The Lion King **1/2
One Liner Review:
A pretty cool take on the original source material, this one doesn’t change much, which happens to be a very good thing.
This movie looks absolutely spectacular. The visuals are so terrific that they actually feel real, (when the animals aren’t talking, of course.) And the story is an all time classic. But perhaps that is the problem. Not that they movie really has many problems, but it ends up being good without being great, and the reason has got to be the familiarity. This one stays really close to the source material, only changing extremely minor plot ideas. It stays closer to the source material than perhaps any other “remake” has done before. And that’s because the source material, (the original animated film,) is so beloved and so much a part of people’s lives. But it also means that audiences know exactly what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. There’s not much to be surprised about here, (unless, of course, you haven’t seen the original.) So staying super close to that animated movie is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it is fantastic for nostalgic purposes, but on the other, part of going to the movies is about being surprised, and this movie really doesn’t have much going in the surprise department.
The remake of the Lion King, or the live action version of the story is something pretty cool. It’s nothing that jumps out at you as spectacular, after all it really is the same story with very little changed. But the fact that they can give us a movie that everyone is familiar with, and keep mostly the same dialogue and story decisions, and still come away with a movie that is enjoyable, is pretty neat. This movie, more than any other film, really calls into question how much a remake should change things and how much it should keep them the same. This is the one that changes the least, and yet it still feels like there are loads of tiny differences. Let’s put it this way, almost no line of dialogue is spoken in exactly the same way as it is in the original. So it never sounds like you are hearing the same sounds you are familiar with. And considering that the look of the whole movie is naturally all different, (one was animated and the other live action, AKA computer generated to look like it is live action,) sound is one of the few things that actually could still be the same. In this movie it isn’t.
Going back to that question of how much should be changed and how much should be kept the same, in some ways it’s an age old question that applies to other entertainment areas beside movies. When you go to see a music concert performed by a popular band, are they obligated to play their hits? Certainly they know that that’s what the fans want to see, (or hear,) but on many occasions that bands don’t bite. They don’t give in. Instead, they play their new stuff, hoping to find an audience for and promote a new album. And then they go off and talk about how the fans are everything to them. Maybe they are referring to the fans who love everything they do, and love the new album as well, but even those fans would certainly want to see the classic songs the most. The songs that the band is most known for.
So now let’s take it back to the Lion King.How much should they have changed or not changed? Plenty of people feel like they should have changed more. Right now, the story is all the same. The characters are all the same. There are no new subplots or relationships. The only plot changes are very minor. For example, when the Hyenas chase Young Simba away in the animated movie, they yell after him, “If you ever come back, we’ll kill ya.” But in this movie, the Female hyena tells the two Males to kill Simba and they go after him. When they return back to the Female, they tell her they killed him. So there’s no yelling that line at him, because the two Males are hoping the Female, who is standing on the cliff above them, doesn’t realize they did not kill Simba. This is the extent of the changes. It’s extremely minor, considering that in the original animated film, the Hyenas tell Scar that they killed Simba (so in the animated film they are lying to Scar, whereas here, two of the Hyenas are lying to the third one.)
This is an example of a change the live action movie made to the animated film. And it’s obviously not much of a change. Other changes include Zazoo, the parrot, (voiced by John Oliver,) having more dialogue, or the song “Be Prepared,” being spoken instead of sung, or the Timoan and Pumba story about how Pumba used to be a loaner because of his gas problem being explained a little more than it is in the animated film. And again, none of these changes are anything major. They are all small hiccups along the path, that don’t amount to a whole lot.
And I take the position that this was exactly the right move. For other movies, maybe changes make a lot of sense. For some, the changes are simply just to make changes. I haven’t seen the new live action Aladdin, (starring Will Smith as the Genie,) which came out just two months before this film, but I’ve heard the Genie has a romantic relationship with one of Jasmine’s handmaids. Just hearing about this makes me cringe. What was wrong with the original? That there wasn’t enough for the Genie to do? So they wanted to give Will Smith a little more, (Smith is not shy about asking for what he wants, and notoriously told Quentin Tarantino once that he wouldn’t take the Jamie Fox role in Django Unchained unless he, and not Christoph Waltz, got to kill the main baddie.) As the Aladdin example shows, changes just for the sake of making changes, are not really a good thing.
In the live action Beauty and the Beast, the movie stayed very close to the original animated film, (it’s funny calling that the “original,” since the Beauty and the Beast story has been around for ages, but it was the “original Disney version” at least.) And that movie turned out to be pretty good. But it also wasn’t anything great. It wasn’t anything special, and certainly wasn’t a must see. I suppose the same thing can be said about this new Lion King. It’s good and well done, but if you know the story, and the story really stays the same, then there’s nothing that’s going to grab you and make you love it. After all, plot is king. It’s the most important thing about a movie.
With all of this in mind, maybe they should have made more significant changes, (I don’t really believe this, but am playing Devil’s Advocate for a moment.) After all, Tarantino does it with some of his movies, (second Tarantino reference while discussing an animated movie, not what you would expect to find, but his Once Upon A Time in Hollywood did just come out and is the movie on everyone’s mind.) In that film and in Inglorious Basterds, and apparently in any other movie that shows a real life event, Tarantino is all about changing the circumstances of what really happened, to surprise the audience. If the audience knows exactly how the movie is going to end, then there’s no surprise. And he has a point. Can you imagine Tarantino’s take on the Lion King? Mufasa would probably still be alive at the end, and maybe it would be Nala, not Scar, who turned out to be the bad guy.
So regardless of whether the “stay close to home” approach, or the “change the story to keep the audience not their toes,” approach is better, this movie definitely takes the more familiar one, and if there’s any movie to do it, it’s this. The Lion King, more than any other Disney movie, has a special place in most people’s hearts. By most people, I’m referring to people who were alive when it came out in theaters, back in 1994, whether they were kids or adults. Their were four great animated films at that time, (during a span of five years,) The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. And of those four, The Lion King is the one that has aged the best. It’s the one that people generally regard today as the strongest of the bunch.
And so we have a live action film by director John Favreau, who previously directed the live action version of The Jungle Book for Disney, which also used serious computer effects. In that movie, everything and every character was CGI except for the one lead, Mowgli, the boy. With the Lion King, every single thing is computerized. Apparently there is one single shot in the movie that was filmed for real, perhaps using real animals, but Favreau isn’t letting on what it is just yet, because he wants to see if anyone can figure it out. I’m guessing no one can. The movie looks that good. It really does. The Jungle Book is a warm up act, and practice for Favreau and his team. By the end of that movie, he felt he had mastered the craft and wanted to see what he could do next with it. And this is what he came up with.
Aside from how great the movie looks, the dialogue and voice work is pretty good as well. For the most part, they chose some pretty strong actors for the parts. The comedians in particular really stand out, perhaps because they bring their own sense of humor to the characters. We’re talking about Seth Rogen (Pumba,), Billy Eichner (Timoan,) and John Oliver, (Zazoo.) Donald Glover (adult Simba,) is an uber talented actor and creative force, (just look at his TV show Atlanta, what he did on Community, or the song he wrote and performed for Get Out,) but here he doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table that anyone else could not have also brought. The same can be said of Beyonce (Nala), Chiwetel Edjiofor, (Scar,) and most of the other cast members. They’re not bad, they’re just not memorable like those three other actors are. But for the most part, this is a good movie. It does a nice job of maintaining the original story, adding its own little touches in here and there, and keeping our attention.