Favreau’s remake of The Lion King is a mildly enjoyable film that is a big, bold step in special effects entertainment but suffers from a lack of an emotional connection and payoff that the extraordinary CGI leaves on the cutting room floor.
There has been a lot made about the new remake of a Disney classic being a glitzy frame by frame remake without bringing anything new to the dinner table; kind of like picking up a pricey birthday cake for the family at a bakeshop then charging them for more than you paid. I wouldn’t take that news too seriously though, as Favreau’s The Lion King is a big, giant, even bold step in special effects entertainment that practically reinvents the Disney classic without ruining the original; it’s just not on the same level of the emotional connection as its source material.
There is a huge reason why there is a difference between the gluttony of remakes and the new Disney Lion King. The CGI is extraordinary thanks to what must surely be a groundbreaking combination of digital technology and live-action special effects; you might need a lint roller to get all the cat hair off your shirt before you leave the theatre.
While yes, this is a remake (of a cartoon mind you) and almost all the classic shots are lifted in some way, but in a comparable way with the new technology and lifelike animal characters. This really isn’t Gus Van Sant’s examination with Psycho, where he quite literally shot that film the exact way Hitchcock did as an experiment.
You do, though, lose some of those necessary elements to a film like this when you go for broke with a glorious digital remake. There is a loss of an apparent emotional connection, with the sticking point being the strong facial reactions the animated version had during the film’s most gut-wrenching or even heartwarming scenes. There is simply no amount of money Disney can come up with to have the animals emote.
There is almost a sterile, plastic feeling to these because of the trade-off of the animal’s jaws opening and closing without that necessary communication where much can be said with one look. While this isn’t quite at Homeward Bound levels, where Michael J. Fox and Sally Fields voice act with trained animals with no jaw movement, it’s a checkmark in the “con” column when you compare the remake or any other family adventure film.
Films have always been the choices of filmmakers and the cast that cause the emotional reaction that connects you to the picture. Jon Favreau’s The Lion King shows a lot of pride here, and while you won’t be as invested in this as the original, it’s a reasonably enjoyable low bar family adventure film (I do question though how kids will react to the now all-too-real angry animals).
The voice acting is really the dealer’s choice. I found Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar the most effective (he really is a throwback to Jeremy Irons), while Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are as scene-stealing as advertised when it comes to the comic relief. There has been a few singing the praises of James Earl Jones and how hard it would have been to replace him, but while the latter statement is true, I would argue that his lines are really no different than what was done in the original, and with the frame by frame mentality they took, they could have lifted those lines entirely.
When you add it all up, the live-action remake of the beloved The Lion King is a significant step in CGI special effects which could change movies and television for years to come. The major flaw here is the lack of any stirring pay-off, the cold way the emotions are expressed, that is something the technology will surely catch up with someday. For now, this is a mildly entertaining film that is worth seeking out, with a major shortcoming when compared to the original that will have to be rectified at some point in the future.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.