oliver, and James Earl Jones, everyone sort of sounded the same.
I don’t mean to rag all over the Lion King remake, if I hadn’t seen the original I am sure I would have been wowed by the CGI, though I am not sure I would have loved it as much as I love the original. The Lion King is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Most 3 year olds won’t catch that and many adults didn’t in the original either. In the remake they make it very clear that this is Hamlet, and that was disappointing.
The movie was much darker in this version. In the original they used all the colors of the rainbow with unfettered abandon, part of what made the movie so visually stunning. This version the colors were dull and muted. Except for a few sunsets and sun rises, the landscape was pretty dull. I probably wouldn’t have brought my 3 year old niece to this version of the movie.
This movie, while not bad, didn’t need to be made. There was no way it was ever going to compare with the original. The remake of Aladdin worked because it went from animation to live-action. The Lion King remake is just a higher tech animation, that doesn’t work when compared to the original. Because the animals were so realistic, the comic relief of Timon and Pumba seemed way out of place and awkward in some cases.
If you haven’t seen the original, you may like this movie, but if you haven’t seen the original, I’d suggest finding a copy of it somewhere (Disney makes it difficult to find copies in stores, but you can stream it) and watching the original – it’s an amazing movie that holds up after 25 years. This one is basically the New Coke version.