The Lion King (2019) – Falling Short of the Original

How do you match the greatest animated film of all time? 2019’s The Lion King proves it is no easy task. Despite that, strong voice performances and staying close to the source makes the final product an enjoyable experience.

The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau and starring the strong cast of James Earl Jones as Mufasa: Beyoncé as Nala, Donald Glover as Simba, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Billy Eichner as Timon, John Kani as Rafiki and John Oliver as Zazu, is a direct remake of the 1994 original.

The Lion King-Strong Visual Effects

Before starting on the film, the term live-action attribution to The Lion King is a bit presumptuous, given the fact that the entire film is really CGI. Despite that, director Jon Favreau opts for a photorealistic take on the iconic story. This aspect of the film was met with both awe and a little disappointment. While visually beautiful, the film also loses some of the magic that made the original iconic. Desaturation the colors, toning down the more fantastic elements and easing on the magical aspects of the original, The Lion King does not do itself any favors by these creative choices.

Concentrating on the positives, the photorealistic style of The Lion King did make for absolutely stunning visuals. This is amplified by seeing the film in IMAX or Dolby, which brings the colors, sound, and feel of the film that much closer to immersive. From the opening sequence of The Circle of Life, audiences are immediately pulled into this amazing world. Having all the same songs return, most of them performed beautifully by the new cast, definitely keep the nostalgia-heavy and the audience’s eyes fixated on the National Geographic style presentation.

The Lion King – Specatuclar Voice Acting

Outside of the iconic James Earl Jones, who reprises his role as Mufasa, every other actor was recast for the role. With it, come many strong performances. Donald Glover does a fantastic job as the adult Simba, while Beyoncé fills and elevates the role of Nala. The only performance which did not feel as seamless was Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar. While equally as vicious, at times I couldn’t help but miss the more dramatic approach of Jeremy Irons. Given that Scar’s lines were almost a 1:1 or the original Scar, the difference of execution felt more apparent. Still, there are more positives than negatives and Jones beautifully reprises his role as Mufasa.

The reason 2019’s The Lion King doesn’t compare to 1994’s The Lion King is based on the fact that everything that is good about the 2019 version is what was there from the 1994 version. If all your best shots are 1:1 copies of the original if all your songs are simply derivates of what came before, then where do you stand out. Simply put, if the best parts of your film are what was already 25 years prior, then you start the question the point of the film. Aladdin suffered a similar predicament but was elevated due to Will Smith’s own personality. Here, Beyoncé fills that role and while the film is quite good, it still doesn’t feel it could stand toe to toe with its original version.

As mentioned above, one thing that hurt The Lion King was the suppression of color. 1994’s The Lion King is untouchable because it is, by and large, a perfect film. It is also a testament to 2D animation, a lost art in today’s film world. The Lion King‘s animation is stunning, the way the colors drip off the screen is absolutely breathtaking. The songs were never heard before and therefore were brand new, unheard of and immediately iconic. Perfect voice acting, perfect soundtrack, and perfect pacing are what make The Lion King one of the greatest films of all time, period. But it’s this high bar that 2019’s The Lion King falls just short of.

Now, if you copy the greatest animated film of all time, the reboot is still very good. Hans Zimmer’s score for both films stands in the top echelon of his own work. Donald Glover, Beyoncé, and James Earl Jones service their roles beautifully and visually the film is still breathtaking to behold, even if it lost some of the dramatic colors.

Overall, The Lion King is a perfectly enjoyable film. Strong voice acting, beautiful soundtrack and incredible visuals keep the film very much a great theatre experience. At the same time, sacrificing the magic of the original for photo-realism kept it short of the bar that the greatest animated film of all time demands.