I’m just going to get straight into it. Jon Favreau’s adaptation of THE LION KING is Disney’s best animated adaptation period. It has the best CGI I have seen on screen, highlighted one of the most iconic musical scores in cinema history, stuck very closely to the source material, featured a phenomenal vocal cast, and… well… BEYONCÉ. Need I say more? Okay, fine. I will say more. I have been making my friends and coworkers listen to me go on and on about loving this adaptation since I saw it last week and have already invited myself to see it again with my friend and her daughter this weekend. So that’s who I am now.
Full disclosure: I did not watch the Mufasa death scene because I am way too sensitive about animal deaths and would never be able to get over it. But from what I could tell from the moviegoers around me, it is just as gnarly as the original. Buckle up.
With how much I loved the movie, I wish I didn’t feel the need to address some of the negativity I have seen from other critics. But here we are. I mostly can’t fathom how anyone could consider this adaptation a bad movie. Admittedly, I was prepared for some criticism highlighting that this film wasn’t significantly different from its source material. But to give it a rotten score or say it’s “horrible” is beyond me. Maybe it was the beautiful Smithsonian IMAX that drew me in, but I saw no issue with this CGI. Anyway, enough of the negativity… let’s get to the good parts.
The Story: I think there are two kinds of people (and critics) in this world… those that like movie adaptations to be extremely close to the source material, and those that like a good mix-up. I am FIRMLY in the former camp. There is nothing I hate more than when I see an adaptation/remake of one of my favorite films and characters have been changed, my favorite parts of the story are erased, and new elements shake up an otherwise familiar story. Call me a purist, but I would be perfectly fine with an almost shot-for-shot remake of my favorite movies with very, very light updates added in. That is exactly what we get with THE LION KING. All of my favorite scenes are there basically word-for-word, but with some new jokes and songs sprinkled throughout. There are soooo many nods to the best moments in the original movie, like when Simba is confronted by the hyenas and when he attempts to roar, it’s really Mufasa. Or when Simba tries a grub for the first time and says, “slimy, yet satisfying.” Clearly I am passionate about this. And if you are like me, may I suggest you :ahem: don’t attend MOULIN ROUGE on Broadway. MOVING ON…
The Music: THE LION KING has one of the most beautiful music scores in cinema history. I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Hans Zimmer’s powerful score is featured even more heavily in this version of the film. Since walking out of the theater, I have listened to the whole album at least once a day and am listening to it as I write this review. Listen to the Elephant Graveyard scene and tell me it isn’t incredible. Seeing it in IMAX, with its glorious sound blaring, was the perfect way to enjoy the music flowing throughout every scene. Each song is a supporting character in the movie. The song scoring the antelope stampede, for instance, plays a major role in elevating the audience’s stress about the fast-paced danger Simba is facing and almost makes you feel out of breath wondering what will happen to the father and son.
Most importantly, Queen Bey herself not only duets with Donald Glover (who voices Simba) in “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” but also sings an entirely new song for the movie that fits perfectly within the action and does not trigger my neuroses about change. Maybe my only criticism of the whole movie is that I wish “Be Prepared” was more like the original film instead of this truncated speak-sing version.
The CGI: THE LION KING has the best CGI I have ever seen on-screen. Many times I couldn’t tell if I was watching actual footage of the African savannah, or whether it was all CGI because it looked so incredible. Apparently Favreau snuck in one picture of the actual African plains to see if anyone could pick up on it; challenge accepted! All of the animals looks so realistic, it’s almost like you’re watching an episode of Planet Earth. And don’t even get me started on the CGI renderings of baby Simba and Pumbaa. I would die for them. At the end of the movie, as the rain is dripping off of Simba’s mane, I thought “Disney/Jon Favreau is just showing off now.”
As I said above, I have seen some critics accuse THE LION KING of venturing into the uncanny valley, a phenomenon that occurs when a character or object looks realistic but there is something a little off that creates an unsettling feeling. While watching the film, I actually thought how amazing it was that it didn’t stray into the uncanny valley. I think if the animals did show human emotions on their faces (the fact that they didn’t is another criticism) it would create an uncanny valley situation and people would be complaining that the lions shouldn’t be emoting because they’re, well, lions. So Disney really couldn’t win with these people.
Voice Cast: Speaking of emotions, who needs the lions to emote when you have phenomenal vocal acting from some of the best actors in the game?! First, we are blessed to have James Earl Jones return to voice Mufasa. The movie would not be the same without his booming baritone voice and it really adds a level of gravitas and nostalgia to the movie right off the bat. I was a little concerned when Jeremy Irons wasn’t brought back to voice Scar, but Chiwetel Ejiofor made the character his own in a good way. His Scar was scrappier than the Scar we knew before and it was easy to see what made him go to the dark side. Of course, when you have Beyoncé on-board for your movie, you are going to give adult Nala more dialogue and actions (phew!). You will feel reborn when her Nala scolds Simba so prepare yourselves. But the real stars of the movie are Billy Eichner’s Timon and Seth Rogen’s Pumbaa. Both characters add some much needed comic relief after the terrible stampede scene. Their dialogue is the perfect example of small changes that can be made to the story to make scenes more current/adult-friendly, while also maintaining the characters we know and love.
Basically, if you read nothing else of this review, just know that THE LION KING is awesome, heartwarming/heartbreaking, and everything you should be expecting for a Disney adaptation. I will be shocked if you don’t love every second of it (minus the Mufasa death scene).
My Review: A