‘The Lion King (2019)’ | Film Review: Disney Remake Needed or Unnecessary?

Out of all the Disney remakes that were coming out in 2019, I wasn’t looking forward to the re-imaginings of Dumbo or Aladdin. No, Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King was the only one that matters in my eyes. The day the news broke about the studio actually considering doing a live-action version of this classic was a day worth remembering. My third most anticipated movie of the year (yes) has finally come to theaters, and we shall see if the king has returned.

Unlike many naysayers, I was looking forward to this remake for years since the original 1994 classic is my all-time favorite animated Disney movie, if not my favorite animated movie in general. No doubt about it. I grew up watching it as it was a part of my childhood and just fell in love with it ever since. It was so popular at it earned a 3D re-release in 2011 and a Tony-winning Broadway musical. The reason why this remake came to be was due to the success of 2016’s The Jungle Book, which Favreau also directed and is still the best remake from the studio.

James Earl Jones and JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)

Before walking in, I went in open-minded and was just hoping everybody’s wrong about this being pointless and say there was a reason for Disney to remake this. And I don’t know if it early reactions that tainted my expectations, but it breaks my heart to know that the 2019 version of The Lion King wasn’t very good, in my opinion.

First, let’s start with the movie greatness aspect, which are the stunning visual effects that are the selling point just from the first teaser. This is a beautiful looking movie with technology that’s unbelievable to create, especially watching it in IMAX. The photorealistic details on the animals are unreal. It looks like you’re watching a Disneynature documentary that’s more entertaining. And I will make the argument that this doesn’t count as animation; it’s live-action even though there isn’t a single human in here. Possible Oscar-nominated for Visual Effects? Maybe.

The voice cast ensemble is huge and are given some good material to work with, including Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Nala, John Oliver as Zazu, James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa (because who else?), and Florence Kasumba, Keegan Michael-Key, and Eric André as the hyena trio of Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi.

But the pair that stole every scene they’re in is Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen. These two were my favorite Disney sidekicks from the animated movie, and they didn’t let me down here. Eichner and Rogen were the perfect choices to voices the well-known meerkat and warthog and provides the movie’s needed humor. I had a smile on my face when they appeared, eventually.

Seth Rogen, Donald Glover, and Billy Eichner in The Lion King (2019)

Also, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar was surprisingly pretty menacing from time to time. We know that he wasn’t even going to come close to what Jeremy Irons showed off in the animation, but for what Ejiofor tried, he did his best to make the character his own.

My main problem with the live-action take on The Lion King is that this is a shot-for-shot remake of the animation, and it did bother me. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but nothing about these re-created scenes came off as surprising when you know how every scene turns out. There were even times where I knew what lines were going be before the characters said them. There are a few new scenes to expand the running time, but wasn’t making any difference when I almost felt a bit bored watching this.

The story wasn’t grabbing me the way the original did. This original is based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and even I think that was able to get my attention. Since I knew this was going to be the same story that Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can) were going to handle and doesn’t try to do anything too new, that that impress me much when it lacked heart. When I watch Mufasa’s death from the original, that gave me major anxiety. Here, I was just like, “Oh.”

If you fell in love with the songs from the original, they are are in here, and the musical numbers don’t exactly have the kind of pizzaz since there’s no way to recreation those colorful sequences from before. Of course, you got your “Circle of Life” (the opening sequence is amazing), “Hakuna Matata”, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, and many more. Sounds good, yet can’t even compare from before. And Hans Zimmer came back to compose the score, and there are some new pieces along with some that are familiar that didn’t leave me with goosebumps.

Never thought I would say this about Glover and Beyoncé voicing adult Simba and Nala, but I was a letdown with their vocal performances for the characters. Both of them are terrific, especially Glover, but lending their voices to these characters wasn’t nearly as powerful as it should’ve when some of their line delivery wasn’t capturing anything amazing. Do you know who would’ve been a much better choice to voice Nala? Jennifer Connelly. That’s just me. Even Jones as Mufasa wasn’t feeling anything when he already did it 25 years ago.

James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, and John Kani in The Lion King (2019)

That’s the thing with this remake; it felt empty. As I was sitting there, besides the few moments of laughter from Timon and Pumbaa, the same emotions that I had watching the cartoon didn’t translate to here, unfortunately. The moments of fun and sadness that was attached to me and everywhere who watched the cartoon are seen here in bland fashion. Because of that, this was very unnecessary watching 118 minutes of a true Disney classic. Which is sad because Favreau did an excellent job with The Jungle Book, and this is something I won’t remember for very long afterward.

Overall, I wanted to walk out of The Lion King just hoping I wasn’t going to be one of those kermudgins acting like it ruined their childhood, and it left me feeling absolutely nothing. Aside from the spectacular visual effects and solid voice work from its actors, this just ended up being a pointless Disney remake that has no emotional core and borrows too much on familiarity. Is there a chance that will I re-watch this in the future? I can’t say I will when I can just watch the original and feel safe. You know this is the most disappointing movie of the year when you realize Aladdin was better.

Grade: C-

Cast: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiojor, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Keegan-Michael Key, Florence Kasumba, Eric André, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and James Earl Jones

Director: Jon Favreau |Writer: Jeff Nathanson

Runtime: 118 Minutes

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures


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