Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Lion King (2019)


Mufasa (James Earl Jones) shows his young cub the extent of their kingdom and how they are all connected in the circle of life. The king’s brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not as thrilled now that he is no longer next in line to the throne. In an effort to usurp power and be the new king, he comes up with a plan to get rid of father and son. Teaming up with the hyenas, he leads his nephew to a gorge where a stampede of wildebeest endangers the life of the heir. Mufasa ends up giving his life for his son, while Simba (Donald Glover) is tricked into running away and giving up his place as the ruler of the Pride Lands. Far away from Pride Rock he finds a family in warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner). However, his life of no worries will have to come to an end as his childhood friend Nala (Beyoncé) finds him and urges him to take his rightful place as king.

Perhaps the problem with the Lion King is how you have a cast of animals that displayed a wider range of emotions in the 1994 cartoons thanks to the liberty such style of animation could afford. As opposed to Disney princesses who eventually become humanized in live action versions of the story, wildlife can only do so much in being realistic when the point of comparison is something closer to what you see on National Geographic. Surely, warthogs don’t sing and lions do not flirt like that in the wild.

And that’s how Lion King comes off as a visual spectacle that makes you marvel at the current stage of CGI in film, but feels downright strange. Its biggest accomplishment is how next time you watch a National Geographic special you’ll be compelled to ask if it’s real or a staged version produced by Disney. Even then, like most Disney remakes nowadays, nostalgia will carry you through. It might not be the case for your kids, though, who might enjoy the cartoons way better.

The term Live Action itself is weird when used in this context. There are many scenes that look so genuine, but this is still technically just another animated version made to look like live action. Whatever it is, a remake will always find it hard to compete with the original given the point of comparison. The comparison is even more obligatory for musicals because the performance of the songs will always be compared to the original versions that have already withstood the test of time.

Most of the songs still give you goosebumps. The Lion King is not really my personal favorite but I have to agree that its soundtrack is one of the most memorable in Disney’s roster. My only disappointment in this regard is how Rogen holds back in parts that Ernie Sabella effortlessly belted as Pumbaa for Hakuna Matata in the cartoons. It somehow makes the song anti-climactic.

Overall it’s still a masterpiece from Disney but perhaps one that will go down in history as that remake that was technically superior to the original but somehow failed to measure up to it. That’s not particularly a bad thing given the recent trend in Disney’s live action remakes. Maybe the material is just hard to modernize and to adapt to the current discourse prevalent in Hollywood. After all, it’s not a Disney princess who needs an overhaul in characterization that we’re talking about here.

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