The Lion King (2019)

Grade: B

Back in 1994, once I saw the trailer for “The Lion King,” I knew I had to see it. The animation was beautiful, and even as a kid, I knew it was bound to be something special and epic. I watched any special featurette I could find on the movie up until its release. I would watch the “making of” shows on TV over and over completely transfixed on the realistic hand drawn animation. The amount of detail Disney put into “The Lion King” was staggering and eventually jaw dropping. You could really tell the animators did their research and studied every animal in the movie to the T. As a side note, Irene Mecchi, the original screenwriter’s father and my grandfather were business partners in San Francisco. 

Once the movie was finally released on June 24th, 1994, a majority of my friends were able to rush to the theater to see it and then “The Lion King” was the talk of the town. I was practically begging my parents to take me to see it, but for some reason they made me wait to see it. I had to earn it. My mom came up with what seemed like an endless chore check off list that had to be completed before she would take me to see “The Lion King.” As a kid on summer vacation, the LAST thing you want to do while on vacation is chores. Initially I put up a fight and just begged for my mom to take me to the movie, but she did not budge. I had no choice, I had to work my way to the movie. It was probably only a matter of 2 or 3 weeks but it seemed like forever to me back then! Once all the chores were finally done, I finally got to witness the masterpiece myself and I have never forgotten “The Lion King” since!

Fast forward to 2019 and a whole new generation gets to experience “The Lion King.” Sort of. While the new remake is pretty much shot for shot and line for line like the 1994 version, it does ultimately lack the “magic” of the original. Yes, the CGI is second to none and yes, it stays true to the original story but the fresh coat of paint does not make up for the lack of “magic” and emotion from a few of the famous characters.

Jon Favreau directs the one hour and fifty eight minute story within the Pridelands and while it does not measure up to the 1994 masterpiece, you will still have a good time with Simba and Nala. The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (voicing Scar), John Oliver (voicing Zazu), James Earl Jones (reprising his Mufasa role), Keegan-Michael Key (voicing Kamari), Seth Rogen (voicing Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (voicing Timon), Donald Glover (voicing Simba), and Beyoncé (voicing Nala). It boasts quite a huge and talented cast. 

The new version of “The Lion King” mainly has the same plot as the original. The battle for Pride Rock is on against the devious Scar. Scar is jealous of Mufasa’s reign and will do everything to be king. Mufasa’s son, Simba, learns that he should be the king of Pride Rock and will stop at nothing to take the throne back.

Although it is pretty much a shot for shot remake, there were a few differences between the two movies. Mainly, the hyper realistic CGI in the 2019 remake changes a few things. In the hand drawn animated version, the animals can move more and show more expression even if in a more “cartoonish” fashion. In the original and famous “Can’t Wait to Be King” song, you saw Simba frolicing around all the various animals around him as he jumped on hippos and many giraffes’ heads. It was quite a big choreographed musical number. The remake is pretty much devoid of any kind of dancing because of the realistic animation. You will not see Simba jumping around animals and partying. Simba simply sings the song as he walks amongst all the animals around him. The vocal performance is good but it just lacked the energy from the original version. On the other hand, I did enjoy Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s version of “Hakuna Matata” more than the original. Eichner and Rogen are so good as Timon and Pumbaa, they practically steal the show!

If you have seen the trailer for the remake, the CGI should be no surprise to you. The CGI animation in “The Lion King” is truly second to none and it will blow your socks off! I simply do not know how you can improve the animation at this point but, with the constant rapid change of technology, I am sure a movie will come along and make this look ancient somehow. Hard to imagine, but fascinatingly true. I saw “The Lion King” on a crystal clear 4K Dolby Screen that only added to the uncanny realism of the movie’s animation. It was one amazing technical marvel!

Simply put, the remake is not on the same level as the original, but it is worth wrangling up your lion pride and checking it out. The dazzling visuals alone are enough to keep you in your seat! Hakuna Matata!

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