Can remakes be a problem free philosophy?
These days in the pop culture zeitgeist, the film remake is in high demand with results that can be a little hit or miss. On one end, this new version of The Lion King is almost a shot for shot remake of the original animated film and often feels a little pointless but on the other end of it all the photo-real nature of the film ups the dramatic stakes from the original and gets us even more in emotionally invested in the story…if that we’re even possible?!? It’s a tale of two films.
In the African savannah, a future king is born. Simba idolizes 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, Mufasa’s 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.
Make no mistake, this version of The Lion King isn’t about reinventing the wheel but it’s about leaning heavily on nostalgia and augmenting the material that is already there. We’ll grant that talking lions, hyena’s and warthog’s is a little visually weird, it doesn’t take long to get over and actually gets us more invested in the characters that look like cute animals rather than animated characters.
Jon Favreau comes in here taking the directorial reigns and his previous work on The Jungle Book actually serves him well here. He knows how to make a picture look good and here everything looks VERY good feeling like we are actually running around with lions and hyenas. Cinematographer Caleb Deschenal takes amazing care in making the frame come alive and the production design was simple but honestly beautiful all at the same time. Without a doubt this is probably one of the better looking films in recent memory and that honestly is one of the primary reasons to get out and see this is the theatre on as big a screen as you can. Even if there were no characters, this scenery with a Hans Zimmer score is a good enough reason to get out of bed, however it’s ultimately the narrative and the cast which is where this all falters, if only a little bit.
This new version is basically a shot for shot remake of the original film, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it certainly plays as a little unnecessary at times, it at least keeps us in familiar territory and isn’t making any broad leaps for the audience.
The voice ensemble was actually pretty good up to a point. Donald Glover was lovely as Simba while the likes of Billy Eichner got his blessing from Nathan Lane to play Timon to the hilt while John Oliver fills the shoes of Zazu left open by Rowan Atkinson with ease and Chiwetel Ejiofor fills in for Jeremy Irons as Scar without missing a beat and actually matching it all note for note. Combine this with the realistic nature of the animals on screen it actually allows you to get more emotionally involved with these characters because they look real and by the end of the movie you’ve forgotten about those first awkward ten minutes where all the characters are talking.
All you can really count as a casting miss here is Beyonce Knowles Carter as the voice of Nala. Not that’s she bad by any stretch of the imagination but the second she opens her mouth for a musical number she’s obviously out classing every other person in any of the songs she’s in. I get casting her so they can have the dynamic of her doing a new single for the film…but it just doesn’t work here.
All in all, there’s honestly nothing wrong with The Lion King as it slightly ramps up the emotion and entertainment value of the original making us feel more connected to the characters. However if you’re looking for all this to tackle new ground then I’m afraid it’s just a case of been there…and done that.