‘The Lion King’ (2019) Film Review

Grade: D+

James Earl Jones and JD McCrary in The Lion King (2019)

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.

11 thoughts on “‘The Lion King’ (2019) Film Review

  1. It has been entertaining seeing this remake getting bashed by both professional film critics and bloggers. That remake looks like a ploy to bank off nostalgia for better or worse. Also, why is it a “live action” remake when there are no human characters. The existence of The Lion King (2019) is built on pure hubris to say the least. After all this evidence of that original movie ripping off 60s anime Kimba the White Lion, trademarking “Hakuna Matata” which they didn’t invent that phrase (cultural appropriation), and for not crediting Solomon Linda for “The Lion Sleep Tonight” and withheld millions of dollars of royalties (Netflix documentary The Lion’s Share covers that issue). I used to like the original movie as a kid, but as an adult, I shake my head with the plot holes, racist undertones of the hyenas, and the protagonist centered morality of Mufasa committing low key genocide against said hyenas with the elephant graveyard especially when you research Shark Island in the Namibian Genocide and the Congolese genocide under Leopold.

    Sorry for the long rant, but I still appreciated the review nonetheless despite our differing opinions of the original movie. Also…Chiwetel Ejiofor REALLY needs to stay away from Disney.

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    1. I appreciate your feedback, and I always like to read different insights even if the opinion is different than mine. I love learning things I have never knew before. Also, what is wrong with Chiwetel Ejiofor being near Disney? Did he not do good in ‘Doctor Strange’?

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      1. Thanks, Jacob. Yeah, it was mind blowing watching Kimba for the first time a few years ago and researching that controversy. It even trended online after the TLK remake came out. Believe me, you will be shocked when you see the episode where Caesar’s (Kimba’s murdered father) spirit shows up in the night sky to console him or any episode involving Claw AKA the Original Scar. The Solomon Linda Story was something I found out recently.

        I haven’t seen Doctor Strange, so I couldn’t tell you anything. Sorry to sound like a hipster, but I knew who he was before 12 Years a Slave came out when I saw Serenity, Talk to Me, and Children of Men. He really doesn’t strike me as someone who should play Scar and I was disappointed when I found out he’s going to be in that Maleficent sequel. He’s talented, don’t get me wrong, but I think other movies are better suited for his acting style.

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          1. Possibly, I don’t know. One film I do want to see that he acted and directed in is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Of course there’s going to be an obvious hilarious in hindsight moment because the main character is played by a new Kenyan actor named Maxwell Simba (I’m dead serious…that’s his last name).

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              1. Yeah, I thought it was a hilarious coincidence. That movie is a Netflix original that’s about a real story of a Malawian boy who helps invent things for his village. Ejiofor directed it (his directorial debut, I might add) and plays the main character’s dad. He even learned how to speak Chewa for the movie which is one of the main languages in that African nation. Despite my issues with him playing Claw’s doppelganger…I mean, Scar, I would still like to see it because more positive stories about Africa need to be shared. This is something I’m passionate about and I’ve been watching a ton of films directed and created by people directly from the continent even more so. Africa does have a legitimate movie scene, but barely anyone in America knows about it unless they’re knee deep into the international film scene.

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  2. Heck, I could argue the visuals aren’t necessarily “better”. This nee movie does look fantastic and is a great representation of how far CG has come. That said, the gorgeous animation and hand-drawn art of the original just can’t be beat. It feels somehow more lifelike than the CG that’s SUPPOSED to be lifelike.

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