For anyone expecting better from Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’; no matter how much we would like to see photo-realistic recreations of our favorite animated characters recreate a masterpiece, looks are not everything. As a high-definition remaster, it succeeds in the visual department, yet lacks the heart, emotion, and energy that made the original so beloved in the first place. What was once epic and masterful has been drained of life. You can blame it on the money-milking machine that is Disney for unnecessarily remaking the films we have once held dear in our childhoods, however, as long as audiences clean their wallets for the sake of nostalgia, the studio will not stop until there is nothing left.
I am not saying that a live-action update is the disaster that could possibly end the world (I thoroughly enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’, Tim Burton’s ‘Dumbo’, and have no doubt that Niki Caro’s ‘Mulan’ will deliver; I even hope that this is all a part of the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ cinematic universe). What I am saying is that if you want to do a remake of something so acclaimed as ‘The Lion King’, care needs to be taken to ensure that audiences will not be disappointed and money is not everything. You would think the guy who had so much faith in Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man leading to the actor’s comeback would manage to make ‘The Lion King’ work. Yet the only improvement seen here are in its visuals.
The cast, though perfect for their parts, do not bring enough energy to their characters, making their intentions seem unclear and their efforts lazy; The worst offenders being JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph voicing both younger versions of Simba and Nala (Who are later voiced by Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowels-Carter once they become full-grown lions), compared to Jonathan Taylor-Thomas and Niketa Calame-Harris in the original film. While it is painful to hear Chiwetel Ejiofor and James Earl Jones recite lines provided originally (and better) by Jeremy Irons and, no surprise, Jones (the only cast member to return as the character. He seems like he does not want to be there, but let’s chalk it up to old age). Though there are some highlights to the voice acting; Keegan-Michael Key, Eric André, and Florence Kasumba are a devilish hoot as the three hyenas and Scar’s henchmen, while they may be no Nathan Lane or Ernie Sabella, Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are quite decent as Timon and Pumbaa.
As for the songs and musical numbers, they can not compare to the original music provided by Elton John and Tim Rice. If you were to ask me, I would rather listen to the original soundtrack than these try-hard renditions for they had more beauty and energy. The only way I can see this remake worth it are either if you are curious to see what an animated animals-only feature looks like with an update, or if you need to take your kids with you. Otherwise, it is just better to pop in the original.