There is no denying that “The Lion King” is one of Disney’s most beloved family films. The amazing photo-realistically animated live-action remake has solidified Disney as the one true king of family films.
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The “Circle of Life” opening sequence is nearly a shot for shot duplication of the animated version. We are almost immediately immersed in the beautiful landscapes to where it almost makes one feel as if they are preparing to see a film from Disney Nature (or National Geographic) and not a family-friendly animal version of Hamlet.
The realism displayed throughout the film (animals and scenery) sets the tone for this film, that has a predominately dark tone this time around. While this is a major plus for many viewers, it can have potential drawbacks for younger audiences.
This makes the elephant graveyard scene with the hyenas, as well as the ending fight scene between the lions/hyenas & Scar/Simba a little too intense for younger viewers. And if you are anything like me, it also makes Mufasa’s death even harder during this film.
I admittedly struggled with the casting of this film. When it was first announced I had my reservations, but I was willing to go into the film with an open mind. Not for the lack of high-powered talent in all of the major roles, the voice performances themselves range from unremarkable to downright dull.
James Earl Jones/Mufasa can do no wrong. Whether he is the voice behind one of the galaxies most menacing figures (Darth Vader if you didn’t know) or the King of Zamunda, Jones’ voice is iconic in every form, therefore making his reprisal in this role masterful. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar was initially one of the performances I had reservations about. There is no denying that Jeremy Irons voicing of Scar is one that we will always remember (it’s something about British accents that create the perfect villain). However, Ejiofor’s angrier, more malevolent take on Scar, adds to the already darker tone of the film.
Ejiofor’s Scar also has a different backstory in the film. It was alluded that Scar once challenged Mufasa and not only lost the throne but Sarabi as well. Where Irons’ Scar was more charismatic, Ejiofor’s Scar is more menacing and terrifying, especially given that he truly believes he was the rightful heir to the throne; meaning he was willing to do anything to take his rightful place.
Let me add that the 2019 version of “Be Prepared” has received so much unnecessary flack. let’s be honest the original version is in a league of its own, however, with the darker tone of this film, Ejiofor’s bass toned voice would not have been well suited for the 1994 campy version of the song.
Timon and Pumbaa voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner, are comedic gold in this film, even if it is a bit overdone (believe it or not, there can be one too many fart jokes). Hakuna Matata was perfectly done by the duo, however, the song itself is not difficult to mess up. I will say the pair does lighten up a very dark film.
John Oliver who voiced Zazu did not play a major role in the film. While I will say he was perfect casting, I kind of wish he spotlighted a little more in the film. I will say that I am so thrilled that “Morning Report” was not included in this version.
Simba, voiced by Daniel Glover or Childish Gambino was pretty good. While Glover himself is an amazing actor, his version of Simba failed to leave a major impression (but in all fairness neither did Matthew Broderick’s Simba). I will say that Glover meshed perfectly with Rogen and Eichner, making his Simba character perfect for this film.
Now for the hard truth. Nala voiced by Beyonce and the hyena’s voiced by Florence Kasumba (Shenzi), Eric André (Azizi), and Keegan-Michael Key (Kamari), failed to make a true mark on the film. Their performances were forgettable, to say the least.
The hyenas themselves failed to deliver, with the exception of Shenzi, who I felt carried the group more than Key and Andre. Shenzi was more reminiscent of Whoopi Goldberg’s Shanzi, who was the leader of the crew and was more vicious. While Key and Andre were comedic relief. However, their comedic relief felt too forced for this film and just did not fit with the overall tone.
The rest of the cast Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), John Kani (Rafiki), JD McCrary (young Simba), Shahadi Wright Joseph (young Nala), and Penny Jeralf (Sarafina), all delivered, even if their time on screen was small.
Is it worth it?
There is no denying that the 1994 animated version remains the one true king between both films; however, I would still highly recommend seeing this. Because I love the darker twist on the film, it is one that I plan on seeing a second time.
Is it for kids?
As I have noted several times, the darker tone of this film and a few intense films may leave some parents wanting to screen this film first. While I went to see the film with my 15-year-old, I myself am a bit hesitant on taking my 4-year-old to see the film. If you feel that your kids can handle, I say go for it!
I loved the film despite the areas where it fell short. When you see the film I implore you to put the animated version out of your mind and go into it fresh.