What makes it magical

Philip Cu Unjieng - The Philippine Star

Film review: The Lion King

MANILA, Philippines — Disney is still a business; so who are we to fault the conglomerate for repackaging products they’ve already made tons of money off from, and trying to extend the revenue-earning capabilities of these products. We praise fashion when things go full circle, and what was old becomes new and fresh, so why can’t Disney do its own version. These live action remakes obviously find their audiences. And now, as with Jungle Book, we have a photorealistic computer animation reincarnation of The Lion King. If fascinating children is the ultimate compliment, this National Geographic-version of The Lion King does deliver.

The 1994 animated classic has spawned countless money-making permutations including a Broadway musical. If the Broadway musical was about suspending disbelief and admiring the artifice and stagecraft, this Lion King extends the running time of the animated wonder, and provides stunning cinematography, and photorealism of a new technological level. And as Disney releases this film on the same year it has “dropped” Dumbo and Aladdin, it’s fair to say that the Marketing hype accompanying the much-loved Lion King guarantees this film a home run — no matter what the critics may say. The great majority of movie writers have called this film pretty to look at, but unnecessary. But is any film ever necessary?

For anyone who has watched the cartoon, there’s nothing new to report in the storyline. Some back stories — like those of Scar, Nala and Sarabi — have been filled in to give us a better understanding of the animal characters, but essentially, this is the same Pride Rock, elephant graveyard, the gorge where the stampede occurs, and so on. And Pumbaa and Timon are still the most lovable of characters.

If some eyebrows were raised on hearing that Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) would be voicing Simba, you can rest easy, as he actually does a satisfactory job. Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, and Billy Eichner as Timon are great. Chiwetel Ejiofor is revelatory as Scar, but there was more evil and menace with how Jeremy Irons voiced Scar in 1994. John Oliver as Zazu is wonderful, so we don’t really miss Rowan Atkinson. And from the original animated feature, it’s good to find James Earl Jones is still voicing Mufasa, as the power and timbre of that distinct voice can never be replaced.

Much of the hype of this new version surrounds Beyoncé voicing Nala, and unfortunately, this is probably the weakest link of the whole enterprise. The song Spirit, especially created to expand Beyoncé’s participation is a weak addition, especially when you compare it to Aladdin and the new Jasmine song. Beyoncé delivering her lines is like someone reading her lines for the first time, and made me wonder about the process director Jon Favreau worked with. How many readings of her Nala lines were done? Is this the very best Beyoncé came up with? If it is, someone got paid way too much.

This 2019 photorealistic The Lion King is certainly very pretty to watch; and while some have griped about how animal faces, and mere mouth movement, means we can’t truly show emotions, the filmmakers try their very best to get over this hurdle. 

The children watching the screening I caught obviously knew their Lion King, so these remakes can co-exist with the animated originals. Me, I’m just wondering if this photorealistic technology will soon extend to Pixar films, and Disney will take on the biggest challenge of remaking A Bug’s Life.

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