Disney has found a sure-win formula to cash in at the box-office and merchandising by remaking and releasing live-action or updated versions of past hits. Previous examples include Aladdin (2019), Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Jungle Book (2016), among many others.
Directed and produced by Jon Favreau whose credits include the live-action remake of The Jungle Book, the live-action remake of The Lion King (2019) is based on a screenplay written by Jeff Nathanson. The film stars the voices of Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, as well as James Earl Jones reprising his original role as Mufasa.
The new live-action movie has a narrative structure that is almost identical to the original 1994 animated film of the same name. In fact, many of the iconic scenes from the original film were replicated almost shot for shot like the opening scene heralding the birth of Simba and his presentation to the animals in the savannah, as well as the wildebeest stampede scene that led to Mufasa’s death.
There is nothing wrong with sticking to the original tried-and-tested narrative that is well-loved by all, but by playing it too safe here, the new movie ends up lacking in soul and newness. Beyond the fact that it is shot with amazing cutting-edge computer animations that rendered and delivered photorealistic animals, there is nothing else new here to expect from this remake.
The animals all look so real that sometimes you wonder if you are watching a wildlife documentary on the African savannah on the National Geographic channel instead of the new remake of The Lion King. However, this is also where the pitfall lies as it is difficult to have these animals lip-sync speech and have expressions while wanting to remain photorealistic. As such, all the animals end up looking mostly soulless and expressionless, unlike their expressive and colourful characters renditions in the original animation film that was a key reason for its success.
Perhaps the only stand-out character was Pumbaa, voiced by Seth Rogen. Rogen somehow managed to keep the comical appeal of the bubbly wild hog with his skillful comic timing and enthusiasm.
As a musical, all the original iconic songs were retained. Nothing new was added nor were there any updates to the originals. A pity because it would be a nice opportunity to expand on the song list.
I asked my 7-year-old son which version did he like better and he couldn’t give an answer as he felt they were almost identical in narratives. For me, I still prefer the original. Nonetheless, the new Lion King is still a great movie to watch.
Fans of original The Lion King movie will still enjoy the movie to marvel at the visually-stunning computer animation. For those who have not seen the original, it is still very enjoyable and great entertainment for the whole family as it followed a very safe tried-and-tested narrative that worked back then in 1994 and will work again this time in 2019.
The Lion King (2019) will be showing in Singapore cinemas from 18 July.