The Lion King 2019 Review

The King has returned. Or has he? By the way, spoilers sort of exist here.

This morning I saw the new incarnation of The Lion King, a film that by now you all know holds a very dear place in my heart. Given my love for the classic, I was both nervous and excited to see the remake. Sitting in the cinema, awaiting the famous opening scene, I was filled with trepidation and anticipation in equal measure.

I snagged a pic of the poster, and then one of the movie theatre itself…

It was bizarrely empty! Then again, not all the schools were out for summer, and IMAX is off putting for some, but it meant at least there would be no disruption or distraction from the movie.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, yes I did. From the spectacular opening rendition of Circle of Life (which is always beautiful, no matter the form it takes), which was extremely faithful to the original, to the entrance of Timon and Pumbaa, to a stunning new version of Can You Feel the Love Tonight, The Lion King soars, albeit with one nagging detail that I can sort of overlook but not completely. The film was emotional – but I think more because I couldn’t help but see it through a lens tinted by 25 years of adoration for the original. The little flaw I’m referring to? It’s not only a flaw, for it’s also a sign of exquisite work – but the film’s quest for realism leads it to be a little too real in some ways.

I understand it, this little issue, because in creating this stunning, sumptuous visual and musical feast, Jon Favreau wanted realism, and lions (among other animals) do not tend to visually emote. If you’re a cat owner, you’ll understand that cats do not smile, or scowl (unless threatened), or cry. Big cats show their feelings through body language and vocalisations. This is all well and good, and no one can take away the detail here (the way in which the animals move is incredibly lifelike), but, especially for younger audiences, having the animals emote just a little more would bring more gravitas to certain scenes.

That being said, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar) has a brilliant voice that evokes a lot of subtle menace. There is a great deal of angry energy in his performance and you can understand his anger at his position without requiring to see it written on his face. I know my wife will disagree (she rightly loves Nathan Lane’s Timon), but I loved Billy Eichner’s take on the neurotic meerkat, and for that matter, Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa too. The original double act is a hard act to beat and I don’t think the new duo manage that feat, but they hold their own for a new generation.

Donald Glover can sing. I mean, really sing, and he can act too. I haven’t seen many of his films, but I know he smoothly glided into the role of Lando in Solo and was easily one of the best things in that movie. He’s one of the best things about this one too, and his duet with Beyonce Knowles-Carter (and if you dont know who she is, where have you been?!) is absolutely gorgeous. I felt Beyonce made Nala her own and Donald did likewise with Simba – it’s just again, that question of emotion!

There is no movie without the legendary James Earl Jones. The man who gave life to Mufasa in the original reprised the role for the remake, the only original cast member to do so. His deep, rumbling, powerful voice is instantly recognisable, bringing respect and wisdom with it. I was happy with the entire cast – even John Oliver as Zazu, despite the awkward nature of the new interpretation of the character lending itself to, being a bit distracting.

Can I say The Lion King 2019 is as good as The Lion King 1994? No, no I can’t. It is a good film, made better if you have seen and loved the original. As a standalone film, existing in a vacuum, I’m not sure it would carry the same impact, due to the ultra-realism on display. It retains the epic musical score, has breathtaking visuals and the beloved characters are still there – they just need a little more expression! Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 8/10.

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