The number of movie reviews that require me to put a year after the title are too darn high! Not that I don’t enjoy a nice trip down memory lane every now and then, but Aladdin was like 5 minutes ago, Disney. Cool your jets, man.
That being said, The “live-action” Lion King is pretty good. Not exactly revolutionary — it’s basically a shot-for-shot remake — but it’s pretty, and the new voice actors are all capable. In fact, this movie is so incredibly ok, that I’m having a hard time thinking up things to say about it.
It all starts with a rock-solid story and an amazing soundtrack. Both are used pretty much exactly how they were in the 1994 animated classic. Those two traits alone can wash away a lot of sin. If you don’t get chills during the “The Circle of Life,” then I can only assume you’re dead inside. Likewise, if “Hakuna Matata” doesn’t have you smiling and tapping your toes, then you should check on the well-being of your soul.
So if it follows so closely to a movie that’s already amazing, then it has to be all good right? Well yes… and no.
On the one hand, this switch to photo-realistic CG is absolutely breathtaking at times. The animals look and feel real when they aren’t talking, and the designers took special care to make each and every animal act like their real-world counterparts. As an owner of a cat, I can tell you that the lions all felt real (assuming lions act like housecats, I guess).
On the other hand, these CG creations have to talk. This may come as a shock to you, but lions, birds, hyenas, warthogs, and meerkats don’t actually have mouths built for human speech, and when the production is such a slave to keeping it photo-realistic, it can get pretty weird. You don’t have to be an expert in how we produce speech to just feel in your bones that something doesn’t check out.
You kind of get used to it, though. And Jon Favreau took a light enough touch with the material, that when it gets super serious, he graciously zooms out, or shows us a backshot so that we can focus on the wonderful voice performances instead of the uncanny CG. Also, where the mouths lack expression, the eyes and actions generally do a good job of making up for it. In the end, you can empathize with our furry friends, and that’s the most important thing.
The voice performances are all top-notch, with a particular bright point in Billy Eichner (as Timon) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Scar). The latter is much more menacing in this incarnation, and the hyenas behind him equally so. A young kid actually started crying when one hyena scene came on. It’s pretty scary, y’all. Scar is no longer a mustache-twirler — he’s a straight-up unhinged psychopath.
There are a few liberties taken with the songs, some that work and some that don’t, but overall The Lion King is a good time. Better than the critics are saying, but not nearly as good as Aladdin before it. You won’t regret your time in the theater.
Rating: 4 stars
Should you watch it? I vote yes, but I wouldn’t begrudge you for skipping it — it is, after all, literally exactly what you’ve already seen
Should you take your kids? It’s PG, but Scar and the hyenas can get pretty scary for small children.
What you should watch first: 1994’s The Lion King. I haven’t watched it in decades, but I can’t tell if watching it directly beforehand would have enhanced or destroyed the experience.