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The Lion King Review: A Visually Spectacular Yet Soulless Retelling

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Back in 1994, Disney released an all-time classic that redefined cinematic storytelling. When it comes to animals, anyway. Twenty-five years later, Disney gifted this new generation with a retelling of the classic, but in a sadly more watered-down version of the majestic original. Check out my The Lion King Review.

Heads up: It’s going to get depressing…

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Image Credit: Fanart.tv, Famous Fix, & TV Guide

Well, maybe. If you’re a huge fan of the franchise that birthed Simba’s Pride, The Lion King: Hakuna Matata (massively underrated little twist, if you ask me), and The Lion Guard.

I’m going to start this off by saying that I can’t speak for every person’s opinion on The Lion King remake. Here’s my personal stance in the matter, though. And here’s how my personal feelings on my favorite childhood Disney movie will bleed through this Lion King review.

This right here will be a Lion King review that comes from a person who’s had every single line in the movies memorized — with the exception of The Lion Guard, because that would just be outrageously impossible.

Critiquing and Starting This Lion King Review

No, I’m not an official movie critic. And as much as I’ve studied all the fancy-schmancy (basic) ins and outs of movie-making in University, I’m jumping into this Lion King review according to the general aspects that most people notice. That means we’re foregoing technical terms.

Here we go:

Although, I have to give Director Jon Favreau props for doing his part to integrate the corresponding storyline with the movie’s visual presentation — which is photo-realism. (Remember when we talked about it in an earlier blog in the movies section of Scoopfed?)

Also, I won’t critique the cast of the new Lion King movie, and that’s mostly because there’s nothing to critique about it to improve. That goes for the musical score too — even if only one in the entire official soundtrack, Spirit by Beyonce, made it to the actual film-proper.

The actor performances were fire! It’s good. Damn good. That’s the simplest way to put it. I’ll touch on this again later, but for now, let’s leave it at that. Their acting was gorgeous, and that’s what I’ll leave you with for now.

The Lion King 2019’s Storytelling

The shift from the 2D animated film to the 2019 remake’s photo-realism gave way to a lot of changes to how the story is told.

To be fair, Disney did its best to fix small mistakes found in the original, and they also went the extra mile to update The Lion King’s movie humor. From biological changes in lion cubs’ eye colors to the baobab tree’s actual roots and fruit, the production team went all the way to present as much believable realism in a movie about talking animals.

And much like the other Disney remake movies, of course The Lion King would have changes…

The biggest of which are the hyenas’ roles, Nala’s welcome character development, Scar’s speech about being prepared for the death of the current king, and the criminal omission of a few scenes that nailed the original Lion King a place in my seven-year old heart.

The Role of the Hyenas

For anyone who’s watched the animated version of The Lion King before, I’m sure you can still clearly remember that aside from being the side-villains, the hyenas were sources of comic-relief in the 1994 classic. (Right beside Timon and Pumbaa, of course).

Who could forget Shenzi and her main band of crazy pals, Ed and Banzai?

There’s that one line in the original version where Scar rolls his eyes to the heavens and nonchalantly comments that he’s “…surrounded by idiots.”

Also, all those parts where Shenzi poke fun at her two other cronies are nonexistent in the new movie. There was no shuddering as they said Mufasa’s name again and again. No falling into a forest of thorns and yowling like chickens on fire. And certainly no Scar having to go through the trouble of singing his plans in a bid to help them understand his plans.

In tandem with the film’s photo-realism, the Lion King remake gave the hyenas (Shenzi, in particular) a smarter role. Also, as everyone knows, Ed and Banzai have been renamed to Zizi and Kamari.

Instead, the hyenas are presented as a more menacing force. Shenzi is given a stronger female role, and actually acts as the leader of the hyenas. And thanks to them being smarter and more villainous, the movie opted for a speak-singing and shorter version of the favorite Lion King song, Be Prepared. Scar still promises them the same thing though.

And personally, I found this drastic change in new movie welcoming. I missed the humor that the original brought, of course. But it’s an interesting take, and certainly fits well with the film’s obviously naturalistic approach. In my opinion, it just wouldn’t do to have maniacally laughing hyenas with no outward and goofy facial expressions in a remake that’s concentrated on the animal realism of it all.

Nala’s Fight with Shenzi

As a child, you probably wouldn’t have thought much about Nala’s traumatic past with the hyenas in the Elephant Graveyard. But the new movie shed some light into this tiny detail…

In addition to giving her more screen time, they gave her crucial parts in the film. The 2019 remake featured her running back to Pride Rock with Simba, rallying the lionesses, escaping from Scar, and her fight with Shenzi.

I was actually happy with that last one…

I mean, the only time I actually saw Nala engage in a fight was in the animated version’s part two. Simba’s Pride had Nala crashing with Vitani after Kiara had disappeared with Kovu.

Anyway, back to the remake…

Nala’s fight with Shenzi was the very epitome of unfinished business. The detail called to this specific event in hers and Simba’s deadly childhood excursion shows that the experience left a dent in her psyche. She was a defenseless lion cub then, with her friend, having to rely on the protection of Simba’s father.

And now that she’s older, she can finally strike back with claws and fangs galore…

Her character development and extra spotlight is something I appreciate. And even more so because Beyonce’s take on her character was certainly stunning. For sure, she left a stamp in there, leaving us viewers with a stronger and more well-rounded Nala.

The Biggest Crime: Cutting Simba and Rafiki’s Interaction

But if there is one thing I find unforgivable, it’s that they cut this scene.

I mean, I get it. It’s photo-realism, and they were going for naturalistic approaches and real animal behavior. But would it have hurt to watch Rafiki literally smack some sense into Simba? I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that scene could have contributed so much if they gave it a chance.

And on that note, they also cut the scene where Simba had a conversation with his father in the clouds.

To be fair, this might be nostalgia ragging on me. But come on! Just watch the clip and tell me if it’s not one of the most iconic scenes you’ve seen in a Disney movie.

Visual Presentation

This Lion King review won’t be complete without a personal opinion on the photo realism that captured everyone’s attention.

We were promised a visually stunning presentation. And that is exactly what we got. No complaints on the realism of it all, to be honest.

But this too real presentation is what contributes to a lot of Lion King fans’ disappointment towards the 2019 remake. It’s landed on uncanny valley, and not a lot of people are into that. It’s gotten to a point where we feel like we’re watching a National Geographic documentary. But when you mix that documentary-feel with the story of The Lion King, you get a movie that feels slightly off.

The Emotional Value

One of the biggest reasons why the 1994 version cemented itself in the hearts of a lot of Disney fans was the emotion that bled through every scene. The humanoid expressions on the character’s faces combined with the storytelling was what gave it the emotional quotient it needed to tug at people’s heartstrings.

Take for instance, the scene where Mufasa dies. You know, the one with the wildebeests…

The 1994 version did a great job animating the worry and the pretenses on both Mufasa’s and Scar’s faces as they raced to the gorge where a terrified Simba was clinging to a flimsy tree branch. It did well in portraying the fear in Mufasa’s eyes, the malicious intent in Scar’s grin, and the devastation in Simba’s face when he watched his father fall to his death.

And of course, who could forget the image of a crying Simba as he tried to nudge his father’s lifeless body back to life? Right before he clung to Uncle Scar only to receive false reassurance, and then the suggestion to “run away and never return.”

How the 2019 Version Didn’t Live Up to That

The 2019 version had that same emotion bleeding through in the voice acting. But without a facial expression to mirror that outstanding audio performance, the scene falls flat in rendering the audience’s empathy for the lion cub’s grief.

This pretty much applies to everything we’ve seen in the new movie — in every character dialogue that doesn’t involve baring sharp teeth right before engaging in battle.

With regard to visual presentation, it’s safe to say that the only redeeming quality I find in it is Timon and Pumbaa’s humor.

Safe to say, without the personified and humanoid expressions and actions that was omnipresent in the original film, watching The Lion King remake just feels like I’m viewing another National Geographic documentary in the savanna. Except, it has talking animals. And I’m following animal kingdom drama.

To End the Lion King Review:

But now that this Lion King review is over, and nearly everyone has seen the new movie already, I need to ask something:

Nevertheless, aside from its shortcomings, The Lion King remake still delivered mostly on what it’s promised.

A visually stunning presentation, and photo-realism so mind-blowing it’s impossible to believe that you’re just watching a Disney remake of a 1994 animated movie. Also, a retelling of a soulful tale sprinkled with tying up loose ends, and reimagined villains.

At the very least, the movie earned a 53% on rotten tomatoes, and an 88% audience score. (Hey, no spilled popcorn. That’s good).

And that’s more than what we can say for the other Disney remakes. You know what they are… The Lion King could have done better, but it also could have been worse.

My rating in this Lion King review:

6/10.

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