Where do we begin with The Lion King Live-action remake? When Disney first released the animated feature in 1994, it fast secured a place in many hearts as one of their all-time favorites. The story of young Simba, the lion cub who can’t wait to be king. Mufasa teaches his son about the Pride land, and the kingdom, teaching his son all the wisdom he would one day need. Lurking in the shadows, is Mufasa’s young brother, Scar. He feels his rightful destiny has been blocked by Simba’s birth and that he should be king, so he devises intricate schemes to kill Mufasa, but through young Simba.
Simba, feeling guilty for the part he played in the devious plot, takes refuge in the desert while Scar rises to reign over the kingdom.
The themes are universal. It is the circle of life; we are born, we grow, we mature, we learn. We experience life. We experience death. We learn invaluable lessons from it all. When The Lion King was released in 1994, its soaring score from Hans Zimmer was matched by its songs by Elton John and Tim Rice – creating musical numbers we would come to know by heart. Its characters, its stellar cast of voices, and its visual excellence all contributed to creating a beloved classic.
Over the years, we watched it again and again; we still mourned Mufasa’s death and we still happily sang along to Hakuna Matata.
Fast forward to 2019, as Jon Favreau helms yet another extravagant live-action remake in a year where we’ve had already been wowed by Aladdin and Dumbo. All are much-loved Disney classics, but this was The Lion King. A pinnacle of animated artistry that is truly sacred to a generation.
It is safe to say that going in, as excited as I was, I was skeptical. The trailers landed, but how about the bigger picture? The glimpses were tantalizing, but would the whole thing come together? Was this really going to live up to the ’94 classic Or even the phenomenal Broadway production?
The answer is a resounding yes! In fact, it wipes away any doubt in that first Circle of Life opening. The CGI level that Favreau and the Lion King team have created reaches new heights we’ve never seen before.
The colors of the African savannah are truly majestic. The meticulous visuals of the animals gathering at Pride Rock to pay homage to the birth of Mufasa’s son are truly captivating as we see the animal kingdom come together to honor the future king. The fine detail of animation, CGI and the complex technology has raised the bar for movie-going experiences. It feels, and I say this with absolute sincerity as if we are watching a nature special, the sort that David Attenborough narrates, except there was a soaring Hans Zimmer’s score and all the beautiful creatures can talk. Except this is The Lion King and we can see as Sarabi walks across the screen – every muscle move or the veins on Scar make for the authentic realism.
Zimmer’s score is as lush and as grand as anything and provides the emotional backbone to the story. Where we miss the animated expressions, Zimmer’s score fills in using emotional cues through his orchestra to enhance the on-screen action. Listen to the score as you watch the Stampede scene.
The talent of the voice cast will not disappoint injecting a new life to these characters. In the animated feature, the humor came courtesy of the hyenas. In this, we have the humor delivered on a silver platter via Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. The belly-laughs come hard from the comedic duo and are our most valuable players. Their chemistry is natural and their comedic timing is hilarious.
Beyonce. Beyonce. Beyonce. Yes, go down the social media vortex, mention this film, and her beehive is swarming, curious to know how much we get to hear her voice. The answer is, thanks to the extra thirty minutes, we have more Nala than ever, and her expanded role opens up an enormous range of emotional depth. Nala’s toughness that left many of us wanting more in the 1994 animation, fulfills its full potential now as the fierce lioness who encourages Simba back to the Pride Land and be the king he was destined to be.
There is a line Nala has when fighting back that will no doubt become a meme, a gif and a new motto for her legion of fans. She does indeed have a new song, Spirit. Listen to it on Spotify. It’s a powerful anthem. In the movie, its strength multiplies, with lyrics, authenticity, and heart like:
Trying to keep your head up high
While you’re trembling, that’s when the magic happens
And the stars gather by, by your side
Don’t be surprised to see Spirit become a strong contender for Best Original Song.
Disney has continuously raised the bar in the game of live-action remakes. Visually, The Lion King is vibrant and showcases all genius of its artists. It is truly magnificent. It will roar mightily for the rest of the summer and beyond. With this version, Favreau pays devoted respect to the original that we hold near and dear. Not compromising it. Neither does he compromise the grandeur of the Broadway production. Favreau gives it his own signature flair to make it unique enough.
And just to clarify, It is not, a shot for shot remake of the animated classic. it isn’t and Favreau and Zimmer have both stated it is not. There is a Disney Easter egg, there’s enhanced storylines, particularly with the female stories. Watch closely or maybe we’ll wait for someone to prove that is isn’t when the DVD hits.
Indeed, a new generation of children will discover the magic, the majesty, the emotions and the grandeur of all things great and small, and sending The Lion King roaring into the pantheon of beloved Disney classics.