Movies

National Geographic, Now with Music! AKA The Lion King

Simba and Nala in the elephant graveyard.
Image Source: The Walt Disney Company
Low Spoilers Bar

Writing this review was a timely excursion. Not because it’s particularly long or filled with information that will really further anyone’s viewing experience, but it took a while to really process how I felt about Disney’s 2019 live-action Lion King adaptation. In short, it was good. Not “I’m going to tell all my co-workers and friends about this” good, not even “I’m going to stream these melodious Beyoncé songs non-stop” good. It was a quiet good. Like “no, I will hold my pee till the end of the movie, this animation is so realistic” good. I’m okay with that. It’s become so trendy to be hyper-critical of these translations (guilty). The more that come out, the more questions they raise. Is the objective of a live-action translation to indefinitely stay true to the source material, or change the content for the better? A mix of both seems to be the popular answer.

Everything the Light Touches Will be Remade, Using Ground-breaking CGI

Mufasa and Simba
Image Source: The Walt Disney Company

Jon Favreau directed this film. He also directed The Jungle Book adaptation which, hot take, is one of Disney’s best live-action films ever. So the magic will carry over right? Eh. The expectations were bigger for The Lion King. It’s so beloved, how could you not enter the theater and expect larger than life things? The film gets better if you view it through the proper lens: the creators were trying to make a real-life Lion King. If you decided to venture into the savanna, this is the rendition that you could witness in the real world. There, better. Except, I like my clouds shaped like Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and I like my gravity-defying stacking animals in “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”. That’s the issue. The original film gently peppers in the element of fantasy. The void isn’t massive, but you feel it. What is felt even more morosely is the lack of expression given by the animals. Here is the epic crossroads. In order to make a super realistic film, the animals have to look and act…like animals. In the animated counterpart, the audience gets so many emotional cues from Simba’s (JD McCrary/Donald Glover) extreme expressions. Final thoughts on that: I couldn’t have done better, but sometimes a little whimsy speaks volumes.

When I Was A Young Warthog (Cartoon)

Simba, Pumba, and Timon
Image Source: The Walt Disney Company

To say that the internet was unkind about the character redesigns at a glance would be an understatement. Primarily stating that Pumba (Seth Rogan) was nothing short of terrifying. But what else was he supposed to look like? Aside from not being able emote much, I thought the entire set of characters were thoroughly realized. Especially Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who looked very different but felt incredibly right. The voice cast did each character justice, Rafiki (John Kani) was missing a little bit of soulfulness, but Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba made up for where the others may have lacked. The dynamic duo truly stole the show. Beyoncé got a bunch of extra lines to keep her team happy, and all was right in the Pride Lands.

I Am…Nala Fierce

The soundtrack absolutely did the original justice but did not outdo its predecessor. Maybe my theater had an issue with the volume? But I didn’t feel it billowing through my body like I had imagined in my pre-movie fantasy. Was it that I have fond memories of the first time I watched the animated classic and just knew what to expect this time? I want to say that’s it, but the Broadway show really does it for me. If “He Lives In You” made a cinematic appearance, maybe I’d feel differently. I can only explain it this way; you know when you take a sip of water, and anticipate it to be water, and it tastes like water. You’re like yup, that’s water. That was this whole musical experience. It surely was…present. Having now inadvertently said lukewarm things about Beyoncé I intend to sleep forevermore with one eye open. It is only reasonable to fear that the secondary members of Destiny’s Child will be coming for my head at dawn. It’s been real.

The Box Office Felt The Love Tonight

Regardless of who felt what about the movie itself, the property is so globally beloved, it was destined to be a smash success. Donald Glover and Beyoncé were just icing on the slimy yet satisfying cake. Another billion-dollar film this year for Disney, truly incredible and so well deserved. Do I think we’ll see The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride ? Absolutely not. Will I buy this on Blu-ray? Probably not. Should I have put more stock in Aladdin? Yes. So, go see The Lion King, it’s like National Geographic with songs. It will remind you of the animated film, because it is that same film, with more Nala.

3/5 Stars

What was your favorite scene in The Lion King? Let us know in a comment below.

The Lion King is set be released on Blu-ray, DVD, & Digital HD in October 2019.

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