THE LION KING, US, 2019. Voices of: Donald Glover, Beyonce, Chiwitel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, John Oliver, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, J.D. McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Penny Johnson Jerald, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric Andre, Seth Rogan, Billy Eichner. Directed by Jon Favreau. 118 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and violence).
This is the third of four Disney live-action versions of their classic animated films in 2019. It follows Dumbo, Aladdin and is to be followed by the second part of the Sleeping Beauty tale, Maleficent. The Lion King is directed by actor/Dir Jon Favreau who showed he could do this kind of Disney story well with his live-action adaptation some years earlier of The Jungle Book.
As regards audiences, the film opened in the United States and around the world with some record-breaking box office. It was also accompanied by, one might say, critical coolness. But it was also accompanied by some snarling trolling bloggers who enjoyed denouncing the film as inferior to the original and who enjoyed, it would seem even more, scoffingly denouncing the Disney company has motivated solely by greed in these remakes. Audiences, on the other hand, went to enjoy this new version, happy with memories of the original animation, and delighted to be reminded of it with live-action.
It should be said, however, that this film involves a lot of CGI, creating the world of Mufasa’s kingdom quite lavishly, an enormous range of animals, racing through the countryside, acknowledging Simba as the future Lion King.
For those millions who saw the original a quarter of a century ago and for those multi-millions who have seen it on television, cassettes, DVD, the story is more than familiar. So, unless this is the first time, characters are familiar, we remember the situations, we are immersed in the drama, relishing the comedy and looking forward to the songs by Elton John and Tim Rice – and here they are again.
There is a drama, of course, in the villainous Scar (from Jeremy Irons’ original deep intonations to the rather Shakespearean sinister voice of Chiwitel Ejiofor – and the plot of a brother killing a king and the young prince exiled is more than similar to Hamlet). Simba is misled and set up to go to the elephant graveyard with Nala. We are anxious as Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones again) goes to rescue his son with a sinister disaster.
There is also comedy, of course. Probably many in the audiences are looking forward to the appearance of Pumbaa and Timon – and will not be disappointed at their appearance and certainly not with their voices, Billy Eichner is Timon and Seth Rogan really enjoying himself and very funny as Pumbaar. And, again of course, they sing Hukana Matata -No Worries.
By the time Simba is shown to have grown up (along with the singing of Hukana Matata), his being voiced by Donald Glover and Nala voiced by Beyonce. And they will be asking Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight (which is actually filmed in daylight!). And everybody can join in The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
So, for most, the film will be enjoyable – but it does have the disadvantage of many harshly judging it in the light of the original. But it certainly is both bright and cheery at times and darkly sinister (a bit frightening for the little audiences) the times.
Some people enjoy contradictions, liking one and disliking the other – but why not enjoy both!
Disney Released July 18th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.