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The Lion King Review: Watching Mufasa's Death in 'Live-Action' Doesn't Make It Any Less Sad

A beautiful rendition of a loved classic.

It’s strange to think that it has been 25 years since the original Lion King was released because it is still indebted in our memory. From the iconic songs to Timon and Pumbaa’s banter to the devasting death of Mufasa, we felt all those emotions then and for most of us, it became housed in our brains, cemented moments in pop culture.

Disney, on its surge of recreating their past masterpieces, have been keen to churn out new versions of their classics from Angelina Jolie’s chilling version of Maleficient, to Emma Watson’s true-to-form acting of Belle in Beauty and the Beastthe stunning Jungle Book, the more recent Dumbo and Aladdin, and the upcoming The Little Mermaid and Mulan have made it almost a staple that all their films will be remade using new technology. In many ways, this is a good thing, but there are plenty of downsides too.

The Lion King, 2019 edition, much like the original tells the story of a young lion prince, Simba who is learning to become the next ruler. However his uncle Scar has nefarious plans to take over Pride Rock, and the battle results in Simba’s exile. But after learning from a new crop of eccentric friends, Simba has to grow up and fight for what is his destiny.

So what did we like about the film?

The visual effects

If the effects in The Jungle Book shook you, this one will wow you even more. From the beautiful African landscape to the emotions that display on the individual animal’s faces. At times you have to remind yourself that they are not real animals onscreen in front of you, but at the same time it doesn’t feel as if you are watching a nature documentary, it is amazing how far this technology has advanced.

At times it seems as if the director, Jon Favreau wanted to show off the abilities of the technology, there is one long sequence as we watch the tuft of Simba’s hair travel across the African savanna until it reaches Rafiki. Also, the emotion across young Simba’s face after his father dies is absolutely devasting, our hearts break along with him.

Timon and Pumbaa

Don’t get me wrong the original Timon and Pumbaa were iconic all on their own (shout out to their TV series on YoTV’s Disney Cartoon Cafe), but the excellence about the casting of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa respectively that to some degree makes the remake worth it. They managed to update the characters for modern times, especially the jokes, which will make it seem current for younger audiences instead of just a cookie-cutter replica of the original. Eichner especially seems to epitomise the role of Timon so well while still retaining so much of his own personality that made him and his popular show Billy On the Streets so popular.

Nala’s role

You cannot hire a living legend like the queen Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter while still keeping the role of Nala as minimal. The latest Lion King expands upon the role giving Nala more lines as a rebel and eventually as a fugitive who helps to convince Simba to return. Even though The Lion King has female roles such as Shenzi, Sarabi and Nala, the number of speaking lines in the original for female characters were minimal compared to the host of male characters such as Simba, Mufasa, Scar, Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa, and Rafiki, and it was good so see that they expanded on their most prominent female character.

The music

They know their strengths and kept a lot of the important songs such as ‘The Circle of Life’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight, ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Be Prepared’ and the score is composed by Hans Zimmer just like the original. But the changes such as Beyoncé’s new song ‘Spirit’ and having SA artist Lindiwe Mkhize sing the Elton John part of ‘Circle of Life’ as well as updates to the score, has made the film feel more significantly African. The soundtrack with Beyoncé’s latest curated and produced album, The Lion King: The Gift creates a mood that makes the film itself feel more authentically African.

What we didn’t like?

Ideally what made the original Lion King so groundbreaking was that the story wow-ed, shocked and compelled us. It’s a story set in the African savanna with a Shakespearean influence and themes such as murder, politics, friendship and family, with a Hollywood-esque finish.

The biggest problem with the remake is that the story isn’t new. It’s an almost shot-for-shot remake of the original, and there is nothing wrong with the original. It sometimes reads just as a showcase of what Disney can do – the life-like imagery that they can recreate, the talent that they can attract, the blockbuster that they can release – instead of what Disney should do.

Verdict

The remake will always pale in comparison to the original, and for those that have put the original on a pedestal, this version will be a disappointment. But for a new generation, those interested in just how good these visual effects are, or those that just want to enjoy the nostalgic ride, the movie itself isn’t bad.

The voice actors from the original James Earl Jones to the newbies like Beyoncé and Donald Glover do a great job and help to embellish the personalities of the animals onscreen. Even the change in the villain Scar, making him more murderous, menacing and very Cersei Lannister-esque, which seems more fitting to how the character is depicted in the film and the modern conception of villainry.

The Lion King is playing at cinemas from Friday, 19 July 2019.

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