“The Lion King” is a story and a film that elicits a strong response. From that jaw-dropping sunrise and goosebump-inducing first note to the final credits, the animated classic is seared into our collective memories. It is perfection and untouchable. Which is why what I’m about to write hurts a little.
It’s not that Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” is bad, but it fails to capture the magic of the original film or build on it in a way that makes this version feel new. It’s just okay.
I won’t bore you with a synopsis. It follows the original film almost shot for shot and line for line. If you don’t know the original story, it’s “Hamlet” with felines. If you don’t know “Hamlet”, I’m so sorry.
Despite it being just okay, this “updated” version is worth seeing for at least one reason — the CGI is stunning. I’m still not convinced they didn’t train and choreograph an entire savanna’s worth of animals. It’s that good.
Unfortunately, there are moments where that realness works against the storytelling. It’s hard to convey human emotion on an actual lion’s face, and most of us aren’t experts on feline behaviors. It leads to some awkward moments with characters’ vocal reactions not meshing with their physical reactions. It’s a tad uncomfortable at times but completely explainable considering the look they were going for.
Then there are some disconnects that have no rational explanation. Apologies, this is about to get a little snarky.
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” left me wondering if anyone had bothered to review the lyrics or the song title. The entire song takes place during what appears to be mid to late afternoon, and that’s being generous. While I’m sure lions can fall in love at any time of the day, the song strongly suggests that they’re supposed to be feeling these feelings in the evening and/or night time. So, to answer the song’s question — no, we cannot feel the love tonight because it’s clearly the middle of the afternoon.
Okay, now I have some nice things to say. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa are delightful. Eichner manages to make the part his own, and completely owns “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The comedic timing of the two is perfection. They’ve made the characters feel new, even when repeating the original script line for line.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar is one of the best casting decisions in the entire film. His rendition of “Be Prepared” is truly Shakespearean and one of the highlights of the film. It’s a master class in voice acting and elocution.
All in all, it’s not a bad film. It’s just hard not to be disappointed. With all the buildup, the creative team, and star-studded casting it could have been great. Instead what we got was a film that will certainly entertain a new generation, but falls short of its predecessor.
…just for fun: