After Disney bought up Star Wars and then Marvel, you may have thought they were going to shift their focus at the theaters away from their animated origins. But Disney is not about to miss an opportunity to make a whole lot of cash. Recent live action (or CGI like the Lion King) adaptations of animated classics have had quite a bit of success at the box office: Jungle Book swung past $966 million, Beauty and the Beast danced their way to $1.2 billion and Aladdin just soared over $1 billion. Disney will keep churning out money making remakes for the foreseeable future while we all wait for the next Star Wars and/or Marvel mega-blockbuster. In the meantime Mrs. Apologist and I were definitely looking forward to this trip to the local theater. We both had seen the original Lion King at least 50 times growing up and had recently enjoyed the modern telling of Aladdin earlier in the summer so there was a nice base to build on.
Jon Favreau delivers a lion’s share of strengths (ha) in his “update” of a classic. First and foremost this movie is gorgeous to look at. The CGI is unbelievably well done. Outside of the talking animals you could almost fool someone into thinking they were watching “Planet Earth” or some other National Geographic/Discovery Channel show. The story still manages to bring emotion despite being old enough to be an antique vehicle. Seeing young Simba dodge stampeding wildebeests is still harrowing and here comes a 25 year old spoiler alert: watching Simba paw at Mufasa asking him to wake up is not any easier for us now than it was back then. A few of the voice actors stand head and shoulders above the rest despite the small stature of their characters. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner (as Pumba and Timon, respectively) bring plenty of personality and humor to make this trip down memory lane seem more fresh and new than repetitive.
There are unfortunately not enough strengths for the whole pride to share as there are some notable weaknesses. Aside from the previously mentioned voice actors, nearly every other character seemed flat and came off pretty emotionless. Donald Glover and Beyonce (as Simba and Nala) really failed to deliver any sort of chemistry on screen. They were definitely the most disappointing of the cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor (who I like in almost everything he does) was also disappointing in my eyes as Scar but I think that is mainly because I thought Jeremy Irons absolutely nailed it in the original. Even though I listed the CGI in the positives section there is a drawback with this ultra realism: it makes the characters significantly harder to read. Their facial expressions remain stoic throughout the movie whereas in the original you could see the emotion in each scene. The (new) Lion King checks in at about 118 minutes so its not terribly long but without that emotion in the faces or voices it tends to feel a lot longer which is definitely a negative if you have young ones or old ones who can’t sit still that long (like me).
It’s easy to see that Favreau played it pretty safe by sticking to the original material almost shot for shot instead of trying to put his own flavor on it like how Guy Ritchie did for the Aladdin remake over the summer. It isn’t a terrible movie like some of the reviews are painting it as but it is not a great movie as some Disney die-hards are proclaiming. It accomplished the goal Disney no doubt was looking for: clearing $1.6 billion in worldwide box office however this remake is not ready to take the crown from the original. It delivers a young Simba sized roar of 3 Apologies for this challenger to the throne.