The Lion King
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Simba idolises his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But, not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasas brother - and former heir to the throne - has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
We all remember the first time we saw Mufasa die - that moment Simba tries to lift up his father’s paw, and it just falls to the ground has broken many hearts, and will forever break many more. Beyond this iconic cinematic moment, The Lion King’s music and amazing vocal performances from the likes of Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson and James Earl Jones have cemented it as not only one of the best animations ever, but also one of the best films ever.
But does Disney manage to recapture that magic with its latest live-action version? The answer is no - while it feels like the most beautiful nature documentary you will ever see, the hunt for photo-realism created a serious disconnect between the voice and the animal that cannot be ignored, You struggle to emotionally connect with Simba’s loss despite already having that foundation from the original. You might as well have had David Attenborough just narrate the entire story.
Why did it work in Jungle Book and not in Lion King? While the former had a human character we could bounce off of, another element came into play that was severely lacking in The Lion King - the voice actors sounded like the animals they portrayed. Scarlett Johannson sounded like a snake would, Bill Murray epitomised a loveable bear, and Idris Elba had a certain snarl in his voice perfect for a tiger. They emoted through the characters, and you believed it, but for some reason, the animators could not emote anything with a lion.
Scar would be conniving with hyenas, but his face will stay the same as when Simba confronts him about his father. Donald Glover and Beyoncé stayed at the same level the entire time, sounding like they are just reading without any real passion, and the pivotal love song (which talks about twilight and night, but the sun is shining bright the entire song through??) has none of the depth of the original. The number of times you will catch yourself missing Jeremy Irons’ version of Scar will be too many to count.
The only time where the characters and their voices sync up is with Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner’s take on Timon and Pumbaa - another iconic duo that has even changed the way we look at warthogs and meerkats. With these animals, the animators finally decided to emote some way towards what’s happening in the scene, and although there’s a lot of the same jokes, the actors put a nice new spin on them to still make you laugh hysterically. Eichner brought a lot of sass to Timon while Rogen brilliantly played off that to recreate the Pumbaa we all love, but with a little extra sauce. Jon Oliver was another stroke of casting genius, but although he probably had the newest material to work with, he’s pretty much a replica of Rowan Atkinson’s version.
Other two voices that also worked was Florence Kasumba, who voiced the hyena Shenzi, and our very own John Kani, who took on the role of Rafiki. Their African accents helped situate themselves within the landscape much easier than their American colleagues, and I wonder what proudly African film we could have had if we gave the animals those Black Panther-esque accents instead.
The animation, however, is flawless - you will wonder most of the time, how that couldn’t have been real life. The baby animals are so bloody adorable you could almost forget about the disconnect with the voices, and let’s just say baby Pumbaa is something you never knew you needed in your life. But when young Simba’s face looks pretty cute while Scar is telling him he killed his father, the cuteness turns into a disservice to the gravitas of the situation.
It’s funny how this Lion King replicates almost every word and scene of the original but still fails so dismally. None of the songs were great revisions (except of course Hakuna Matata) and even Mufasa’s death - the scene that holds everything together - didn’t get a single tear from me. And that’s probably the biggest travesty of them all.