It was a bold move for Disney to attempt to remake such an adored classic as The Lion King, the crown jewel of its animated collection. But it seems the circle of life of a Disney animation these days involves being reincarnated as a live-action feature film. Most recently, we’ve seen the characters of Aladdin and Dumbo come to CGI life, and now it is time for Simba to return to the big screen in all his high-definition, three-dimensional glory.
Once again, we follow Simba on his journey from reckless young cub to worthy ruler of Pride Rock. Though he tries to follow in the pawprints of his father Mufasa, his uncle, Scar, has other plans. Menacing as ever, Scar lurks in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to overthrow the lion king.
The reboot stays true to the original, from that iconic opening number to the epic final battle scene, mirroring it almost frame by frame. Be prepared, however: a couple of scenes have had to be left out to keep things more realistic (although it would have been amusing to see live-action Timon dance in a grass skirt to distract the hungry hyenas).
Any deviations from the original film are pleasant surprises. One example is Timon and Pumbaa, voiced by comedians Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen respectively, who are given a number of witty lines that help to revive parts of the script.
Meanwhile, the film’s updated soundtrack has been hotly anticipated ever since it was announced that Donald Glover and Beyoncé would be taking on the lead roles of Simba and Nala. It’s nice to see that they are given the freedom to showcase their talents and riff off the original songs; there are also a couple of new tracks that fit quite naturally with the film's original score.
As with nearly all of Disney’s remakes, critics have been starkly divided over The Lion King so far. While most agree that Jon Favreau’s re-imagining is a visual spectacle, many can’t get past seeing such realistic animals talk and sing (if you were OK with the talking animals in Favreau’s The Jungle Book, you should have no problem with this). Yes, their mouths don’t exactly move the way they should to make the words being said. But what can you do when you’ve got hornbills like Zazu with beaks that can only move up and down. Let’s leave the nit-picking to the meerkats.
What’s great is that these CGI renderings have more dimension than their 2D counterparts, enabling them to convey a lot more through facial expressions and body language. Not only does baby CGI Simba look A-DORABLE, the photorealism of the characters and setting makes those iconic scenes from the original even more devastating and terrifying than before (you know which ones we’re talking about). And hey, there is something inherently funny about seeing a lifelike meerkat travel together with a wild warthog.
Each scene is breathtaking - at times you feel as though you’ve tuned in to a nature documentary, and half expect David Attenborough to chime in, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The filmmakers make the most of the opportunity to showcase animals big and small, and nature in its most pristine form.
Although it’s part of Timon and Pumbaa’s hakuna matata philosophy to put the past behind you, we will never forget the original animation that first captured our hearts 25 years ago. Some charm is inevitably lost in the process of transforming these beloved cartoon characters into real-life animals, but the filmmakers have done their best to retain the spirit of the first film.
Whether or not you believe the original can be beat, this visual reimagining should still be caught on the big screen, even if only out of homage to its predecessor. The king has returned; go pay your respects.
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge