Jon Favreau’s photo-realistic remake of Disney Renaissance’s magnum opus, The Lion King, is best described as being nonurgent. As a matter of fact, it’s unquestionably prone to exoticism and aesthetic in terms of visual or musical, even more than Favreau’s vibrant rendition of The Jungle Book in 2016. Notwithstanding the artistic breakthrough, the redux, which might not be fair to be called as a live-action adaptation (since everything is computer-generated), lacks of originality and sense of purpose.
Back in 1994, The Lion King has proven the worth as the magnum opus of Disney Renaissance, becoming the highest grossing traditionally animated films of all time. Boasting Shakespearean drama in the midst of African wildlife, the tale of Simba paved its way to become an instant classic. 25 years later, Disney decides to remake it even when there’s nothing quite amiss with the original—unlike Pocahontas, Mulan or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which are historically, politically or artistically problematic. From the end-result, it’s quite apparent that Favreau and the writing team, Jeff Nathanson and Brenda Chapman, are aware that the stakes are too enormous, forcing them to play it safe in every movement.
The 1994 version serves not only as an inspiration, but also as a set of storyboard for the photo-realistic adaptation. It’s undeniably a scene-to-scene remake (it’s unfair to call it other than that; even reimagining is an over-statement) that leaves no room for imaginative reinterpretation. By saying realistic, that can only mean no rooms for illogical, unnatural and comical movements made by the animal characters. Going hand in hand with the visual details, the character’s movement is also staged accordingly. The trippy animal frenzy scene in the classic song “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” becomes less coordinated and more natural that it feels like Animal Planet opening. The whole verbatim adaptation is even stricter, even by The Jungle Book’s standard (in which Favreau feels a little more playful and imaginative in retelling the story).
The lack of imagination is at least compensated by the sharp casting decision, even when they took the devotion to the original version too far by recasting James Earl Jones. Pairing Donald Glover and Beyoncé as grown-up Simba and Nala adds depth to the lion couple—who grows up from being childhood friends to become the apex royal couple. The fact that both are extraordinary singers brings a whole new color to the once Oscar-nominated song, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”. Sadly, the script which attempts too hard not to ruin the original charm does not give the excellent voice cast to improvise and adorn the performance with personal spice. Only Bill Eichner, who plays the meerkat, Timon, and Seth Rogen, who portrays the warthog, Pumbaa, have the loose ties to inject both characters with an even more exhilarating, carefree banters. Even, these comic reliefs get dedicated action-cam sequences, especially during chasing scene, which highlights the animals’ facial expression.
If there is one thing that The Lion King excels, it has always been the Pyrrhic visual prowess. From the beginning to end, the breathtaking visuals keep us believing a real-world place called Pride Rock, where the exotic animals gather around. The sense of realism is astonishing, but at some points, forces this remake to lose the charm; given the “realism”, most scenes feels muted due to the animals’ realistic facial expressions which hinder them from making ‘talking face.’ If there is one thing that The Lion King lacks, it has always been the sense of creativity, imagination and, most importantly, originality. So, long live the king?