Released: 17th July
Seen: 17th July
The first film that I have any memory of seeing in a cinema is the 1994 animated classic The Lion King. While my memory is a little sketchy (because I was 6) I still remember how enthralling it was, this glorious creation that was chock full of drama and laughs and bright glorious colours that just seemed to leap off the screen. I remember the legendary stampede and my mother crying at Mufasa’s death. Truly it was the film that started me on a journey to loving cinema and of all the movies that I could’ve seen as my first theatrical experience, I’m glad it was that one. Now, here we are, 25 years later and I’m angry and bitter and hate everything and have to watch as the first film I remember seeing is slowly sucked dry right before my eyes and all I’m left with is a withered husk of a film… I’m not going to be happy during this review, just so we’re clear.
By now you should know the plot of The Lion King. If you saw the original film then congrats, you saw this remake. The plot is identical, from the birth of Simba to the stampede that killed Mufasa, through the time spent with Timon and Pumbaa and finally Simba returning and saving the pride lands. No variation, no twists. Now, a remake doesn’t need to have new twists on the tale, if you can remake a movie and tell the same story but tell it well, that can work. The problem comes in when you’re remaking one of the best films of all time and, therefore, no longer have “We changed the story” to justify your existence. This film NEVER justifies existence, not at any point in its 118-minute runtime.
For the sake of kindness, I shall now talk about the things that I liked. Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are hilarious; the two of them are fantastic voice actors who bring some life to their characters. They provide, easily, the best joke of the entire movie (a meta-joke referencing Beauty & The Beast) and I’m genuinely surprised at how good a singer Billy Eichner is, so it was fun to learn that he had that skill. The film is TECHNICALLY well animated, actually managing to achieve as close to photo-realism as I think we’re ever going to get. It’s an absolutely impressive technological advancement that means that we might never need to hire animals for films again, since Disney have pretty much perfected the technical ability to create real-looking creatures… and that ends the portion of this review where I talk about things I liked, it’s back to my safe place of anger and bitterness.
When I say the film is TECHNICALLY well animated, I only mean that the technology is good. The film itself looks bland as hell. Sure, this is how a pride of lions realistically looks when they’re sitting on rocks, but I can’t tell where the lions end and the rocks begin because there is no difference in the colour and I can’t even tell which lions are which because they all look the same. There is no difference, none of them has anything identifying in their designs. Even Scar manages to blend in at times, and that shouldn’t be possible. Also, none of the characters has anything resembling “Emotions”. Why would they? Real jungle animals don’t have a range of expressions that could be used to convey any form of emotion so why should we put them here? Oh, because it’s a movie? Because it’s a movie and these are our main characters and at some point, I should believe that they give something resembling a damn? Pfft, nuts to that, EVERYONE IS AN EMOTIONLESS HUSK WHO SHALL JUST STARE BLANKLY AT EACH OTHER WHILE THEIR MOUTHS MOVE! Do you want a fun game? Go find any moment in the original film and pause it at any second, I guarantee you there will be a noticeable change in the facial expression of every character on screen. You try that with this movie, it becomes a game of spot the difference… a game you will lose because there is no difference. That would require them to try.
Speaking of not trying, holy crap does the cast not care? Except for the two actors who I mentioned earlier, no one involved in this sounds like they want to be there. You somehow got James Earl Jones to come back and his delivery is awful, how do you do that? How do you make James Earl Jones give a bad performance? That shouldn’t even be possible, but it is. When Mufasa died, I felt nothing because he was a useless character who was half the lion he used to be so I didn’t care. Then there was Simba and Nala who were fine, but nothing special. Sure, great, you got Beyoncé and Donald Glover to play the parts… I think, it could’ve just been some random day player for all the personality those voices had. Then there’s Scar… oh god, Scar, what have they done to you? You know how the original Scar was this terrifying Machiavellian villain who was smarter than everyone, was at his scariest when he was whispering and was able to convincingly pretend to be scared of people when he needed to? You know how the original Scar was interesting and one of the best villains and was memorable? Yeah, this Scar has none of that. He’s an angry bitter loser who is pissy because he didn’t get to be with Mufasa’s wife and has the intelligence of a very stupid flea. He’s so painfully pathetic that it’s impressive he survived past the 5-minute mark. The original film’s Scar was so evil that he let Mufasa hang on the side of the cliff until the second he saw Mufasa realise that he was going to die at Scar’s hand, mentally torturing the king before actually killing him… this one punches Mufasa off the cliff and yells so loudly that Simba had to hear him and work out that it was Scar behind it. This version of Scar isn’t terrifying, he’s pathetic and dumb and I hate everything about him. There are other voice actors in this film, I guess, but they didn’t care enough to try so why should I care?
Do you remember the 1998 version of Psycho? A shot for shot remake of the Alfred Hitchcock original that only changed the cast and the technology available? That’s what this film is. This film is a shot for shot remake that changed the cast and the tech, and in exchange it took out the original film’s soul. There is nothing of value to be found here, it’s a glorified tech demo that cost nearly 300 million to make. This year has shown, explicitly, that Disney is languishing and running on the fumes. Hell, not even fumes, the memory of fumes that existed long ago. If they keep this up, they’re going to crash and burn and will have only themselves to blame. There is nothing here to recommend or suggest, the original film is infinitely better and easily accessible at all times. You do not need this version in your life, just go rent the original and let that be the first film that your child sees. I feel bad for any child who will call THIS film their first theatrical experience because those children were robbed of something special thanks to Disney’s lust for maximum money with minimal effort. Hell, this is almost worse than Dumbo and Aladdin because at least those films tried something original… this film doesn’t even try.