The Lion King

The Lion King

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

If you want any clue about how backwards this movie is, 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' is set in the middle of the afternoon.

I'm not a massive fan of the original 1994 animated Lion King. I like it fine enough, I grew up with it as a kid and watched it multiple times over, but as I've got older it's one of those Disney movies that has meant less and less to me and has more issues with the pace, voice acting, musical numbers and script that I keep noticing on every repeat watch. However, this doesn't change how I feel about it as a cultural milestone for Disney and animated movies in general - I can respect it a hellofalot for everything it did for the time, and no matter my feelings towards it, compared to the 2019 remake? My God. The original looks like it cured poverty in comparison. So why not a half star rating? And why the bloody Hell have I decided to 'like' the movie (meaning that I would watch it again)? Well first of all because I have to give credit to the CGI and hope that every single member of the effects department go on to do greater things. It's absolutely breathtaking to look at and appears to be basically real life from the start to the end. When the lions have been eating their prey, you see the blood red stains on their faces. When the lionesses have been starved by Scar's tyrannical reign as king, you can see their rib cages. Muscle movements twitch and stretch exactly as you'd expect, and Mufasa's death (aside from the ridiculous Tom and Jerry punch off the end of the cliff) is presented in a pretty brutal fashion due to the realism of the animation. It looks like a lion is dying. It's pretty nasty. So yes, the CGI is absolutely astonishing, but that's not why I'd watch it again. I'd watch it again from the endless belly laughs my girlfriend and I had for how this is one of the most soulless, awkward, badly paced and weirdly delivered remakes I think I've ever seen. It's perfect riffing material.

And Scar falcon-punching Mufasa to his death isn't the only reason this film is soulless; the ultra-realism in the animation comes at a major cost of a 100% total emotion loss. None of the animals have more than 1 single facial expression other than looking blanky forward staring at whoever they're talking to, and the talking scenes in particular just look like some random YouTube child wanted to make a Lion King fan movie and got both of his cats to stand as still and rigid as taxidermy while they look at each other like angry toddlers, all the while using wires to flap their mouths open and shut. I still stand by what I said months ago when the initial trailers for this movie dropped - if Disney were taking a realistic approach AND remaking everything from the ground up - it should have taken a more unique direction to coincide with the unique visual style; a silent movie. Keep the score, the story, everything - but get rid of the voice actors and let the animals tell the story entirely through their body language and visual representation. That would have been cool, different, maybe even special, and an alternate way of watching the story that doesn't involve cartoon warthogs and silly songs - along with give the animators more of a reason to animated facial expressions that animals have been known to use in order to tell the story in a more comprehensive and emotional way. Babe had emotion, and that had no CGI AND even managed to include voice actors, so I don't know what went so wrong here (they even took out practically all physical gags and slapstick, so I feel the more 'March of the Penguins'/'Crimson Wing' approach could have worked WONDERS). They couldn't even make Simba and Nala playfighting and speaking sarcastically at each other look natural; it's just 2 cats pushing each other over. No crunchy and bumpy sound effects, no fast paced rough and tumble, just.....falling down. This stupid level of realism also ruins every scene involving character development and character arcs too, because they simply don't exist with this animation style and can't be expressed in any facial movement, body language or voice acting working against all of that. Timon going from a loveable yet sarcastic asshole to a more chilled out and loyal friend once he realises it's important to care about everything else around him? Not shown in the movie. Scar saying something in a slimy or cunning way, switching back to disgusting and nasty, and then ending up being cowardly and pathetic? Not shown in the movie. The hyenas going from carefree and bumbling, working under fear from Scar, to then being vengeful and aggressive against their old leader? Not shown in the movie. Rafiki being depressed after everyone thinks Simba is dead, and then absolutely overjoyed to the point of screaming out in happiness when he works out he's alive? Not shown in the movie. Mufasa's face directly communicating with Simba in the clouds during the ultimate twist moment for Simba's character? Not shown in the movie (probably because they knew it wouldn't add anything). Any hint of comedy or sarcasm being backed up by smiles or eye squinting, or the animals paws or wings doing anything remotely human-like for the sake of a reaction (ie putting their paw on their heads after being hurt etc)? Not shown in the movie. And when this mixes in with some of the new dialogue in the remake, especially comedic lines, where some have potential to be funny (in particular when calling back to scenes that make no sense in the original such as Simba aging rapidly during Hakuna Matata and Timon and Pumbaa not aging a day), the lack of any visual accompaniment to the characters just sucks the energy out of the room.

For any kind of remake, change for the better is embraced - I love different interpretations of the same story with something new to say or new themes to explore (one of the reasons I loved Will Smith's genie) - but change as a base point doesn't automatically make a remake good, or fitting within the new style they attempt, and this happens more often than not (yes, hardcore Disney fans, just saying 'THIS MOVIE ROCKS BECAUSE IT LOOKS DIFFERENT, YOU JUST DON'T LIKE CHANGE' is not a valid argument. If it's still bad, or the change doesn't positively effect anything else, it's bad). The song, Be Prepared, being changed into a speech lasting a few sentences within a loose rhythm? With every other song in the original making an appearance, what the hell was the point of taking it out and making it worse? Scar's scar on his face being explained explicitly by the movie that it got there from him challenging Mufasa before the events of the movies? Not only does that take the mystery away, but also makes no sense why every other lion would believe him when he says Simba killed Mufasa or that he tried his hardest to save them both, BUT OH WELL, he's now the king. Weird they'd buy that story when he tried to steal the throne by challenging Mufasa earlier, right? While we're here - why has Timon changed into a blatant bitch that just isn't likeable from start to end? Why is Rafiki cut from most of the movie except for one major scene, in which, because of the new realistic approach, he doesn't end up hitting Simba on the head and teaching him the most valuable lesson Simba learns in the original (the past can hurt, but you can either run from it, or learn from it [WHICH THEN TAKES AWAY FROM THE FACT HAKUNA MATATA IS NOT A LIFESTYLE THAT REALISTICALLY MAKES SENSE AND SIMBA NEEDED TO LEARN THAT HIMSELF?!])? In the most egregious thing the movie does though, in a weird attempt for Disney to somehow justify the remake with how 'different' it is, they completely bastardise the pacing of the original scenes they try to remake in order to fit more unnecessary shit in the rest of the movie, or sometimes extend the parts that don't need extending. Did you want that jungle 'In the Jungle' singing scene with Timon and Pumbaa that existed as simply an awkward awful singing moment between 2 friends to be turned into a fully-produced musical number? Did you want a totally pointless Nala escaping from Scar scene that bridges nothing together, isn't tense, and goes on for far too long (oh, and by the way, makes less sense than the original movie that just has Nala searching for food for her starving tribe instead of her in this movie simply looking for Simba, which THEN makes their eventual misunderstanding fight scene make less sense because Nala was already looking for a lion that looked like Mufasa instead of being surprised by a random lion attack while looking for food?!)? Did you want to see Simba's PUBE HAIR GO ON A LONG JOURNEY TOWARDS RAFIKI, WHERE YOU SEE IT FLY AWAY, GET USED AS A BIRDS NEST, GET EATEN BY A GIRAFFE, GET SHAT OUT BY THAT GIRAFFE, GET ROLLED AROUND BY A DUNG BEETLE IN A BALL OF SHIT AND GET TAKEN TO RAFIKI BY AN ANT?!?!?! Did you want to see the climatic cliff side fight between lions and hyenas go on for twice as long while serving no purpose at all? Did you want to see Simba travelling through the desert after running away from Scar without anything else interesting happening?

And all of this stuff is done while they try desperately squeezing in everything else in the original film had, but then cutting those moments down or making them worse - to the point of them becoming the bare minimum of why those scenes existed and what their points were in the story. In most of the original scene remakes being rushed alongside the new content, characters are practically interrupting each other because their lines are so close, and every meaningful or emotional conversation has poorly-gapped dialogue because of the squeezing in of all the major lines from the original without any consideration on why those lines work. And it screws up other scenes to the point of them making no sense, such as when Simba travels through the desert after being told by Scar to run away, but then collapses in the middle of the desert only to be rescued by Timon and Pumbaa. In the original, it's implied he's there for hours, and doesn't wake up until being taken far away from the desert and woken up by Timon splashing water on him from an Oasis near their home. In the remake, Simba walks, collapses, gets rescued immediately by Timon and Pumbaa immediately, wakes up himself, and then they walk around the corner to discover that their luscious and green giant jungle home was right in front of Simba when he collapsed. He absolutely would have seen it from where he collapsed, so why didn't he keep moving? How did he wake up without water? How about Simba and Mufasa's heart-to-heart after he disobeys his dad and nearly gets him and Nala killed by hyenas? Not only are there no sad faces or concerned expressions slowly transitioning to happy and love-filled, but the conversation is rushed, quick-fire, and the issue is resolved before it even really started. Not only that, Scar tries to trick Simba into starting the stampede, but while being totally blunt, not very cunning, and ends after a few seconds of them arriving at the canyon. When Simba introduces Nala to Timon and Pumbaa later on, they don't even exchange hellos, and then Simba and Nala piss off to the sounds of Elton John talking about love during the night while the sun is blaring down on them. Not even joking - when Scar makes his post-Mufasa death speech where he assumes responsibility as king, Zazu, while showing absolutely no emotion, looking like a random bird staring at a sandwhich, watches from a distance and just says.....'oh dear'. You can't make this shit up.

Any kind of comedic timing is thrown out the window too, again, to squeeze in all the new stuff AND the original stuff as fast as it can - making the original gags exist in the remake only exist for the sake of die-hard fans that only wanted to see the gags (so then, just watch the original?). Simba eats his first bug and barely swallows it before commenting on how it tastes 'slimy yet satisfying', interrupting that vital pause and even interrupting the musical gurgle that gives the scene a chance to rest and expresses musically how gross is is that Simba is eating a bug in the first place. Pumbaa's story from his youth about farting all the animals away is transitioned into and back again to the main Hakuna Matata song so quickly that you can't even tell it happened. The live bait scene of Timon and Pumbaa distracting the hyenas near the end of the film is reduced from a pretty funny hula dancing scene into Timon reciting the first sentence of 'Be Our Guest' (yes, from Beauty and the Beast) and then just running away. Pumbaa comes up with the idea of using Simba as a cub to grow up into a bodyguard for them, and instead of Timon laughing at how 'stupid' that idea is and then realising it's good and so claims he came up with it, Timon just repeats exactly what Pumbaa said half a second after he finishes saying it. What's the gag? WHAT IS ANY OF THIS FILMMMMMM

What surprises me the most out of all the other nonsense this film tries to pull though is that fact that they got James Earl Jones to reprise his role as Mufasa. The best thing, in my opinion, about the original Lion King is the fact that the voice actors were perfectly casted (except Matthew Broderick, but whatever), so by that logic, why change more or less everything else EXCEPT for 1 individual voice actor? I'll tell you why - for Disney to cash in on the nostalgic fans. They'll want to see Jones come back as Mufasa, of course they will! So my question is this - if they noticed how iconic Jones' voice was as Mufasa and so got him back, why didn't they bring back Nathan Lane for Timon? Or more vitally, Jeremy Irons as Scar? Because IF Disney did that, then the argument changes into 'why remake it in the first place?', which then goes to show how cynical this remake is in the first place by only bringing back 1 original voice actor for the sake of bringing the audience back into the theaters. It's miserable. But like I said earlier, just because it's cynical and audience-baiting nature is totally despicable, doesn't mean the movie itself isn't a damn riot. There were 5 people in the screen in total when we watched it 1 week after the UK premiere, on a Saturday, and all 5 of us were laughing our asses off at all the stupid stuff that happened and how blatantly awful this was as a remake. Rafiki showing Simba that Mufasa is in his reflection in the lake, only for Mufasa to look identical to Simba? Funny. Simba calling his dad during an emotional bonding session only for Mufasa to reply 'UUUUUHHH?!' with a dead expression? Funny. Watching a young Simba try to get his dad's attention during a walk around while Mufasa just ignores Simba with a blank expression looking like he wants to kill himself? Funny. Watching a load of realistic animals sing a silly song while all they do is walk or run around while nothing is happening around them at all other than just.....trees? Or animals? Just standing around being boring while the singing animals try so hard to emote during the songs and make them seem more exciting than they actually are? Funny. It's all so, SO damn funny.

But this isn't an endorsement, or me telling you to watch the movie even for a laugh. Luckily, my girlfriend and I have an unlimited movie subscription at our local cinema, so aside from the producers collecting the data on how many tickets actually went into the screen to watch the movie, we didn't directly financially support this movie with any money. Plus, I'm a reviewer, so of course I was gonna watch it. For general audience goers or major Disney nerds, I don't suggest you give Disney a cent for this completely soulless shitshow of a remake. It's funny as hell for us because it was a free date night, more or less, and I can't wait to get myself a copy to riff on it further with our kids and notice everything else wrong - but seriously, just don't do it. May as well call this one 'The Lion Pawn'.