Review: An unpopular opinion of 'The Lion King' re-make and why this movie should be the Pride of Disney
Despite being crushed by critics, the newest version of Disney's "The Lion King" is anything but soulless. Let me explain.
As a critic - or as a paying movie-goer - you have one of two choices: You can stomp your foot and shake your fist in silent protest at the current state of the movie industry, or you can accept what's going on and continue to find joy where you can. The old saying is that "there are no new ideas in Hollywood," and judging by the blockbuster movie landscape over the past decade, there's a lot of truth to that.
The idea of the "re-make" isn't a new phenomenon...movies at large have been being remade since the medium's inception. With Disney movies in general, this has been a part of the company's DNA from the get-go. Just because you watched "The Little Mermaid" as a kid in the late 80s/early 90s and it imprinted you forever, doesn't erase the fact that it was based on an 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson. Just because Robin Williams blew you away with his performance as The Genie in Disney's 1992 version of "Aladdin" doesn't mean that it hasn't been around for centuries...and that it wasn't even the first animated version of the story (that would be the 1926 animated feature, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed"). And just because you cling to Disney's animated 1994 classic, "The Lion King" and it's "originality," doesn't mean that it isn't basically the story of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," and that it "borrows heavily" (carefully worded) from the Japanese Anime series called "Kimba the White Lion" (don't believe me? See for yourself below).
Yes, classic stories from all over the world have been getting "Disney-fied" for decades. It's simply the way the game has been played, whether we've all been aware of it or not. The point is, those that have been criticizing Disney's new photo-realistic computer-animated version of "The Lion King" have been standing on a soap box the size of Pride Rock, decrying about how it doesn't hold up to the 1994 "original" and lambasting Disney as a whole for the blatant money-grabbing in the wake of their latest onslaught of re-makes. It's an argument that quite simply is more of a whimper than a roar.
If I sound defensive, it's because I absolutely loved the newest "The Lion King" movie, despite the criticism that has come out against it...AND despite the fact that I was about as skeptical as could be going into this film. A self-confessed Disney-phile, I pretty much hated the recent "Aladdin" re-make (an opinion in which many of you passionately let me know was dead-wrong, even though I stand by it), and if there is one point that I completely, totally and absolutely 100% agree with the Lion King "haters" on, is that - other than the obvious truth that it will make the studio millions and millions of dollars - I don't really see the point in why Disney is re-making their entire animated feature-film library.
But those looking for a point to these re-makes are, well, missing the point. Like the sun rolling high in the sapphire sky, these re-makes are happening, and they're going to continue to happen. Call it the Circle of Profit.
So that brings us back to the choice that we face: We can either let our blood boil about the unoriginality and the blasphemy of messing with the classics...Or, we can try to take each new film - as difficult as it may be - at face value, and realize that there is something to be said about a new generation getting introduced to timeless stories in new and exciting ways. If you choose the "blood boiling" route, then why even watch the film in the first place? Save us the trouble and just write your review before even seeing the movie, since your minds have clearly already been made up. Just like nobody (that I know) referenced or did elaborate compare/contrasts of "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" in their reviews of the latest "Aladdin" re-make, neither should you hold the latest version of "The Lion King" up against its predecessors as its sole qualification of being "good" or "bad." Sure that "point of origin" could and should factor in, but to base your entire opinion on it?
The other major criticism I've heard has been with the animation style itself. On this, I respect everyone's tastes and opinions. For me personally, I was absolutely blow-away by the realism depicted in Jon Favreau's new film, a process that shares technical similarities to both traditional animation and traditional "live-action." It clearly leans on the familiar (with James Earl Jones's booming voice as Mustafa acting as the nostalgic anchor), but it is a breath-taking visual achievement and one of the most beautifully-rendered films I've ever seen. And I again respect anyone who saw this movie and thought it to be "soulless," but from my perspective, I couldn't disagree more...in fact I found the realism and the "life" in the characters to be absolutely stunning. There are in fact several close-ups of eyes and expressive subtleties and I never once felt as if I was looking into the "uncanny valley."
Unlike what was done in the recent "Aladdin" re-make, where Will Smith tried in vein to give us his best Robin Williams impersonation, I was really impressed with how this version of "The Lion King" took familiar characters and let the voice-actors embody them in new ways. Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumbaa were hilarious in giving a new spin on the duo...Eichner wasn't trying to do Nathan Lane, in other words. Donald Glover and Beyoncé were solid upgrades and all of the young actors did a fine job. Also of note, Chiwetel Ejiofor does marvelously as the villain Scar...who would have ever thought he could live up to the iconic voice of Jeremy Irons? Speaking of the voice-talent, only John Oliver as the adviser bird Zazu was a bit flat, coming nowhere close to the effectiveness of "original" Zazu voice, Rowan Atkinson.
In many ways, the hyper-realism of this latest version makes the story a bit more daunting, a bit darker and a lot scarier down the stretch. But the songs still ring true, and the story is timeless. Other than some updated dialogue, and making sure that - other than talking! - all the animals stayed within some realistic constructs of movement and motion, this is "The Lion King" that many of us heralded as one of the best animated - heck - MOVIES - of our generation.
Is the animated 1994 version the "better" film? Perhaps. Can I defend the fact that Disney plans to update and re-make all of their animated films for newer generations to enjoy in different ways, and is this venture even necessary when the older movies still hold up? No and no. But taking all of this into account, is the new "The Lion King" worth your time?
A thousand times yes.
Yes, it IS possible to both love "The Lion King" and wonder why they didn't leave well enough alone. But if Disney is going to continue to re-make all of their classics (as Scar would say, Be Prepared..."Lady and the Tramp," "Mulan," and "The Sword in the Stone" are on tap by 2020), this is how it should be done: With reverence and a strong sense of what made the last generation fall in love with the thing in the first place.
Quick Note: I RARELY, if ever, read other critic reviews prior to writing and releasing my own, however the slew of early (mostly negative) reviews on this film were unavoidable...and I felt some of these critiques needed to be addressed).
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Beyoncé, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph.
Directed by Jon Favreau ("The Jungle Book," "Cowboys & Aliens," "Iron Man 2," "Iron Man," "Elf," "Made").
"The Lion King" opens everywhere on Friday, July 19th, 2019.
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