This year’s The Lion King is Disney’s latest effort in its quest to remake many of its animated classics. I was able to catch the film in a theatre at Bangkok, on the day of its premiere.
Directed by Jon Favreau, The Lion King features James Earl Jones returning as Mufasa. Donald Glover as Simba is joined by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar and Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, while JD McCrary voices Young Simba. John Oliver plays Mufasa’s loyal confidant Zazu, with Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen taking on the iconic roles of Timon and Pumbaa respectively. The film also sees the return of legendary musician Sir Elton John and his original collaborator Tim Rice to work on some new music for the project.
Favreau, who also brought Disney’s The Jungle Book live-action remake to life in 2016, revealed in an interview that Sir David Attenborough’s BBC nature documentaries were a big influence on the remake of The Lion King. He succeeds in making the animals in the film look as realistic as possible, but he does it too well. In fact, the creatures and their environment feel so real and the lion roars feel so spine-chilling that it becomes difficult for you to emotionally connect with the animals when they talk. For instance, when Simba and Nala romp around and Simba sings, I Just Can’t Wait to be King, the innocence and wonder that the animated version generated is absent. In the original film when Scar sings, Be Prepared, whilst surrounded by laughing, mean-looking hyenas and bright, green smoke, it is easy for children to realise that Scar is a villainous character. The 2019 film, in contrast, presents a more intense, militaristic spoken-word version of the song, making it a little difficult for the younger audience to understand Scar and his convictions. The remake is charming, but darker and more Shakespearean than the original film.
On the other hand, a way that the new version improves upon the original is by giving the female lions more agency, which is actually more accurate. Lion societies are matriarchal in nature, directly opposite from what the original film would have you believe. In the remake, Nala chooses to escape Scar’s tyrannical rule at Pride Rock to seek out help in overthrowing him and bringing order back to the desolate and starving Pride Lands. The female lions are more proactive this time around.
All in all, the team behind the film does a marvelous job in recreating a masterpiece, aiming not to top it, but to expand it for the new generation of advanced filmmaking technology. Watch it for the story, the music and the scenery. The Lion King hits Star Cineplex today.