Director Jon Favreau and team must have given a leg and an arm and copious amounts of blood and tears to concoct the visual magic that is the “live-action” remake of the 1994 classic, ‘The Lion King’. More than 180 animators brought to life more than 86 species of animals to recreate the inhabitants of the Pride Lands and beyond, which is obviously no mean feat by any standards.
But a star-studded voice cast and photo-realistic animals that look like they were pulled out of a National Geographic documentary can only go so far and we found that they come up disappointingly short on charisma and wonder when compared to the original. So that begs the question: Why was it made in the first place?
Answers to that timeless question are varied depending on who you’re asking and we’ll leave it to you to ponder on the great mysteries of Disney’s decision-making process. We’re just here to tell you that if you find yourself in the theatre watching this movie over the next couple of weeks, it’s most probably because Disney’s managed to play on your nostalgia for a simpler time when watching ‘The Lion King’ on VHS with your siblings or friends was the highlight of your day or week.
The story, lazily, remains the same. Little cub Simba (JD McCrary and voiced by Donald Glover as an adult) must find his voice as King after he loses his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones mercifully returning to his iconic role) in a tragic accident, and is forced into exile by his diabolical uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Raised by warrthog Pumba (Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy EIchner), Simba’s return to Pride Rock is helped by his childhood friend and love Nala (Beyonce).
Don’t get us wrong. You will be amazed. It’ll take some time to convince your brain that you’re not actually looking at real lions and giraffes and zebras and hornbills. The African savannah looks picture perfect and you will try very hard to focus on what’s in front of your eyes even as your nostalgia-tinged brain drags you back to the animated original. A hundred points to Gryffindor for effort.
And if you look at the running time of the new ‘The Lion King’, you’ll notice that it’s half-an-hour longer than the original. The makers have used the extra time to flesh out characters like Sarabi, Mufasa’s queenly widow, and Nala, who could have actually used some more screen time. The comedy is also much sharper and has been updated to reflect the modern world.
The biggest laughs come thanks to Timon and Pumbaa’s hysterical antics, Eichner and Rogen rising up to the occasion and bouncing off of each other amicably, and you’ll notice a palpable dip in energy levels the moment Simba has to leave his worry-free paradise behind to return to challenge Scar. And Ejiofor’s turn as the evil usurping brother also seems to lack the edge that made the original Scar such an iconic villain. But it’s also hard to decide if you’re supposed to blame the voice actor or the fact that you’re watching a real-looking animal with little to no expression on its face just blandly mouthing words.
The story of Hamlet has been told for more than four centuries in as many ways as possible. Disney hit on something truly transcendant when they first made their furry and hopeful adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy in 1994. But to have now swapped the energy and vividness of the animated feature in a bid to make it “more real”, ‘The Lion King’ tragically loses its heart and soul.
‘The Lion King’ releases in the UAE on July 18.