Jon Favreau is back with the House of Mouse following his critically acclaimed and visually stunning live-action adaptation of Jungle Book, this time round reimagining the beloved 1994 The Lion King. Now I have to prefix this review by saying this is my all time favourite classic Disney film; as a kid I would watch this on repeat, singing along to each and every song, so it’s safe to say learning of a live action remake definitely made me nervous! So how did the star studded adaptation fair to this die hard fan?
Well, there’s no denying that it’s an utterly breathtaking reimagining of the original, featuring stunning hyperreal visuals, but by recreating the original almost shot for shot, it unfortunately felt like the film relied too heavily on nostalgia.
The visual effects from London based MPC were absolutely magical and a real spectacle. The materials and lighting, combined with superb character animation and fluid dynamics simulation, created a breathtakingly photorealistic experience that appears hyperreal. You could literally see each and every strand of fur and whiskers on the animals! The settings were equally as impressive, feeling more like a David Attenborough documentary than a Disney film. The scope of the key set pieces such as the opening “Circle of Life” and the wildebeest stampede were also very fitting and in keeping with the original.
Though making the film hyperreal by imitating reality, MPC lost some of the artistry and character from the meticulously drawn animation. Resulting in a pretty jarring experience each time these lifelike characters broke into song. Technically it is a very impressive feat, and no doubt a lot of artistry went into it, but by limiting the animals to physical imitations, some of that typical Disney expression, colour and uniqueness of characterisation felt diminished. Take Scar and Simba in the final battle for example, at times I found it difficult to distinguish which lion was which, as Scar lost the unique colouring he’s so well known for.
Favreau and Disney brought together an enviable star studded voice cast, with top billing going to the legendary James Earl Jones, returning as the commanding Mufasa, with the vocal talents of Beyoncé and Donald Glover. However Seth Rogen and Parks and Recreation‘s Billy Eichner absolutely stole the show as Timone and Pumbaa, their modern twist on the comedy pairing gave a new flavour to the characters, bringing some much needed humour to the proceedings. Their dynamic was just spot on and their new rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was so enjoyable! One of my favourite scenes with these two involved a hilarious reference to another Disney property. Disappointingly though, it definitely felt like there was significantly less Rafiki this time round.
Thankfully Hans Zimmer (with Lebo M) is back once again with his phenomenal soundtrack and score that we all know and love, complete with some brand new additions courtesy of Beyonce and Elton John. There’s just something so unique about the soundtrack that’s only really been met by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music for the recent Moana. Standouts were Beyoncé and Donald Glover’s beautiful rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, as well as Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner’s “Hakuna Matata” which proved hilariously brilliant. However, “Be Prepared” was somewhat of a let down and vastly underwhelming in comparison to the original – how can you not include “no King, no King, la la la la la la”?!
Overall, Jon Favreau’s reimagining of The Lion King is undoubtedly a visual triumph that builds upon the amazing effects used in The Jungle Book. While it didn’t quite live up to the original for me, I very much enjoyed being transported back to my childhood hearing the much loved soundtrack and spending time with these characters.