REVIEW: Real life ‘Lion King’ is mostly lifeless

All of my worries were confirmed.

Those who have watched the 1994 animated classic will find themselves in familiar territory here. James Earl Jones plays the role of Mufasa again in “The Lion King,” and as the title implies, is a lion who’s king of a large amount of land. Mufasa’s Pride Lands are thriving thanks to his leadership and he now has a son, Simba to inherit the kingdom.

Unfortunately, the monarchy is thrown into chaos by Mufasa’s plotting brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants to take the throne. This leaves Simba (JD McCary and later Donald Glover) in a period of exile.

I want to review and judge a movie on its own merit, but this has been really difficult with these Disney remakes since they appear so similar. It’s nearly impossible here, because the score, songs, many of the shots and almost the entire script are exactly the same as what was featured in the animated picture.

The one difference here is that the lions, and all of the other animals in the film, are photo-realistic. Credit should indeed go to the filmmakers for bringing all of these creatures to life in very convincing fashion. From a visual standpoint, the animals look fantastic.

THE LION KING
Courtesy Walt Disney Studios.

However, because they look so realistic, so much of the dialogue and songs come off as awkward and out of place. Because of how limitless the art of animation is, creating a scheming character like Scar, or portraying a friendship between Simba and Nala, is more than possible.

For example:

Lion King Example 2

Lion King Example 1

Yet this new flick is desperately lacking in any of these types of moments. The only times the characters even looked like they were emoting was when they were fighting or roaring, and that’s just because animals look fierce when they do so.

Unfortunately, the voice cast is lacking, too. For example, it probably would have been better for Disney to just re-use Jone’s past performance, because it seems like he’s almost phoning it in here.

Glover, meanwhile, gives a less playful performance that’s needed here. Ejiofor’s performance is lacking, too, as the character just seems perpetually aggravated, rather than slimy and cunning.

Even some of the songs had issues. They’ve already been written and performed, yet pieces like “Be Prepared” were still botched here.

Whimsical moments and charm is just absent in this remake, and there’s very little new added. Plus, the new elements weren’t even all that good. Case in point, a subplot about Scar wanting to make Sarabi his queen, which came off as really unnecessary.

In all fairness to Jon Favreau and his crew, the movie does look really good. As previously stated, the film looks gorgeous and it’s competently put together. Additionally, the lines and music that were in the original are timeless, although that can’t really be attributed to this movie.

Overall, the movie just feels so lifeless and the characters’ actions, lines and banter carries little emotional weight. The visual eye-candy and fun bits of nostalgia do just enough to get this one to a 2.0 out of 5.

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Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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