a review by the Swan(!)
The Lion King
SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE
Hey-ho, Swan (!) here for another review. Like Aladdin, The Lion King was another remake that I had to watch, particularly as this flick was one of my favourite Disney films as a kid. So, as myself and a good mate of mine (the friendly-neighbourhood Trained Monkey) sat down in Screen 3, we were curious to see how the CGI remake matched up to the legendary cartoon. The lights dimmed, the Disney logo appeared on the screen and I said to him that if I didn’t hear the first bar of Circle of Life within the first shot, then the movie has failed. Boy, were we proved wrong and you can interpret what I mean in a couple of ways.
If you’re looking for the exact opening of The Lion King, you won’t be disappointed. Shot by shot. Frame by frame. Even the goddamn soundtrack plays out just like the cartoon did back in 1994. All the animals and their children and their grandchildren’s children gather around to see the birth of Simba at Pride Rock. However, this contributes to the criticism I will get more into during this review and it’s exactly what the author of the previous Lion King review thought as well. IT’S THE SAME! IT’S THE GODDAMN SAME AS THE CARTOON! Nothing more added to it. Nothing less taken from it. It’s the same and it’s just… meh.
Anyways, as much as I can be bothered to churn out my two cents on the movie, let’s go. So the story begins with Simba’s dad Mufasa (James Earl Jones – glad he’s back) and his hornbill advisor Zazu (John Oliver – honestly preferred Rowan Atkinson, but we’ll get to that a bit later) paying a visit to Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to ask him why he didn’t attend Simba’s ceremony. Turns out Scar’s rather jealous of Simba and secretly plots to take over as King of Pride Rock. No surprises there. There’s a bit of a verbal confrontation which AGAIN plays out exactly the way the scene did back in the original, but all is settled quickly thanks to a rushed “humorous” scene between Mufasa and Zazu.
Fast forward some years later, baby Simba is now a cub (voiced by JD McCary). He’s shown around the Pride Lands by Mufasa, who explains to him the responsibilities of kingship and the “circle of life” which connects all living things. (Hmm, “living things”. Heard that in another franchise before…) Like the cartoon, Mufasa forbids Simba for going into an elephant’s graveyard. Thanks to Scar’s trickery, Simba goes anyways and drags his friend Nala with him, while being supervised by Zazu. While admitting going on one of the stupidest adventures known to mankind, they’re all howling I just can’t wait to be King at the top of their lungs. Seriously, I just felt sorry for Zazu through all of this.
Sure enough, the kids run into three hyenas Shenzi, Kamari and Azizi (voiced by Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre) who plan to eat them when…Mufasa shows up and rescues them. Yup, exactly like the cartoon. What also plays out the same way is the short berating between father and son before all is well again. Still, this doesn’t stop Scar plotting with the hyenas to kill his brother and nephew. So, after a night of planning to the song Be Prepared, the baddies lure Simba to a gorge where they hope that he falls victim to a terrifying stampede. Sure enough, Mufasa comes to save him and then we get that scene. Yep, THAT scene (I’m not sure what you would be doing reading this review if you don’t know what happens). After getting Simba to safety, Mufasa grabs on to a cliff in order to save himself. He sees Scar, begs to be saved, yadda yadda. Sure enough, Scar kills Mufasa by shoving him back in the stampede. When watching this remake, I was tensing up for the scene as I knew the original animated scene had a big effect on me as a kid. But, while it doid have that right balance of tension and danger behind it, the emotional weight was lost on me. Don’t get me wrong, the acting was great, but I’ll explain why I didn’t really feel the emotional weight of the scene later in the review.
Anyways, Simba’s forced to run away while Scar takes over Pride Rock and encounters Timon and Pumbaa (Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen). Cue everybody’s favourite song Hukana Matata!.
Like the cartoon, the duo teaches Simba that there’s nothing he can do about his past and to basically just chillax while eating creepy crawlies. We also get the time skip to about fifteen/twenty years later where Simba is all grown up in the form of an adult lion (now voiced by Childish Gambino aka Danny Glover). At this point, I would like to point that there are a few differences to the cartoon. Even though the adult Simba likes to blissfully ignore his problems, he seems to have a bigger group of friends among the other animals, despite them being understandably afraid of him. Additionally, while it’s shown that Scar and the hyenas are spoiling Pride Lands, there’s a sinister element that’s further added to the story where Scar desperately tries to make Simba’s mother Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) his queen.
An adult Nala (Beyoncé Knowles Carter) has enough of Scar’s crap and sneaks away from Pride Rock in order to find food. In an admittedly hilarious scene, she runs into Timon and Pumbaa, tries to eat them and ends up fighting Simba instead. Like the cartoon (you’ll see why I keep uttering that phrase), the two lions recognise each other and predictably romance each other to the tune of Can You Feel the Love Tonight? Once the lovey-dovey stuff has finished, Nala tries to convince Simba to return to Pride Rock and take his rightful place as king. A guilt-ridden Simba refuses and an argument ensues. Simba storms off and runs into a wise old monkey character called Rafiki (John Kani). Rafiki convinces Simba that what happened in his past is not his fault and that he should go back to try and confront it. With the help of Mufasa’s ghost, Simba joins forces with Nala (as well as Timon and Pumbaa) and they all go back to try claim ownership of Pride Rock. The final part of the story (including the confrontation between Simba and Scar) has the right balance of tension, drama with intertwining bits of heart-warming humour.
Visually, the film looks stunning and at times, looks like something that’s been lifted out of a David Attenborough documentary. As mentioned before, I’m not big on musicals but the soundtrack in this is decent too and never fails to press the Swan(!)’s nostalgia button. The acting’s strong too throughout the entire cast and I really like Chiwetel Ejofor as Scar; especially his voice, you can just tell it reeks theatre. Actors like Seth Rogen bring a lot of humour to the story and I think it’s what you need to balance out a coming of age story. The one thing I liked about the original Lion King was the one of the morals I took away from it: facing your problems. While these morals are present in this remake, I just didn’t really feel the emotional weight of it. This is largely due to the lack of expressions on the character’s faces. You can’t tell whether they’re happy, sad, angry or shocked. Yes, I know they’re meant to represent real-life lions, but it still looks quite jarring. Especially when they’re singing – yeesh. Additionally, I do believe the filmmakers played it safe. Too safe to the point where almost every scene is identical to the one in the original, minus a few changes here and there. And I do believe they just put big shot stars in the movie just to get a cash grab. For example, Beyoncé, despite her being a decent Nala. Overall, the film’s a decent remake but just stick to the original.
— Peace out!
THE SWAN(!): 6/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: 4/10
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Here’s the official poster: