'The Lion King' - Stop this ride, I want to get off

The Lion King

I say this in complete and utter seriousness, even though people are automatically going to think I’m trolling: Can you imagine how much better this would have been if they decided to remake The Lion King 1 1/2 with this technology instead?

I might have actually, you know, liked it then.

The Lion King is a 1994 animated film from Disney that was loosely based off William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and 1965’s Kimba the White Lion (but nobody ever really likes to admit about that).

The film came out when the studio was trying to re-invent themselves with other animated films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Now, The Lion King is widely considered to be the peak of that trend as it went on to be a part of many, many different individual’s childhoods — myself included.

That inevitable point has now come where Disney has decided it’s time for a remake. Granted, we all knew this was coming the minute they started making these live-action adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, but The Lion King's number has finally been called as it’s being sent to the gallows.

The Lion King
credit: YouTube

Yes, the gallows. I’ll admit, some of these have been fine — The Jungle Book and Cinderella are both pretty good, and I admire Dumbo for doing something different (even though it doesn’t altogether work) — but every time we get another Aladdin or Beauty in the Beast, I find myself questioning why we’re doing this if it’s the same story that’s lacking any kind of magic.

I regret to inform you that The Lion King falls — or rather, straight-up plunges with no signs of resurfacing — into the latter category.

At this point, you probably know the story. Simba (JD McCrary) is a young lion growing up in the pride lands with his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones); mother, Sarabi (Alfre Woodard); and young friend, Nala (UsShahadi Wright Joseph).

One day, Mufasa tells him, Simba will rule as far as the light touches as he comes from a family of kings.

Simba’s uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), however, has different plans as he, too, wants to rule. Scar then comes up with a half thought-out plan (I’m convinced that Scar is the laziest Disney villain of them all) to displace the king, banish Simba from the pride lands and take the throne for himself.

The Lion King
credit: YouTube

Again, you probably can read through the lines right there and know what that entails, but I’m keeping things vague for all two of you who haven’t seen The Lion King.

Simba runs off into the wilderness alone and afraid, only to befriend a Meerkat named Timon (Billy Eicher) and a warthog named Pumbaa (Seth Rogen). There, he learns to put his past behind him, which he effectively does as he magically grows up to be Donald Glover.

Yet, when Nala, who grew up into BEYONCE of all people, shows up and says they need Simba’s help to take down Scar, he’s forced to face a past he tried to forget before taking his rightful place as king.

Directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, The Lion King may market itself as a live-action take on the story but, please, don’t kid yourself. This is straight-up animation. There are no human characters, no real animals or no actual sets. To call it live-action at this point is a disservice to the hundreds and hundreds of people who spent hours digitally drawing everything inside this movie.

In that, if you go into The Lion King thinking that you want to see the EXACT same movie with the EXACT same plot-points and a lot of the EXACT same dialogue, the only difference being that the animals look real, then you’ll come out of this happy, I guess? I might challenge you to ask for a little bit more out of your blockbusters, if that’s the case, but they see that experiment through to the end — for better or worse.

The Lion King
credit: YouTube

I get the appeal something might have because, again, I quite liked The Jungle Book. There is, however, a number of sacrifices this film has to make when choosing that aesthetic, which is where we start running into problems.

The colors, the musical numbers, the larger-than-life characters and the emotional story beats are just some of the reasons why I love the original The Lion King. A lot of that is lost when telling this story in photorealism, though. By now you’ve seen the side-by-side comparison of ‘Hakuna Matata’ — the animated version shows the characters swinging on vines and what have you, while this version is simply just the three of them walking. That’s it. They’re just walking.

Yes, that’d look goofy if you tried to animate it in this way, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to what we’ve come to expect from The Lion King.

That’s just one example in a movie that’s literally full of these underwhelming moments. The other musical numbers don’t fare well, whether that be the way Ejiofor doesn’t even bother singing ‘Be Prepared’ or how ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ takes place during the day, for some reason. The emotional beats, too, leave you feeling nothing — that Mufasa moment that destroyed all of us at children just feels plastic and goofy this time around.

I know, I know, you’re probably yelling at your computer that I shouldn’t be comparing this to the original The Lion King because these are two different movies. Thing is, that’s literally impossible to do when this version is the exact. same. thing.

The Lion King
credit: YouTube

If Favreau went into this thing trying to add something, anything new in here, then, sure, you could judge this The Lion King by its own merits. He really doesn’t, though. The movie manages to hit the two-hour mark, but that’s only through extended landscape shots and action scenes.

I’m not sure who watched The Lion King and said to themselves, ‘You know, this could really use some more FIGHTING,’ but, whoever you are, here you go.

The other thing about this method of animation is that it makes it really, really hard for actors to give a genuine performance. After 30 minutes, the ‘wow’ factor of the way these animals look kind of wears off and you’re stuck looking into these faces that can’t emote or give any kind of performance.

Something like The Jungle Book was able to overcome that partially because both the animation and performances were better, I think, but also because they had a somewhat different story to fall back on. Here, they have nothing, and all the actors really struggle to carry their weight — especially Glover and Beyonce, both of whom seemed pretty flat during this thing.

There are exactly two saving graces in The Lion King, and they come from Eicher and Rogen. They’re the only two where it feels like they were allowed to actually be different (I’d wager that they recorded their lines together and that there’s a lot of improv in there). Right when I was starting to get really sick of this thing, they gracefully came on screen and started making me laugh, therefore saving this movie from being a complete failure.

The Lion King
credit: YouTube

Which is why I ask again — why couldn’t we have remade The Lion King 1 1/2 instead. A movie that put these two in the center of anything with the potential to go in some different directions actually sounds fun. Watching the same story I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times without any of the charm does not sound like a whole lot of fun. Sadly, we get the latter.

I get why they might want to try The Lion King. It’s the same thing as They Shall Not Grow Old, where they came up with a really interesting idea that hasn’t been done before and wanted to see it through. Now, we’ve seen it through. It didn’t work. Can we move on now?

We aren’t going to move on, though, because The Lion King is going to make billions and billions of dollars at the box-office and we’re going to get more of this garbage — and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the lack of imagination, the copy-and-paste method of filmmaking and this overall aesthetic, and I’m especially sick of Disney trying to pass this off as the latest and greatest NEW thing. This isn’t new. This is lazy.

So, please. Pleeaasseeee. Use your money to support movies that actually deserve it. Your wallet tells Hollywood what you want to see more of, so if you see The Lion King it means we’re going to get those Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch and Pinocchio remakes they’ve been threatening us with (Mulan and Little Mermaid are already coming, so make peace with you God now).

Maybe go see something original like Midsommar, The Last Black Man in San Francisco or Booksmart instead? Because, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how many more of these “live-action” things I can take.

Watch the trailer for The Lion King here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!

'The Lion King' - Stop this ride, I want to get off [REVIEW]
  • 'The Lion King' - Stop this ride, I want to get off [REVIEW]
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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