The Lion King Review: The Best Disney Nature Movie Yet

The Lion King Review: The Best Disney Nature Movie Yet

This re-animating of THE LION KING is like watching a dive bar cover band.  The movie hits familiar rhythm and beats but it lacks the finesse, heart and passion of the original. The CG coupled with Jon Favreau’s Direction and Caleb Deschanel’s Cinematography looks amazing, but THE LION KING is devoid of warmth which was brought to beautiful life in the hands of the original’s animators.

If you’re not already familiar with the story of THE LION KING, here is a quick refresher. THE LION KING is a coming of age story where lion cub Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover) can’t wait to be king.  His father King Mufasa (James Earl Jones) imparts love and wisdom on what it takes to be a great King. In very Shakespearean plotting Mufasa’s brother, Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) murders Mufasa and convinces young Simba to run away and never return.  Thus, begins a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, he meets new friends, Timon and Pumbaa (Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen) and learns you can’t just Hakuna Matata your past. You must embrace it to move forward. Simba sets to return to his Pride to take what is rightfully his and protect all that he loves.

THE LION KING is virtually a 95% shot for shot re-animating of the original. All the music and iconic scenes are in there including “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” and “Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight.”  Make no mistake; this is not a “live-action” remake. Disney has been regurgitating their animated catalog at a dizzying pace since CINDERELLA. And there appears to be no end in sight with at least 20 more titles planned. THE LION KING supposedly showcases only ONE live-action scene. It is so seamlessly hidden that it really is difficult to tell whether what you’re watching is Live or Memorex. This is literally a virtual world Favreau and company have created.

From a technical standpoint, THE LION KING is a cinematic accomplishment. The lighting, landscapes, cinematography, camera movements, and editing all showcase Favreau’s love of the craft and his embracement of technology.  However, there is no moment in THE LION KING that comes close to when audiences first saw a dinosaur on screen in JURASSIC PARK.  Even with the upgraded Tech, THE LION KING solicits oohhh’s and ahhh’s but no WOW!

The voice talent is fine. But that’s it: Fine. Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner produce some comedic nuggets but when Eichner delivers the line, “you got your lions crossed” it just falls flat compared to what Nathan Lane did with the character. And speaking of falling flat, the reading provided by Chiwetel Ejiofor no way compares to the inflection and gravitas of Jeremy Irons as the villainous Scar. To me, Scar seemed almost bored as if there nothing else to do but be bad. Even the great James Earl Jones can’t recreate his original performance. It was as if he knew it and didn’t even attempt too. I wonder what the thought-process was behind the decision to water down Rafiki in this new version. In the original, it is his sagacity along with a swift slap of his cane that shows Simba the past can’t be avoided.  Without having that moment, the scene is left without a sense of awakening.

The music seems more product than a feeling this time around. Beyonce’s new song is crammed in for commercial rather than emotional heft. It really sticks out and de-notes the musical feel of the film.

THE LION KING stands to be the best Disney Nature movie to date. Sadly, THE LION KING isn’t a documentary. THE LION KING left me feeling the same way I felt when Ted Turner thought it was a good idea to colorize classic B&W Movies.  Sure, you’re able to do it, but should you do it and why would you do it? They are classics. They didn’t need fixing. To quote Dr. Ian Malcom: “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  Such philosophical questions never enter the equation when money is to be made. Audiences can’t complain about lack of originality in the cinema when they plunk down bucks to see THE LION KING remake. The irony can be pretty ironic at times…..

Demetri Panos rating for The Lion King is 3 Fingers ?= OK

Written by
A close to 30 year veteran of the Movie Business Industry. Movie Reviewer for WBCN radio in Boston and the Boston Phoenix newspaper. Have worked in Distribution for the likes of Universal Pictures and Lionsgate. Exhibition working for Hoyts Cinemas and General Cinemas. Screen Credited Production work on the movie CONTACT. Have worked with the Historic TECHNICOLOR to help usher in the digital age of projection for Exhibitors. Well before it became Public Enemy #1, worked with MoviePass in working together with Exhibition to usher in Subscription Service for going to the movies. Demitri currently works for Market Force Information providing data/analytics for Studios and Exhibitors and is a Podcaster on The Popcorn Talk Networks MEET THE MOVIE PRESS and ANATOMY OF A MOVIE.

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