The Lion King (2019) – Film Review

The Lion King has always been a special story to me. At the age of 9, I recall heading along to the cinema to see the original animated film and having my heart ripped apart when Mufasa died. The musical was also the very first stage production I ever saw and I loved every moment of it. Having seen both the animation and the musical time and time again, I was hesitant in my approach to the latest ‘live-action’ remake from the Disney franchise. Sadly, after seeing the film, the reasons for my hesitations were justified.

The stunningly beautiful and realistic animations are most certainly a sight to be seen, however the visuals are a little too real and unfortunately play a huge part in the film’s undoing. The lack of emotion in the characters faces make their conversations extremely unbelievable and unconvincing. The absence of smiles, lacking expressions of fear and soullessness in the eyes all completely kill the spirit from these iconic characters. There is something special and unique about traditional drawn animation that make the story a thousand times better than this lacklustre remake.

The singing and musical numbers are just as cringeworthy. I mean, how can you have one of the most iconic songs “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” in the daytime? The song literally has the word ‘tonight’ in the title! How on earth can anyone making this film miss something so blatantly obvious? To add to this unforgivable oversight, and at the risk of rattling the Beyhive, Beyoncé as Nala completely ruins the character. Her lack of voice acting skills in conjunction with her singing that completely overpowers Donald Glover/Childish Gambino as Simba, plus unnecessary vocal runs and forcible tone make her the centre of attention everytime she is on the screen. This would be okay if she was the main character – but she is not. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the addition of the forcibly inserted original song “Spirit” is completely unnecessary. Almost as if it was a demand as part of her contractual agreement in accepting the role.

Believe it or not, as bad as this film is, there are still some positives. Most of it lies with Timon and Pumba, the iconic duo brilliantly portrayed by Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan who are utterly hilarious, have great chemistry and are the saving grace of this otherwise disastrous film. Their natural comedic timing and amazing voice acting skills are a refreshing treat. Add in John Oliver as Zazu and you have enough hilarity to make this film bearable.

Of course, James Earl Jones reprising his role as Mufasa is a welcome gift. However, there was something missing with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of Scar. I’m not sure if it was the lack of sarcasm in Scar’s facial expressions or the fact that they cut Ejiofor‘s rendition of “Be Prepared” in half. But with Jeremy Irons putting his hand up to reprise the role and not being cast, in a way, I am kind of glad that he wasn’t because his version of Scar in the animation is flawless and cannot be replaced. Also, while I do enjoy Donald Glover in his other works, sadly there is nothing special with Glover’s version of Simba; nothing stands out, nothing that makes it memorable, nothing makes it special.

The Lion King is a film that I am glad that I saw out of curiosity, but one that I will likely never watch again. It misses the mark in so many ways that are unforgiveable. If you remove Timon, Pumba and Zazu from the film, it is up there as one of the worst films I have ever seen. It is also the worst adaptation of The Lion King in comparison to its original film and also stage musical counterparts. I have no doubt that this film will do well at the box office and I am sure there will be patrons that will love it. However, I believe most true Lion King fans will not. My only suggestion would be – don’t rush out to see it anytime soon.

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