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Movie Review: The Lion King

Technologically the new Lion King is, well, something

The Lion King
Directed by Jon Favreau
In Theatres

The latest Disney remake opens with a shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat recreation of the beginning of 1994s Lion King. And, yeah, it looks impressive and is a wonderful achievement and all that. But the moment when Rafiki arrives to baptize Simba, it's the moment when the whole exercise starts to fall apart. By trying to create something that looks so realistic it can fool even the most cynical viewer the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner. When your goal is to make the most realistic CGI world yet and you want the animals to look and act like animals, well, you end up with a monkey staring blankly at a couple of lions.

Technologically the new Lion King is, well, something. The photorealism can distract for a while from the rest of the mess. I could spend some time just watching the ones and zeroes come together and create beautiful landscapes, animals that look like animals. But, at the end of the day, just because you can do a thing, should you? Just because you can make a version of Lion King that looks like a National Geographic film, should you? Unlike The Jungle Book, nothing new is brought to the table. Hell, due to the limitations of creating a photorealistic remake of a cartoon movie, things are removed from the table. Important things. Things like emotions. And fun and pacing and excitement. 

This isn't a live action remake, there is nothing in the movie that wasn't created by ones and zeroes. But by working so hard to make it look like a National Geographic film with all the genitals removed, Jon Favreau and his team have created something that, while it is kinda cool to look at, is soulless. The Lion King is a nature film dubbed over by Very Famous People. 

The worst is the lions. Their mouth movements while talking made me think of Mister Ed chewing peanut butter. And it became even worse during the musical numbers. At its best, the mouth movements almost matched up to the singing. At its worse, i looks like a music video set to National Geographic footage. The original was all Busby Berkeley musical numbers. The remake is some songs play while digital animals walk. If this was Jon Favreau's first try maybe I would be more forgiving. But this is the guy behind 2016's Jungle Book. Remember the Bear Necessities scene in Jungle Book? How much fun it was? Mowgli sitting on Baloo's belly while Baloo did a backstroke down the river and the water splashed and Baloo and Mowgli sang and you never questioned if the bear was singing? Yeah, none of that in 2019's The Lion King.

None of the problems with our new Lion King sit with the voice talent. All of the Very Famous People do a fine job. It's not their fault that the finished product is a dubbed over a digitally created nature film. And then there's the mixing. With rare exceptions the dialogue actually feels like it was recorded separately. I mean, I know for the most part it was. But it should never sound like it was. Look at Toy Story 4. Well, listen to Toy Story 4. Most of that dialogue was recorded separately, some of it years apart. But never once does it sound like it. The Lion King, for most of its running time, sounds like individual people recorded separately. While making the most realistically looking CGI film of ever, the filmmakers forgot to make it sound good. 

James Earl Jones returns as Mufasa because, really, who else can voice Mufasa? Donald Glover continues to be a treasure voicing Simba. Chiwetel Ejiofor's Scar is more of a bottle of rage than Jeremy Irons' slick take on Claudius. John Kani really digs into Rafiki. Beyonce's Nala is far tougher and yet more feminine than Moria Kelly's. Like I said, the voice talent is fine. They didn't rip out The Lion King's soul and leave it struggling for breath. 

The Lion King only has a solid heartbeat when Timon and Pumbaa are on screen. Voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, the meerkat and the farting warthog bring the fun and some excitement to the enterprise. It's the only time that the movie is fun. Of course, it can't be a coincidence that these are the moments that stray the most from the realism of the film. Keegan-Michal Key and Eric Andre as a pair of hyenas with personal space issues are pretty funny. And Jon Oliver as Zazu, he's pretty funny. The humour works. Almost everything else about The Lion King doesn't. 

The Lion King may look like something from National Geographic or a BBC wildlife documentary, but it feels like something made in a computer. It's like the anti-Pixar. And, most disturbingly, for something that is a near beat-for-beat remake of the original, it is very, very, very boring. So very dull. Cowboys & Aliens level of dull. Twice now Mr. Favreau has taken on a project that should have been more fun than a dozen puppies and instead made it a dull technical exercise. 

One very good thing has come out of this project - Beyonce has curated an album, The Lion King: The Gift. Like Kendrick Lamar's Black Panther album. And like Kendrick Lamar's project, Beyonce's is kind of a retelling of the story. But where the film fails, Beyonce's project soars. Tons of guests, including her husband and her daughter. And it is so very, very good. 

So, yeah. I cannot recommend this remake of The Lion King. I can recommend that you grab a copy of the original and sit back and watch a masterpiece. Nice thing about bad remakes? The original is still around to enjoy.