In 1994, Disney released a cartoon that would quickly become a box office hit, and ultimately, a reigning classic. A little more than 25 years later, that movie was released again. This time as a live-action film. Moviegoers were once again taken on the epic ride of a young prince finding his way and becoming The Lion King.
During its opening week, The Lion King brought in more than $500 million at the box office. It’s no doubt this movie will go down as a Disney blockbuster, especially because of the nostalgia factor.
But to those watching this movie for the first time, or even those of us comparing it to the 1994 original, does this movie stand up? Can we still feel the love (tonight)? Let’s discuss:
In the Star-Studded Jungle
The Lion King is the third in a long line of remakes Disney has planned, but the first where the entire cast was filmed using CGI and animation. With a stacked cast, it is hard to imagine this movie not being a masterpiece.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor is exactly who I wished for as Scar. His performance was cynical, corrupt, and cunning.
- Alfre Woodard is the nurturing presence we all need in Sarabi.
- The comedic timing of John Oliver as Zazu is expertly done and he soars through the entire movie.
- JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph shine as the young Simba and Nala, respectively.
- John Kani‘s performance is small but powerful as Rafiki, who shows up as a key figure in the story.
- The only actor that fell short to me was Beyonce’s. Though Nala is a critical character in the movie, Beyonce’s performance is stiff at times and particularly uneven.
- Donald Glover is the perfect reprise to the role of Simba, and works so well with the outstanding return of James Earl Jones as Mufasa. These two roles hit home in the ultimate representation of nostalgia.
- But the real stars of this film are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. This dynamic duo takes the screen by storm playing off one another perfectly and provide the most complete performances of this film.
Nostalgia Ain’t No Passing Craze
The Lion King is a film that succeeds mostly due to “the nostalgia factor.”
I’m finding the animated-turned-live-action films are more difficult when the film centers around animals (or beasts).
Whereas Beauty and the Beast handled the CGI very well, the animation in this movie falls a little flat. The stiff upper lips of the lions made them look less like ‘real’ lions and more like lame theme park Animatronics.
Thanks to the booming voice of James Earl Jones, the moving soundtrack penned by Sir Elton John, and the warm and fuzzy feelings we get due to nostalgia, The Lion King will go down as a good (maybe sometimes great) movie. But for me, I will always go back to the classic.
Ultimately the live-action remake is second best. Why? The difficulties of CGI and animation, the (sometimes) uneven performances, and the seemingly unnecessary National Geographic-esque wide shots make the 2019 The Lion King slightly inferior to the original.
It’s definitely one to watch in the theaters with surround sound and a big bag of popcorn. For those of us who grew up in the ’90s during the heyday of the Disney animated movies, this movie will bring a smile to our faces. As the credits roll and the theater lights turn on, you will be reminded of the mastery of the original and you’ll see what I see: the 1994 version is—and always will be—the king.
Matrix Grade: 72