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The Circle of Hype: A Review Of 'The Lion King' Live-Action Remake

There’s no getting around the amazing fact that this photorealistic computer-animation The Lion King is the zenith of technological film-making to this day. Think about it, there are no animals, no people seen at anytime on the screen; the only thing “live” here are the voices. Disney brought back Jon Favreau who directed Jungle Book for Lion King; and in this latest from Jon, there is no mitigating Mowgli to act as human foil for the computer-animation wizardry. Visually, this is pure computer-animation studio work, but you would be ready to swear that Disney has magically conjured up real animals acting on screen.

The question then would be whether this camerawork and astounding animation is enough to justify Disney rolling out this remake. Critics love to belittle Disney, and at times, it’s more like attempting to make this billion dollar-making machine eat some humble pie. They’ve been especially vicious with Lion King, calling it pretty to look at, but disappointing and unnecessary. But are critics the intended audience of this film? 


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The children watching the screening I caught, obviously knew their Lion King, anticipating and announcing the characters as they appeared on the screen. So evidently, this photorealistic version can co-exist with the animated classic. There were children below the age of 8 that didn’t make it to the end of the film, falling asleep and not thinking much of the extended running time of this version. 


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On Broadway, the musical dared you to suspend disbelief, and follow the story via artifice and stagecraft. Here, you’re asked to believe that the more than real-looking animals can speak and feel emotions—not the easiest of things to execute, given their expressions are relatively static to maintain verisimilitude to how they are in the natural world.



If people were wondering about the choice of Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) to portray the adult Simba, it’s good to report that he’s up to the task. For Mufasa, they brought back James Earl Jones, as he’s a voice you won’t even try to replace. John Oliver is terrific as Zazu, so you don’t really miss Rowan Atkinson. Chiwetel Ejiofor essays his own version of Scar; and it’s quite different from how Jeremy Irons gave us a voice oozing with evil and malice, Ejiofor’s is a more straightforward interpretation. Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon are as always, easily the crowd favorites and scene-stealers. 



If there is someone being used to hype the film, and in my opinion, fails to deliver, I’m sorry to say that would be Beyoncé taking on the expanded role of Nala. I don’t know if Jay-Z was off on tour, if Beyoncé had to rush home and pick up the kids at school; but honestly, it’s like she’s reading the lines for the first time, and that’s what ended up on screen. Even the new song "Spirit," plays like an afterthought, paling in comparison to how a new Jasmine song was introduced in the live-action Aladdin earlier this year. 


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So yes, this jungle-version of Hamlet makes a transition to photorealistic animation that has its’ ups and downs. But by and large, there still is much to admire in how they executed this version. And you definitely won’t start Marie Kondo-ing your Blu-Ray or DVD of the animated classic.


Images from Walt Disney Pictures