I sat alone in the theater for “The Lion King” besides two sets of older couples and a stubby, bald man, who seemed more enthusiastic about the film than the rest of us combined. If that wasn’t an indication for how the duration of the film would go, then I don’t know what was.
Somehow, I found myself 10 years old again as the film opened, sitting in my bedroom as I watched the classic animation for the first time. Take from that what you will, but, for me, this was not entirely a good thing.
The 2019 remake of “The Lion King” came out on July 19, 2019. Not even a week later, I purchased a ticket for the hyped event and went sans family in order to get the full experience (as well as to avoid hushed whispers or distractions).
It never occurred to me that the film would lead to disappointment and failed expectations. With an incredible lineup of stars such as Donald Glover (Simba), Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala), James Earl Grey (Mufasa) and more, who would expect less than perfection?
Jon Favreau directed the photorealistic remake. The acclaimed director, screenwriter and producer is known for his work on “The Jungle Book” and “Avengers: Endgame.” His latest work on “The Lion King” surpassed box office predictions, raking in over $190 million in its first weekend.
In an interview, Favreau mentioned wanting to stay true to the beloved classic. “We’re staying very, very close to what you think it’s gonna be,” he said.
And close it was.
The remake was the original movie almost verbatim, excluding a few details thrown into the mix. These new, minor changes were simply that — minor.
The most noticeable change is in the animation technique, obviously. The movie is neither a live-action remake or an animation, according to the director. The technology used to create the realistic qualities of the animals, as well as the lush plains of Africa, is known as a combination of the two: live-action animation.
Audiences can see other changes in things as small as missing familiar objects and small additions to the storyline, which add extra layers of understanding to the original story.
Without ruining the film for those who wish to feel the same nostalgia I did, “The Lion King” remake is not worth the hype.
The highlights of the movie resided with the cast, specifically Glover, Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and Billy Eichner (Timon). These characters are without a doubt iconic in both the original and the remake; however, these actors were a ray of light for this film that should have cast sun over the whole savannah.
Glover’s musical prowess and comic relief were testaments to his well-deserved spot as the leading actor, which I felt was largely overlooked once it was announced Beyoncé would be taking part in the film as well.
Favereau said the casting of Simba was pretty much a no-brainer. “Having Donald Glover, who is an amazing singer and also an amazing improviser,” the director explained, “It’s one of the things that really drew me to him.”
Rogen and Eichner shared an undeniable chemistry on screen. The pair kept the audience (well, all six of us) laughing at all the right moments and singing along to that wonderful phrase, “Hakuna Matata,” we all know so well. It was one of many songs which carried the load of expectations for this film.
Eichner joked about getting over the gravity of recording for such a prominent project and discussed how fun it was to work with Rogen. It was crystal clear sitting in the theater just how fun it was.
Eichner told an interviewer about his and Rogen’s copious amounts of ad libbing. “You could probably make a separate movie,” he remarked, “based off all of the riffing we did that was not used in the actual version.”
I would have paid, and paid well, to see that instead, which is ironic, considering “The Lion King” was one of my favorite movies growing up as a kid. The story of Simba growing into the lion he was meant to be after experiencing a traumatic event was something to inspire hope.
While the remake certainly had moments that did just that, it left little room for change and excitement beyond the voices of stars we know and love.
The music production and performances for “The Lion King” seemed to be the only other aspect which resonated with me. Hans Zimmer, the original composer, also created the music for the remake, and Pharrell Williams aided in producing the music.
Catchy tunes such as “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and “Hakuna Matata” continue to be staple crowd-pleasers. Even the rendition of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s (Scar) “Be Prepared” lulled me into singing along.
Unfortunately, “The Circle of Life” was not one of those songs. I believe it deserved more majesty than the producers gave it, similar to my concluding thoughts about the reboot in general.
The movie could have done so much more to flesh out the characters and give more depth to the story. However, it is safe to assume that a lot of focus went into the graphics while recreating the movie, as well as to marketing the film through household-name celebrities.
Favereau talked about the difficulties of remaking “The Lion King” in order to please everyone. He did not want to take the film too far in terms of going out of bounds with the original storyline, but there was also risk in not offering room for growth within the movie.
Favreau said, “It [the film’s recreation process] becomes this enigmatic puzzle of how do you deliver on everybody’s expectations and surprise them.”
The reality is that you can never please everyone. There will always be criticism, and, with this recreation, my biggest critique is that the team did not take that risk to expand the story, the characters or the world. “The Lion King” remake is a good film to see if you are looking for a family-friendly movie, experience nostalgia or simply want to see some cute animated (but insanely realistic) cubs on screen.