The Lion King (2019)


Writer, Nate Brigman

Nate Brigman


This “live-action” rendition of the 1994 classic Disney film certainly brings the visual effects of the 21st century, but it left a bit of the soul from the original in the 90’s. While the Jon Favreau-directed movie has a stellar and star-studded voice cast, it lacks the true spirit and depth of its animated predecessor. 

The original plot of the film remains relatively unaltered, so my issue lies mostly with the “upgraded” computer-generated animals. They are certainly a marvel to look at; it’s hard to tell throughout that the animals are fake. However, I believe that the filmmakers focused so much on the realism aspect of the characters that they made it near-impossible for them to show emotion on their faces, a sentiment echoed by numerous film critics upon viewing it. All of the animals appear very inexpressive throughout, with the only true expression beyond the resting face being of anger. Zazu, the bird aide of Mufasa, in particular is odd to watch due to his beak not being able to bend around words due to the realism. The original animation was more focused on showing emotion on the characters’ faces than drawing them accurately, and to transition to this new “modern” medium is jarring. 

A major draw for fans of the original is the reprisal of James Earl Jones as Mufasa. While it’s definitely evident that he’s twenty five years older than he was last time, his voice has lost none of the awe-inspiring power of old. Whenever he would speak an impactful line or teach a valuable wisdom to Simba, I would literally get the chills. Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) provided the voice of adult Simba, and Beyoncè was Nala. Seth Rogen does the voice of Pumbaa the warthog, and Billy Eichner is Timone the meerkat (arguably the two best characters). John Oliver is the voice of Zazu, and he is very neurotic with the role (almost to the point of annoyance).

Now, to the issue of Scar. Scar is voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor in this modern version, and to be honest he’s pathetic. His voice is flat, with very little inflection besides occasional deep growls, and when he yells his voice seems on the verge of breaking. Jeremy Irons, the original Scar, brought much more fire to the role of murderous usurper. When Jeremy Irons delivered the iconic “Long live the king!” line right before he killed Mufasa, it was pure passion and hatred, whereas this time it came and went nearly serenely, and certainly not with the flare of the original. I will say that Chiwetel Ejiofor is a better singer in some aspects than Jeremy Irons, but seeing as how little Scar sings I would rather the actor be chosen less by singing skill and more by commitment, a thought that echoes throughout the movie, actually.

While the songs of the original movie remain relatively the same, the new cast (with a couple exceptions) have well-established singing credits. The new singers definitely have better technique and skill than the originals, but they lack the somewhat carefree feeling of the original. It’s more of a celebration of their better technique than would be ideal. This is made especially apparent in the song “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” in which it seems the voice of young Simba, JD McCray, is more focused on putting on a show than having fun with it.

Essentially, this modern revival of what was essentially already a perfect movie struggles to compare with the soul of the original, and ultimately fails. The updated effects that were its key promotional point also proved to be somewhat of its own undoing. It’s definitely something that is still enjoyable if you don’t think too hard about how it compares to the original, and not even close to the worst big-budget movie that Disney has promoted. However, if I were to recommend just one live-action Disney reboot to watch, it would be Aladdin, but that’s a whole ‘nother review. Anyhow, this The Lion King has a couple flaws, but certainly isn’t unwatchable or unentertaining.