Film Review: The Lion King

Film Review: The Lion King

Beyoncé and Meghan Markle’s encounter at the European premiere got everyone talking, but there’s more to The Lion King than its star-studded party.
Photography: Disney Enterprises

Entertainment At Its Best

The remake of Disney’s animated classic showcases technology that’s truly mesmerising. The attention to detail, and sheer depth of textures and tones makes for a mind-boggling experience as the brain computes what it’s witnessing. 

Everything, from glorious sunrises and sweeping shots across the African savanna, to tiny insects and blades of grass, looks real. But unlike nature documentaries, which are painstakingly filmed on location, this world was entirely and meticulously conjured up on computers, and that’s enough to induce a sense of amazement in even the most jaded cinemagoer. 

Our Favourite Story Re-Told

The Lion King first roared into our consciousness when the animated film was released in 1994. It’s the story of Simba, a lion cub who’s born to be king but faces tragedy, exile and betrayal before he can fulfil his destiny. 

The movie captured hearts across the globe, seamlessly aided by memorable anthems such as Can You Feel the Love Tonight and was declared a box office hit. Spin-offs followed, as well as the musical, which continues to draw huge crowds.

Now, 25 years later, and in keeping with Elton John’s thematic Circle of Life, Simba and his gang are back on the big screen.

Same, But Different

Director Jon Favreau was on safari in Africa when it first dawned on him the time was ripe for a retelling.

“I remember when a warthog ran by our safari vehicle, one of the people in our group started singing Hakuna Matata, and then when we saw lions up on a rock, they all said, ‘It looks like the Lion King.’ This story has become a frame of reference that everybody knows and accepts. It’s such a deep part of our culture that it felt like there was a tremendous opportunity to build on that and to retell the story in a different medium,” says Favreau. 

He directed 2016’s The Jungle Book, a ground-breaking movie with its mix of live-action and CGI that earned an Oscar for visual effects. Although keen to build on what he’d learned making that movie, Favreau understood he needed to tread cautiously.

“The Lion King’s such beloved property, I knew I had to be very careful with it, but I wanted to demonstrate that we could be respectful of the source material while bringing it to life using mind-blowing techniques and technologies,” he explains.

Disney Enterprises

Disney Enterprises

Mind-blowing Cinematic Technique

The film is neither live action nor animation, but uses a process called photorealistic CGI.

“It’s like magic, we’re reinventing the medium,” says Favreau who was happy to push the boundaries of what’s possible creatively, but never contemplated tinkering with the storyline. 

“We’re not reinventing the story and we’re definitely not shy about going back to the old material, but it’s amazing how much you can change and update invisibly. And that's the trick—you don't want it to feel like you've imposed yourself upon the film.” 

New Voices Update This Classic

Aside from the visuals, it’s the voices that bring a freshness to the familiar script. Bar James Earl Jones, who reprises his role as Simba’s sage father Mufasa, it’s a host of new names who bring the characters to life this time. 

Donald Glover, who starred opposite Rihanna in their secret film project Guava Island, plays adult Simba, Beyoncé lends her soothing vocals to Simba’s cubhood friend-turned-love interest lioness Nala, while Chiwetel Ejiofor brings gravitas to Simba’s villainous and scheming uncle Scar who’s frailer and less pantomime villain in this version. 

Given the story explores life’s big themes, it would take a cold heart not to be moved by The Lion King, but the chuckles are provided too, namely from Simba’s friends, the gluttonous warthog Pumbaa, and the wisecracking meerkat Timon, voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner respectively. 

There’s also a peppering of humour from the dark side too, in the form of Scars’ henchman, the hyenas Azizi (Eric Andre) and Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key).

A Must-See

The remake remains remarkably faithful to the original animation, which has prompted some cynics to argue it’s unnecessary. However, this movie that evokes wide-eyed wonder, and nothing encapsulates Disney magic more than that, whatever age you might be. 

The Lion King is released Friday, July 19

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