The Lion King (2019) Review By Tim Nasson

July 17, 2019

In 1993, before the internet, you had to watch movie trailers in theaters. There was no way for most people to watch them over and over again. I attended at least 5 press screenings per week at the time and walked into whichever auditorium was showing trailer for the 1994 The Lion King at least 50 times during the span of the trailer’s release and the release of the film. I can’t imagine being as impressed or excited for the film if I had seen the trailer, even once, online rather than in the theater on a big screen.

The Lion King was the first Disney animated feature to be an original story, rather than be based on an already existing work. The Lion King also happens to be the fourth animated film produced during a period known as the Disney Renaissance, which began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, (followed by Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin). I don’t count The Rescuers Down Under (1990) as part of the Disney Renaissance films.

Many consider The Lion King to be the best of the Disney Renaissance movies, myself included.

So, why remake it? Disney re-released their animated classics, (think Bambi, Pinocchio, The Rescuers, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Aristocats) about every seven years to spectacular box office results – until VHS came along, and Disney sold out, literally.

Well, the answer is Greed.

It has been said that Shakespeare plays have been retold thousands of times, and many times to great acclaim. And there are times when movie remakes are better than originals. I count the 1986 version of The Fly as the best remake of all time. The 1983 remake of Scarface was great. As was 2001’s Ocean’s 11 and the 1991 version of Cape Fear. But none of the aforementioned films were classics, films that many of a generation count as their favorite film of all time.

If you go into The Lion King remake knowing that it is never going to improve on the original, you will be much more satisfied.

Think of the new The Lion King as a dinner at a high end French restaurant. It looks sumptuous. The CGI (computer generated imaging) of the animals and bugs in the film leave you wondering why real animals will ever be used again in movies. However, as with most French fare, it is all show and little substance. Instead of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick as Simba (young and old, respectively), we have an unknown as young Simba, and Donald Glover, AKA The Childish Gambino, as old Simba. Neither are good choices for the voice of Simba.

The only original voice returning is James Earl Jones as Mufasa. They should have just brought the entire original voice cast back since virtually the rest of the movie, save for a couple of farts (literally), a Beyonce song and some minor added dialogue, is a frame for frame homage to the original.

Sadly, Elton John’s voice doesn’t even appear in this version of the film in any of the songs. And his voice is what made many people return to see the original film multiple times. He won the Oscar for Can You Feel the Love Tonight? in 1995.

Until Simba is banished to the desert by lying and nefarious Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor, he is no Jeremy Irons) and meets up with Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Timon (Billy Eichner, who plays the role as campy but not as well as Nathan Lane did in the original), the film is a mild bore. But, as we see Simba lying on the desert floor dying, surrounded by a flock of vultures, ready to devour his dying carcass, Pumbaa and Timon save the day. They give Simba who is ready to just give up a pep talk, telling him that he “can change the future. Changing the future is our specialty,” they say. Hakuna Matata! And until the third and final act save the film. Beyonce’s angelic voice as adult Nala is a close second best to that of James Earl Jones’s voice as Mufasa. But her role is quite small.

The most obvious unique addition to the film is a tuft of Simba’s hair. It blows away. A bird picks it up, brings it to its nest. Its mate throws it out of the nest. It gets blown onto a leaf in a tree. A giraffe eats the leaf that has the hair attached to it. We next see a dung beetle rolling a piece of dung down a hill. It falls apart and blows away and right into Rafiki’s hands who then realizes that Simba is still alive. That is the circle of life in less than 90 brilliant seconds.

For Disney aficionados, don’t miss the blink or you’ll miss it line in the film where Timon bursts out singing a line from the song Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.

Will audiences want to flock to see this The Lion King multiple times like they did the original film, which was the reason it took in over $300 million in theaters during its original U.S. theatrical release? No. Will it make money? Yes. But, please. Enough of the live action CGI remakes. They are not wanted or needed.

The Lion King (2019) Review By Tim Nasson

Grade B