Nala and Simba in Jon Favreau's The Lion King
Posted in: Review

The Lion King (2019)

The Circle of Life is a beautiful concept introduced in the original 1994 animated film The Lion King. An ideology claims that everything in existence is in a delicate balance.

That touching sentiment is reiterated in Jon Favreau’s 2019 remake, as the older, king lion named Mufasa tells his young, mischievous cub, Simba, about how all life is connected.

“When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass,” Mufasa, the king lion explains. “And so, we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.”

However, Mufasa doesn’t tell Simba about the Circle of Life in Hollywood. See all the movies in Hollywood are connected too. When films get old, their stories become fair game, and then Disney remakes the story, and so the Hollywood Circle of Life.

Within the last decade, Disney has remade more than five of their classic animated films, including Aladdin, Dumbo, and Cinderella. Disney actually had teamed with Favreau in 2016 to remake The Jungle Book, using photo-real technology. The film was hailed as a visual spectacle, so it made sense the filmmaker was tapped to take on this lion of a project using the same technology.

While arguments for these remakes are from a visual and technical standpoint, they’ve been criticized for being heartless cash grabs.

Sadly, The Lion King will be no different.

On the one hand, Favreau’s The Lion King is a jaw-dropping, feast for the eyes. There are countless times on screen where viewers will have to remind themselves that nearly every shot in this film is animated–even if there are talking animals. The scene in which Mufasa talks with Simba about the stars come to mind; it’s quite beautiful.

That gorgeous look/style is what ends up hindering the 2019 release. First, let’s look at the concept of this movie at the most basic level. It’s a film that can be remade because technology and animation allow filmmakers to do things they’ve never done before. So, Disney decided to make a more realistic version of The Lion King. The made the setting and the characters look like they exist in reality. Nothing bad so far, right? Wrong.

Making these characters look more realistic does two conflicting things. First, because the characters and setting appear more realistic, audiences want those characters to be more realistic. So, while they look real when they use nearly the same 1994, children’s movie dialogue—they feel like flat characters. There is no depth to them.

Second, audiences loved The Lion King character because, beyond their words, they were able to communicate with body language. Scar was able to express his attitude and disgust with his facial expressions. A real lion can’t move his eyebrows or show a conniving look during a musical number if he’s supposed to look real. Their faces are instead stoic, taking away another form of character development introduced in the original.

The significant, heart-breaking moment halfway through the movie is a prime example. There won’t be a reveal of what happens, but it’s one of the prominent moments in cinematic history. It’s when the character of Simba is struck with a tragedy that completely changes his future. In the animated classic, that little cub can use his eyes to show grief, fear, and pure pain. Nearly everyone cried during this particular moment in that 1994 movie. There were no tears in either screening of this movie—because it was harder for the audience to connect to what was happening on screen emotionally. In a nutshell, that’s what is wrong with The Lion King.

Beyond that, however, is the same movie that audience know and love, only without any real change beyond the film’s look. Some scenes are almost shot-for-shot, and most of the dialogue is verbatim. So, it works in some regard.

Further, “remake” isn’t a four-letter word. The film industry treats the entire process differently than other art forms. For instance, in the world of theater is perfectly normal for different directors to put on renditions of shows. It’s another version, a separate artist’s interpretation, but that’s the key–they have to make it their own.

Had the film industry went with director renditions (I.E., Jon Favreau’s The Lion King) maybe audiences would be more open to remakes—rather than feel it’s a new version which will erase the old (usually the one they love). Nevertheless, it’s all about adding their individual touch, and Favreau doesn’t have one.

(Adult) Nala, Simba’s love interest voiced by iconic singer Beyoncé, is a perfect example. The character has a critical role in Simba’s arc, making her the female lead (not to mention she is voiced by one of the biggest pop icons ever).

With the additional 30-minutes added to the Disney remake, Favreau could have further developed this character, making her more realistic (fitting her character’s looks) and giving her more to do. Unfortunately, the filmmaker doesn’t bother. He instead keeps her to the 40-ish lines the adult character had in the original movie.

Early on in the film, she is the only lioness to leave behind her home to search for a solution for Pride Rock, giving Favreau plenty of time and opportunity to develop a character further as she roams new, unknown territory. Beyoncé even sings a new original song for the movie, entitled “Spirit,” yet the character Nala doesn’t sing it. Again, raising the question, what did the filmmakers do to make this picture their own?

Regardless of what the review says, The Lion King will have lines out the door, and audiences will more than likely eat it up. But, only because of their loyalty to the original. The movie, not changing up much of the dialogue or lyrics, simply plays like a solid cover to a song you really love. It brings out those initial emotions while giving up some variety, yet it manages to be nowhere close as good as the original.

Hopefully, this is where that circle ends.

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