The Lion King – Movie Review – A visually breathtaking remake.

Disney continue their streak of live action remakes, this time with an all visual effects reimagining of The Lion King, which happens to be my favourite animated film of all time. A film that affects me deeply on an emotional level, and can make tears fall from my eyes on cue.

I’m going to assume you’re already familiar with the story (Who isn’t?) and in that regard this iteration recreates the narrative pretty well. I’ve seen many criticise and label this as a shot for shot remake, which is simply incorrect. Obviously there are shots and key moments that mirror it’s animated counterpart, but there’s still plenty of new shots and expanded story beats which make this film feel more like it’s own distinct version. The majority of the new elements help develop Scar and Nala further than the animated film did, as well as giving the Hyenas more screen time and making their inclusion in the story feel more relevant. I thought all of the new and expanded scenes featuring these characters were successfully executed.

Whilst watching this I did tear up twice and I had to hold those tears back, but I do feel it’s not as emotionally moving as the original. This is mainly due to some of the key sequences like the aftermath of the stampede, feeling a little too quick. Not enough time is given to let the emotional moments like that breathe, therefore whilst still being sad, it didn’t match the level of sadness the animated version managed to conjure.

The visual effects are simply tremendous. All the animals look photo realistic but what impressed me just as much were the environments. I’d forgive for you for thinking the majority of the film was shot on location, with the visual effects for the animals being superimposed afterwards, but that’s not the case. Everything within the frames, from the clouds in the sky, down to the individual blades of grass, are all a product of a large group of extremely talented visual effects artists. Their work here certainly pushes the boundaries of what we can expect when it comes to photo realistic visual effects. Some of the key sequences were beautifully realised.

As for the vocal performances, I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. A number of actors provided good vocal work for the dialogue, but some of them did shift between that and sounding quite flat. Even James Earl Jones’ famous voice of Mufasa felt a lifeless at times, which broke the immersion a little because it made me think of him being stood in a studio reading from a script. The same can be said for Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Beyoncé as adult Nala and Donald Glover as adult Simba. They were all good at times, Chiwetel was often great, but they were also inconsistent. In actual fact it’s the child actors, Shahadi Wright Joseph as young Nala and in particular JD McCrary as young Simba who truly shine vocally, due to their youthful exuberance. Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre leave a strong impression as the three main Hyenas who all carry a lot more menace this time around, as opposed to non stop comedy. Of course you then have Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen providing the voices for Timon and Pumbaa. Both actors have great chemistry which helps bring a lot of whimsical fun to the proceedings. Lastly John Oliver remained very consistent as Zazu.

I do have some issues relating to the sound department. The overall sound mix felt off to me. Hans Zimmer’s iconic original score often gets buried within the mix, and it doesn’t feel very present within the scenes which is a great shame. I love that score and I expected it to be much more impactful than it was. It felt more like mild background music, whereas in the animated film the score soars through out every scene, to the point where it feels like it’s own character. This also contributes to what I mentioned previously, about the emotional impact of certain moments not being as effective as it could’ve been. On the contrary I didn’t really have any problems with the song selection and how those songs were performed. It was clear that some of the actors don’t have much range when it comes to singing, but that didn’t detract from the songs for me personally.

The brisk pace of the animated film is lost with this version, as it clocks in at just under two hours long. Admittedly it does drag in certain areas which made me feel a tad bit restless at times.

Overall The Lion King retells Disney’s iconic story using state of the art visual effects that are simply astonishing. If you love the original then there’s a lot here for you to like, including a couple of new story elements that develop some of the characters beyond what was done in the animated film. Some of the voice work did fall a little flat, and the sound mixing was underwhelming, but that’s not enough to stop me from recommending this experience.

★ ★ ★

(3 Stars out of 5)

– T. Graham.

The Lion King – Starring Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, JD McCrary and Florence Kasumba.

Directed by Jon Favreau.

Now showing in cinemas.

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