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What Went Wrong With… The Lion King (2019)?

A review of The Lion King (2019) by What Went Wrong Or Right With...?

Disney are at it again with their so-called “live action” remakes, this time retelling the 90s classic The Lion King. Jon Favreau, who brought us 2016’s live action The Jungle Book is back at the helm of another Walt Disney money-maker but this time the end result is much less satisfying. You can almost picture some exec thinking “he made us money with Jungle Book, he can do it again with Lion King” – the sad part of this is that they’re probably right, this will most likely make Disney a heap of cash (or rather a dung heap of it).  Regardless of how much money it makes at the box office, The Lion King is a disappointing remake in every way; it’s an emotionless and soulless film that at every turn wishes it was the 1994 original. The opening of this movie is a shot-for-shot recreation of the original and there are many scenes which are CGI reproductions of the animated film. It’s almost as though the director used stills from the 90s film as a storyboard for his computer-animated remake. But surely a cartoon is a cartoon whether it’s drawn on paper, cels, or on a computer and just because the animals are now animated on a workstation, what real distinction is there between the two, other than the fact that this one is emotionally inferior and artistically unremarkable? The way in which The Lion King rehashes and copies the animated original makes it plainly obvious that the motive behind this release is profit-making rather than storytelling.

The Jungle Book was partly live action because Mowgli was played by an actual boy and that in itself was a reason to make it. After the success of The Jungle Book, Disney began remaking most of their back catalogue in an attempt at “updating” them. You could argue that The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid are needed for fair representation of ethnic characters and/or minority actors but just because Disney, a company founded by a racist now wants to be seen as inclusive and progressive, is it really worth recreating all of their movies? With Peter Pan, The Sword And The Stone, Pinocchio, and Rose Red in the works, there will in all likelihood be good and bad to come, but no matter how good some of these live action remakes have been or will be, none of them have surpassed the originals so what’s the point other than to line the pockets of the Disney board members?

Given that this was supposed to be an “update”, there’s way too many American and English accents for characters set in Africa. John Oliver in particular, sounds like the worst kind of colonialist and Seth Rogen just sounds like any of his other man-child roles; a geeky, overweight, stoner. With Seth now playing a warthog, this is the first time his off-putting snort-slash-laugh is required in a movie but I doubt he did it on purpose. Whilst on the topic of “updates”, it’s a strange decision to fill The Lion King with Yank accents and then contrast them with a solitary African one. It’s odd that the only strong African-sounding voice is that of the baboon which makes me wonder what the motivations for this were. Along with an overweight Jewish actor playing what is essentially a pig, you wonder which subconsciously racist twat came up with these genius casting ideas? I guess Walt Disney is alive and well, at least in spirit.

Like the original, this film is subtle royalist propaganda, it’s entertainment that promotes the idea that royals have some sort of divine right to rule over the lower classes. We have a benevolent king with Mufasa (and his son Simba) alongside the evil, scheming brother-slash-uncle Scar which further strengthens the concept of succession; that the firstborn who inherits a kingdom is the best qualified to do so, he’s the most moral and the most just, a leader everyone should be proud of. Everybody bow down… piss off!

In a similar way to the original movie, I again found myself gravitating toward Scar and sympathising with his situation. In the original animated film, Scar was played by Jeremy Irons and in this remake it’s Chiwetel Ejiofor who is just as conniving and just as great as his predecessor. Ejiofor is the only talented member of the cast; he speaks with feeling, he commands attention, he even makes the song “Be Prepared” sound meaningful. Chiwetel is Shakespearean in his delivery and his skill as a voice actor only makes the rest of the cast sound more amateur than they already are.

I cannot stress how substandard the voice work in this film is. Most of the “actors” sound like themselves rather than unique characters and their delivery is so second-rate that you can picture each of them reading from the script every time their animal character speaks. Beyonce’s line “lions attack!” toward the end of the film is delivered so badly that you’re reminded of the time Madonna tried acting. Other than Cher, singers should stick to their day job and stay in the correct vocal booth.

Like I said, the feeling of substandard-ness is down to the cast which includes Donald Glover (Simba), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Billy Eichner (Timon), John Kani (Rafiki), John Oliver (Zazu), Beyonce Knowles-Carter (Nala), and Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, and Keegan-Michael Key who play the hyenas Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi. James Earl Jones reprises his role of Mufasa but hearing his voice against shite actors makes you want to go home and play the original flick.

Speaking of original, I recall that Timon and Pumbaa were very humourous back in 1994 but here they’re just irritating. The hyenas aren’t funny either. The singing is also dire; Beyonce shows-off too much in her songs and because of her vocalising, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” sounds like the worst Pop-R’N’B track from the early 2000s. The idea of Beyonce and Childish Gambino singing an Elton John song is like a nightmare come true – god only know who’ll be buying or even streaming The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack, it’s pure cat piss.

Whilst on the topic of songs, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” also features in this film and if you watched the documentary The Lion’s Share on Netflix, you’ll know how this track was essentially stolen from musician Solomon Linda without any regard to copyright. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is based on an African song called “Mbube”, it made and continues to make huge profits for everybody including Disney but not for the composer of the original song (even his family got a pittance). Another reason not to hand over your hard-earned cash to Walt Disney’s mega-corporation.

Because of all the formats The Lion King is available in (2D, 3D, IMAX etc.) this shit-fest is currently taking up four screens at my local cinema halting smaller films from being released. It would be fine if this was an awe-inspiring summer blockbuster but it isn’t. Sitting there watching people on the wrong side of 30 laughing at a CGI warthog farting is the worst cinema experience since I went to see Rocketman and as the credits roll in The Lion King, another terrible Elton John creation began offending my ossicles (“Never Too Late”). After reworking and ruining one of his songs for Princess Diana, he’s now doing the same for King Simba. Can the tit please bugger off and retire? All his nostalgic shit is leaving a blemish on the silver screen.

Time To Abdicate.

Writing: 1/10

Directing: 2/10

Acting: 1/10

Overall: 2/10

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4 replies »

  1. From what I’ve been hearing, The Lion King remake was as soulless as I expected it to be. I don’t plan on watching it while in theaters.

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