ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
I have a very special connection with “The Lion King” that has been going on for a long time. It had its limited release the day I turned 3 years old and it was one of the movies I loved to watch when I was little, in spite of the fact that it made me cry basically every viewing. I also loved singing the songs around my house and even got to do a medley of songs in choir for a concert when I was in either elementary school or middle school.
So when I heard not too long ago that plans were in place for a live-action remake, I was incredibly wary about it and my main thought was “How can they possibly remake something that’s already so classic and perfect?!” Well, I got to find out just that Tuesday night here after strolling to the movie theater here in town and settling myself into my theater seat. And overall, the movie surprised me in a lot of ways – some good and bad – but overall, I’m glad I put my wariness aside to see what Jon Favreau did with the project.
For those who don’t know, the movie’s story follows follows lion cub Simba, who must embrace his role as the rightful king of his native land several years after the murder of his father, Mufasa, at the hands of his uncle Scar.
The first thing I’ve got to give praise to is the scenery and design because they are both absoutely stunning and make you feel like you’re actually in Africa and watching the story and everything take place. Much like Disney’s remake of “The Jungle Book” back in 2016 (also directed by Favreau), the overall scenery looks lush and pretty, particularly at the Pride Rock location and the clearing where Simba lives after he runs away and is done very well. The design of all the animals is also done very well and it was astounding how realistic they looked – I actually wanted to pick up baby Simba and give him a million pets and hugs because he is so adorable! While the animated animals from the original will always have a place in my heart, I have to give credit where it’s due and say Favreau clearly put a lot of thought into how he wanted everything to look.
I’ve also got to give credit to the musical numbers in the movie, they were all performed very well and I will freely admit tears were shed even at the beginning with “Circle of Life.” And while the songs were performed extremely well, however, I feel like there was a certain extra “oomph” factor the original movie had which the remake didn’t quite match, and that may be part of my own affinity for the original. And while the musical performances were done well, a MAJOR gripe I have with the remake is how Scar’s villain song “Be Prepared” is basically cut – a small portion of the song is done and that’s it. I am extremely unhappy that song was cut because (A) It’s just overall an amazing song, probably one of Disney’s best villIan songs and (B) It’s simply too integral to the story and the overall movie. If there was just one thing that ABSOLUTELY SHOULD HAVE STAYED in the movie, it’s that song, and I will never understand why that cut was made.
Something else I liked about the movie was the small extras that were added, such as having the hyenas be a bigger part of the story as well as having Simba’s mother, Sarabi, also having a bigger part than in the original. They also gave Timon and Pumbaa neighbors in their jungle, which I actually really liked and on the way home I was thinking “How come I never questioned that before that Timon and Pumbaa straight up had no neighbors?” Overall, the remake followed the original movie’s storyline pretty faithfully, but there were a few extras sprinkled in that actually helped round the story out, which was great. The only thing I might have added were maybe some elements from the Broadway show.
I also really liked the voice casting for the remake. James Earl Jones’ deep and rumbling bass voice was perfect as ever as Mufasa (like they could have gotten anyone else to fill that role though, let’s be honest) and Chiwetel Ejiofor was excellent as Scar – his voice is not only aggressive during the more sinister parts of the movie, but tame enough when he’s going through his charade of mourning Mufasa’s death to make you almost want to root for him. I also really liked Donald Glover’s work as Simba and Beyoncé as Nala – both of them have just enough youth and wisdom in their voices to make us see them as their respective characters, and I also really liked their cover of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”
Overall, I would give this movie a solid “B.” I loved the design and scenery and appreciated the voice work, but I feel like there were some elements that could have been added to make this movie truly its own work, and as stated earlier, the “Be Prepared” number should never have been cut. The original will always have a special place in my heart, but this movie is certainly worth watching on its own merits.