“THE LION KING” is coming soon to theaters from director Jon Favreau featuring a star-studded cast of voice talent. This is a photo-realistic Disney remake that follows the same story as the ‘94 original. A young lion prince runs away from his kingdom after the murder of his father. While away he grows to learn his path in life and comes to accept his mantle of King, returning home to claim back the land his father once ruled over.
“The Lion King” is considered a classic to many and I will admit I just watched the original for the first time the other night. I enjoyed it and felt the story was certainly one that is easy to invest in for all ages that captures heartfelt emotional intensity. So, I was interested in what this photo-realistic remake would deliver. The trailers for this film have showcased stunning special-effects and since I loved what Favreau did with “The Jungle Book” I was ready for another magical adventure this time inside these immersive African landscapes. Which is what this film delivered. I had a great time with it and would say it comes close to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the original but for completely different reasons.
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Honestly, I have no nostalgia for the animated classic, but regardless I do think this was a very capable re-imagining that succeeds in what it set out to accomplish. I think both films serve their own purpose. They also convey their own individual tone and atmosphere, but still within the same narrative which I appreciated. This film naturally with the realistic appearance of the animals does result in a story-line with a more serious and darker tone. One that I still found myself being pulled into despite knowing the outcome.
It also works in additional dialogue here and there that fills out a few of the story-arcs to provide more substance to them. Which in turn does add layering to some of the essential characters to create a fuller story that captured my imagination. But this does come with a small cost in my opinion. Specifically, with a couple of the musical performances that came into play which undercut much of the emotional investment the story had just built. Now I know musical numbers are a given in these films. I do think the updated styling of the music was fantastic. The crafting of the musical performances was visually impressive, and all the singers delivered for the needs of their roles.
But the music would kick in at times when the story was building some incredible tension. Then those emotional responses would have to be rebuilt after a song was over. The story was able to do that but for me it just felt a little uneven in terms of the overall tone. Something that was admittedly less noticeable in the animated film due to it maintaining that constant fantastical element. One this film was missing for better or worse. Yet I must admit it was still enjoyable to see these iconic moments in this photo-real form, with some amazing special-effects, and Favreau’s passionate attention to detail.
Now some will say this tells the exact same story and for the sake of a better phrasing, it essentially does. But the original was an hour and twenty-eight minutes. This one is an hour and fifty-eight minutes so there is some added substance to the already existing layers. Something I think was a wise move considering change is not something a lot of Disneyphile’s seem to accept very easily. Casting choices garner worldwide pandemonium online. So, it’s no surprise to me that the film-makers opted to not change any story-arcs or add layers that weren’t seeded from the original. Especially given the meticulous detail taken into the VFX work, the price tag that comes along with it and the need for this film to be a massive financial success.
On downside this film was a little too long. The progression does take its time and despite some added substance to the existing arcs there were segments that could have been trimmed to keep the pace moving. The group of hyenas felt a little awkward to me as well. I loved the look of them simply from a visual aspect, but given they were often a comedic outlet I don’t think the group was able to capture the charm of those in the original. Also, like I said earlier this one was a little too realistic visually and it came at the cost of that fantastical element. One that the original was able to use to pair the darker story themes with the lighter musical numbers. Something this film was not able to accomplish as well. But overall I thoroughly enjoyed myself and think it was a great film. One that despite being a remake is still able to stand on its own. It’s a feat of film-making without question and has its own merits working in its favor. The original captures the magical nostalgia, this one captures technical innovation, and there is certainly room for both.