Before we get much further, I’m going to be honest with you. This pains me to write, but The Lion King was my least favorite live action remake I’ve seen thus far.
I haven’t seen Dumbo though, so there may be hope yet for it.
Why did I dislike The Lion King, when the animated movie is one of my all time favorites? There’s lots of reasons. I’ve waited a good 24 hours after seeing the movie to process my thoughts and really dig deep as to WHY I disliked it so much. I’ve been a fan of all the Disney remakes so far. I even liked The Jungle Book (after a second viewing) which was also directed by Jon Favreau and was a “live action” animal remake. So what went wrong with this one?
Here’s my take on The Lion King, and why I think it hit me so hard when I didn’t enjoy it. Beware – there are spoilers, unlike most of my reviews! I couldn’t adequately put my thoughts in to a blog post without spoilers, though. Sorry – this is your one warning!
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Not Enough Changes
One thing I read a lot in previous reviews of this movie was that it was a shot for shot remake of the original. I didn’t mind that, to be honest. I loved the original, so of course I’d love a shot for shot remake of the movie! At the same time, though, the fact that very few things WERE changed made me feel bored as the movie went on. I knew what was going to happen before it happened. Whereas with the other remakes, they had a few scenes added that weren’t in the original. Aladdin even had a whole new song! It made it stand out in its own way while staying true to the animated classic. I DIDN’T know when Aladdin met Jasmine right off the bat where the story was going, because it was different than the original. It kept my attention.
They legitimately just copied and pasted the storyboard for this film from the original. Even the script was practically word for word out of the 1994 film. Bringing back James Earl Jones was almost unnecessary. If they had just reused his recordings, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
…Or the Wrong Ones
When they did change things – it was definitely the WRONG thing to change. I have a bone to pick with Jon Favreau after he cut what is arguably the BEST villain song of all time, “Be Prepared”. No, the watered down rendition we got does NOT count! Also, the hyenas were completely changed. Shenzi – one of my favorite “villain” sidekicks, and the namesake of my own dog – was turned into a cold, unfeeling leader of the hyenas. Banzai and Ed, whose names were also changed for this movie but never really brought up – had one running joke, and that was it. All the characterization of the hyenas went out the window.
Don’t get me wrong – the voice acting of the hyenas was still great. You could tell Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric André tried their best to give it their all with what they got. In a way, I DO appreciate them making Shenzi a strong female leader. But it felt like it was a disservice to the amazing comedic performance Cheech Marin and Whoopi Goldberg did in the original. The comedy aspect of their characters in the original made you sympathize with them when Scar turns on them in the end. They’re just a species that has been kicked to the bottom of the food chain. All they want is someone to give them their fair share. In the remake, the absence of that doesn’t make you sympathize with them. They’re just kind of…there, to serve as soldiers for Scar.
Rafiki was also not utilized nearly enough. Remember that adorable scene where he keeps hitting Simba over the head with his staff, and lectures him about the past? Pretty much gone. There’s supposed to be a pivotal moment when he pulls his staff from the tree and says “my old friend” lovingly – but it has no emotion behind it, since we never saw him USE it prior to then.
Speaking of lack of emotion – we have to talk about that CGI.
Once again, going in to this movie, I KNEW that the CGI was going to be lacking something. Animals simply don’t talk like humans do. Their muscles in their faces are different – that’s just how it is. Yet, in trying to make this movie look SO realistic, they lost all that emotion. Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus had more emotional range than these lions, and that cat is from 1993.
The lack of emotion really sucked the soul out of the climax of the film. Mufasa’s death is still sad, of course – but it just didn’t hit me the way the animated version did. Simba still cries out when he sees him fall, but without the emotion in his face, it was just…a shot of a lion cub. With his mouth open and human words dubbed over it. Scar, despite the fact that Chiwetel Ejiofor KILLED it in the voice role, was a complete dud to me. You could barely see his scar, and his face hardly moved half the time. We’ve all seen Chiwetel play super emotional roles in person – and they couldn’t translate that at ALL to the animated character he was playing.
You could line up all the lions in this film, and I’ll be honest – I don’t think I could pick out Mufasa from adult Simba, or Nala from Sarabi. In the animated film, the subtle differences in facial features and color of fur made it obvious who was who. They got almost TOO realistic with the animals to the point where there was no uniqueness about them.
The Good Parts
I won’t keep ripping on just the bad parts of this movie. It DID have some shining moments. ALL the voice actors put their heart and soul in to this movie, and you can tell. Timon and Pumbaa completely stole every scene they were in. While they don’t dress in drag and do the hula, they DO have a cute added scene at the end during the fight. It was one of my favorite moments, to be honest! Also, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” rendition in this movie ALMOST made up for the lifeless performance of “Be Prepared” from earlier in the movie. (I’m super bitter about this, in case you couldn’t tell).
As soon as the first note of “The Circle of Life” hits, you’ll feel your heart leap in your chest, no matter what you think of the rest of the movie that comes after it. The opening scene in general was beautifully done, as well as the ending bit of “Hakuna Matata” when Simba ages up over the log. Both those scenes were as close as they could get to the animated version. Aside from “Be Prepared”, all the classic songs are there, and the new versions are just as delightful as the originals. Plus, original Beyoncé music, AND a new song from Elton John!
One thing I did like about the realism was the animal mannerisms they added. I loved the cute little details, like Timon scratching his ear as he’s talking, or Nala licking her paw absentmindedly as Simba talks to her. The baby animals were super cute as well. How could they NOT be? They’re baby lions!
The Final Verdict
Ok, so even though I didn’t like the movie, does that mean you shouldn’t see it? No! Just because I didn’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean YOU won’t! Even though I won’t rush out to buy this one on DVD, I am happy I saw it. It’s still one of my favorite Disney stories, and it’s always fun to see new twists on it. That’s the beauty of the live action remakes. Even if I don’t like the live action version, the animated one will always be there to comfort me.
Did you see The Lion King? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get updates whenever I post new content!