A powerful but unnecessary roar
There are some moments in your life that you will never forget. For me, it’s seeing the sun rise over the animated African savannah in the original Lion King, which I first watched on VHS. When Disney announced that they were going to be making a new, updated version using the technology from 2016’s Jungle Book, people were split: Why would we need a new Lion King?
I found myself asking this same question as I watched the movie. I was swept away by the gorgeous new rendition of Circle of Life and the stunning visuals, but when the title card came on screen, I realized I’d seen this all before. Director Jon Favreau, in all his gusto to preserve the heart of the original, simply recreated this iconic song frame by frame. Nothing had changed except for the fact that the animals all closely resembled their real-world counterparts.
The film does have many top-notch moments. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as everyone’s favourite meerkat and warthog easily have the film’s biggest laugh-out-loud moments. Donald Glover’s conflicted, grown-up Simba realizes his character arc flawlessly. Beyoncé’s Nala gets slightly more screen time, though it is at the expense of a hilarious Zazu, played by John Oliver. The musical moments of the film shine and remain relatively faithful to the original film, except with added vocal flair courtesy the new cast.
Some parts were changed, though, in hopes of expanding the scope of the story and giving it a bit more weight. For instance, Scar and Mufasa’s backstories are embellished a little more, sowing the seeds of their rivalry from youth as opposed to Scar simply being the “evil brother.”
Scar is also not as much of a mustache-twirling villain in the beginning of the film, instead growing into the part. While Chiwetel Ejiofor manages to be the Scar we all know and love while adding to the character, he is not a singer. Because of this, Be Prepared is the most changed song from the original film. It lacks the dramatics of the original, and is more of a pitched dialogue explanation than the big production number it was in the original.
My biggest concern with this new adaptation is James Earl Jones. Disney was praised for bringing him back to take on the role of Mufasa, as people felt nobody else could take up the mantle. However, many of Mufasa’s lines remain unchanged from the original film. Disney could have very easily taken Jones’ audio from the original film and placed it in the 2019 version with nobody ever knowing.
To add insult to injury, there were two transition scenes used to pad out the two-hour run time. Instead of giving us more time with adult Nala, new material for Mufasa or even more time with young Simba and his father, this movie decided to show us digitally created feces in a ball being pushed by a small insect.
One cannot deny the triumph felt at the end of the film when Simba takes his place at Pride Rock. The movie is enjoyable, yes, and there were many sections I was able to quote word for word thanks to the original. Still, I would have felt the same way if you had shown me the original 90-minute film. So, a word of caution to Disney: if you are going to remake your own movie, make sure you expand on the original story, have new songs for the audience to fall in love with, and don’t have an extended bit of filler just to show off digital dung.