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Movie Review | The Lion King (2019)

Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his hyena army in The Lion King (2019)

Movie summary: After the murder of his father, a young lion prince flees his kingdom only to learn the true meaning of responsibility and bravery. (IMDb)

The original Lion King is one of my favourite movies of all time, so I'll admit to dreading the remake not living up to what we already had. I thought that if this new version was even half as good, it'd still be entertaining because the original was just that good. Unfortunately, this King doesn't even get halfway to being half as good as the original.

I'll admit that the visuals are hugely impressive, with a level of detail and authenticity to everything we see that is truly astonishing. This really is a big step forward in CGI visuals and I can respect just how much time, effort and sheer talent went into making this movie a reality. Unfortunately, the high level of accuracy - amazing as it is - doesn't really work for a fantastical movie about talking animals.

The biggest sticking point, and possibly The Lion King's biggest weakness, is that there is no facial expression to these animals, because they don't have expressive faces in reality. No matter what emotion any character is supposed to be displaying, they look identical to when they should be feeling the exact opposite emotion.

Poor voice-acting doesn't help either, with pretty much none of the cast able to draw attention away from the fact that what we're hearing never matches what we see. Laughing and happy or sad and sniffling, the expressions never change and the performances aren't enough to get the emotion across - most of the time, it feels like dubbed voices over generic nature footage.

The low point comes when Mufasa dies (this is not a spoiler - this movie is telling the exact same story with the exact same beats as the twenty-five year old original). Mufasa (James Earl Jones) blankly asks for Scar's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) help, with the latter's response equally lacking in emotion, robbing the scene of any feeling.

Then, rather than ripping Mufasa's paws from the cliff and throwing him to his death, Scar lets go and slaps the king instead, which is apparently enough to completely dislodge a powerful beast who fought multiple hyenas earlier on. Honestly, I actually laughed out loud as the previously-emotionless Mufasa suddenly burst into a helpless scream as he fell into the stampede and out of sight.

Honestly, it's such poor direction and editing that it's baffling this is in the final cut of the movie. Where was that emotion when Mufasa was desperately trying to cling to safety? It might not sound particularly funny, but that sudden whiplash of going from no feeling whatsoever to wild flailing and screaming just made me laugh at how bad it was.

(And a quick aside, the wildebeest stampede in the original also used CGI to aid the visuals and is much, much, much better than what we get here.)

Despite this, the honour of the worst performer in the movie has to go to Beyoncé as Nala, who is just not an actress. She's an incredible singer and dancer, clearly aware of how to capture an audience and project what she wants them to see and hear with supreme ease, but that skill is entirely lacking here, with most of her lines delivered as if she's just reading the script out loud, not actually performing.

Simba (JD McCrary) and Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) talk to Zazu (John Oliver) in The Lion King (2019)

And in spite of her undoubted vocal talent, she completely overdoes the vocals in Can You Feel the Love Tonight? (which now takes place during the day!) and her original song, Spirit, feels completely out of place and far too modern in comparison to the songs adapted from the 1994 version. In short, Beyoncé's participation feels like stunt-casting to get audiences in, not because she was actually suited for the role.

Not far behind is Timon, although my dislike of the character here has little to do with Billy Eichner's performance and more that the script renders him wholly unlikable and effectively a bully towards Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). Timon is just mean here and, unlike the original, never gets called out or suffer any kind of comeuppance for his arrogance.

Then there's Scar, who suffers almost as badly, only partially redeemed thanks to Ejiofor giving one of the better vocal performances of the movie. His character is changed from the original, where he was power-hungry and jealous of his brother's role as King, and instead carries out his plan in an effort to make Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) his Queen.

Yep, Scar is an incel - causing pain and suffering because the girl he liked chose his brother over him. It makes him seem less threatening and more pathetic instead, leaving him a weak villain with dreadful motivation. Apparently, this take on Scar is taken from the musical and only makes me want to avoid ever having to see that now, regardless of how many people rave about it.

Scar isn't helped by having his main song, Be Prepared, winding up butchered and more along the lines of a spoken word piece than a song. A number of other songs suffer too, notably including I Just Can't Wait to be King - it's now a visually uninteresting and lifeless piece that has none of the colour or joy of the original version, which would be impossible to reproduce with the photo-real look anyway.

As if to add a rotten cherry on top of the ruined sundae, The Lion King is flat out boring thanks to just how padded out it is. There's an extra half hour to the running time compared to the original, but barely anything new has been added, scenes just take longer instead. I honestly had to shuffle in my seat to stop myself drifting off at one point because it was all dragging on so badly.

I get that Disney want to remake their animated originals, but they really need to take more care in choosing what suits the material best. The photo-realism is a stunning achievement here, but absolutely the wrong choice for the material, robbing the characters of... well, character and draining the energy and vitality that makes the original such fun to watch.

And I just don't get that - go and watch either series of Planet Earth and see how vibrant and beautiful just about any wild environment contains, then watch this Lion King and wonder where it all went, being replaced with various hues of gold and brown instead. There are so many creative choices here that just don't make sense and I hope Disney display more thought when adapting other works in the future.

The Lion King remake is a waste of time for anything other than appreciating the next step in photo-real CGI visuals. Baffling creative choices, pointless additions and poor casting with equally bad performances make this one of the least enjoyable remakes of all time, lacking all the regal magnificence of the 1994 original.


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