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the lion king (2019)

DIRECTOR: jon favreau (elf, iron man, the jungle book)
starring: james earl jones, donald glover, beyonce knowles carter, and billy eichner


REVIEWER: lyall carter

After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery.

Everyone remembers the first Disney movie they ever saw. Every holidays as a kid I would go and spend some time with my uncle and aunty who would, as a special treat, take me to the movies (the only time I'd go). And the first Disney movie they took me to was The Lion King. I was in awe of the animation, loved and laughed at Timon and Pumbaa, and cried at the death of Mufasa. Then came all the merch: toys, books, and the magazine (yes, there was a weekly magazine). So it would be fair to say that I carry quite a lot of nostalgia for the original, although I will try my hardest not to compare it to the original and to judge it purely on its own merit. And this 2019 reimagining is a wonder to behold. 

Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne - has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his. 

Although the run time of the 2019 version is around 30 minutes longer than the original, it's hard to pin point exactly where that time goes in the best kind of way. What they have added to the narrative isn't radically different to the original and enhances the circle of life theme beautifully. The tale never drags and runs along at a great pace. 

Watching The Fellowship of the Ring and Avatar felt like a watershed, defining moment for what could be accomplished in film using CGI. The Lion King feels like another of those moments. You have to pinch yourself and keep reminding yourself that this is animated and that these creatures and locations are all CGI. From the flick of an ear to the stampeding wilderbeast in the gorge, everything is set with such a level of detail that it will take your breath away. 

But that is where one of the ever so slight problems lie in The Lion King. Because the animals are so real there are certain things that they can't realistically do. They can't cry, Scar can't swallow Zazu, and Timon can't do the hula. Although what they decide to do with the Timon hula scene had me crying with laughter. It's so perfect. 

Suffice to say, these real life creatures don't and can't carry quite the same kind of emotion that hand drawn animated characters can. An animated lion can cry because that kind of animation can be exaggerated. This can't be. So you have to rely more heavily on the story to carry the emotional kick than the characters themselves. Which largely works as my constant blubbing can attest. 

There are some really great voice performances in The Lion King. Donald Glover and Beyonce Knowles - Carter are perfect as adult Simba and Nala respectively but its Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa that are standouts. They are downright hilarious and character wise my favourite in this movie. Taking nothing away from the original Timon and Pumbaa, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, Eichner and Rogen are superb and will have you in stitches. 

Before Robin Williams, Disney very rarely used well known, celebrity actors to voice their animated characters. They largely used voice actors, people who although they may have appeared in TV and movies perfected the art of voice acting. Actors like Phil Harris, Pinto Colvig, and Sterling Holloway who voiced all kinds of classic Disney characters including Baloo, Winnie the Pooh, and Goofy. They along with the outstanding artistry of the animators, brought warmth, life, and humanity to these characters. 

Its a long way of saying that a couple of voice performances weren't really on par. I'm a massive fan of John Oliver but he was just flat as Zazu even with some really funny lines. Again I'm a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor's work, but he doesn't ooze with the same conniving, nastiness of Jeremy Iron's Scar. He just isn't scary enough to feel like a real threat. Which poses the question - James Earl Jones was brought back for Mufasa so why didn't they bring Irons back to play Scar?

With the recent Aladdin Will Smith wasn't just voicing the character he had a physical presence on screen and was able to bring the humanity of the character to life. Unfortunately with The Lion King the photo realism of the characters lacks the humanity and thus our ability to fully connect with these creatures on an emotional level.  

Visually impressive and a technical milestone and there's a great time to be had here, but it doesn't quite pack the emotional punch you may be expecting. 

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