Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Movie Review: The Lion King

The Lion King ** / *****
Directed by: Jon Favreau.
Written by: Jeff Nathanson and Brenda Chapman based on characters created by Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton.
Starring: Donald Glover (Simba), Beyoncé (Nala), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Billy Eichner (Timon), John Oliver (Zazu), Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), Eric André (Azizi), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), John Kani (Rafiki), Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), JD McCrary (Young Simba), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala), James Earl Jones (Mufasa).
Perhaps it’s because The Lion King is the third live action remake of a Disney classic this year (following Dumbo and Aladdin), or perhaps it’s because out all of the “live action” remakes Disney has done in the past few years this one feels the most slavishly devoted to the original film, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed throughout most of this film. I am not anti-remake like many seem to be – I actually kind of like to see different filmmakers approach to the same material, different actor’s approaches to the same roles, etc. I often like to watch the original and the remake back-to-back to compare and contrast. And perhaps that’s why I was annoyed by this version of The Lion King – there is so little to compare and contrast. It’s basically the same thing – the same songs, the same story beats, the same moments, etc. – just rendered this time in more “realistic” animation this time around (I know they say it’s not animated – both if none of the animals or locations are real, what do you call it?). In short, there is so little that is new about this film that it’s not like watching two different takes on the same subject matter – it’s like watching someone trace over the original, and make it look worse (and take longer than do it at the same time).
The film was directed by Jon Favreau – who certainly knows what he’s doing. His The Jungle Book is perhaps the best of all of these live action remakes by Disney – although perhaps that’s because there has been so much distance since the original in the later 1960s (and those who were children then aren’t likely to complain about you ruining their childhood if you dare change anything about something they liked as children – those grown up babies are at least a decade younger, and Star Wars fans) that he was freer to make the film his own. It had some of the same beats, some of the same songs of course – but not all of them. And it looked amazing.
I suppose, you cannot really complain about how this The Lion King looks then. There is no doubt that the technology used to render these visuals is pretty amazing, not quite a game changer like say Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was in 1993 or James Cameron’s Avatar was in 2009 – but still it’s impressive. I don’t doubt that technical achievement that Favreau and company managed to pull off here. And I’m not quite sure I can really complain too much about the vocal performances either. Most of them, honestly, are fine if forgettable – which you could say about the vocal performances by much of the original Lion King cast was back in 1994 (I’m not about to make an argument in favor of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick and Moira Kelly over the likes of Donald Glover or Beyoncé, etc.) A few them are actually genuinely quite good – John Olivier is hilarious (if basically doing what he always does) as Zazu. And Seth Rogen and especially Billy Eichner are legitimately hilarious and Pumbaa and Timon. Eichner, I think, achieves where most of the others do not – he really does make Timon his own. He doesn’t try and out Nathan Lane Nathan Lane – he just makes the role his own, makes the comedic beats his own. He is legitimately great in this role. The songs are still good too – and this cast can certainly sing, or at least sound good. The only one that I think didn’t really sound great was Scar’s great Be Patient – which seemed rushed.
And yet, as I watched the film I couldn’t really figure out what the point of this all was – except to make money. And a lot of money it did in fact make. But if those involved weren’t really going to do anything different with the story, weren’t going to make it their own in any way, then what was the point? Why do it? Why not just watch the original – which, I’m sorry, looks so much better in its traditional animated style than these photorealistic animals look.
It seems to me that studios have listened to the wrong people on the internet – the whiners and complainers. Those who come out in full force against lady Ghostbusters because it’s not “their” ghostbusters. Those who complain that The Last Jedi changes too much about Star Wars to make it the series “they” fell in love with as a child. Hell, those who I saw on Twitter as I watched Rent Live a few months ago, who complained every time the slightest deviation was made to how the musical used to be done. These people want things from the past to stay exactly as they were when they first encountered them – and if you change a thing, you’ll hear that you’ve ruined their childhoods. But making movies in this way has to be suffocating, doesn’t it? Are you really making a movie or playing a very expensive game of Monkey See, Monkey Do?


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