Movie Review Monday: The Lion King (2019)
Disney’s latest live-action adaptation hit theaters this weekend and broke multiple records in the process with its $185 million domestic opening. This iteration of The Lion King was directed by Jon Favreau and written by Jeff Nathanson. Based on the 1994 animated film of the same name, the film follows a lion named Simba who must embrace his role as king after the death of his father. Donald Glover voiced the adult version of Simba while Beyoncé voiced the adult version of Nala. The voice cast also included Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Alfre Woodard, John Oliver, John Kani, JD McCrary, and Shahadi Wright Joseph, and James Earl Jones returned as the voice of Mufasa.
As with the original film, this iteration opens with the iconic song “Circle of Life” playing as animals from around the Pride Lands gather to see the presentation of the lion cub, Simba. Simba’s parent, Mufasa and Sarabi, rule over the animal kingdom of Pride Rock. After the presentation, Mufasa has a word with his brother, Scar, who purposefully missed the event. Scar was in line for the mantle of king before Simba was born. Mufasa goes on to teach his young son about the responsibilities of being king and the way that all of life in the Pride Lands is connected. Meanwhile, Scar creates a scheme to rid himself of nephew by tricking Simba and Nala into visiting the elephant graveyard, where the hyenas reside. Mufasa arrives in time to rescue them, and while he is disappointed in Simba, he forgives him and tells him about the great kings of the past. Things become complicated, though, when Mufasa is killed and Scar convinces Simba that he caused his father’s death.
So, there are a lot of mixed reviews from critics, but I can say that I enjoyed this version just as much as the original. I also know that there is a lot of discussion about whether it should be considered a live-action adaptation since the entire film is actually a photorealistic computer-animated remake, but for the sake of simplicity, I will be referring to it as live-action. Disney is having to walk a fine line with their live-action adaptations, and there is a lot of debate about how close these versions should stay to the original films. The Lion King stays closer to the original film than some of the others, but it is still an immensely enjoyable story. There are some small enhancements along the way like the details of Scar’s backstory and Nala’s escape from Pride Rock. Overall, though, it does not stray from the story beats of the original.
Despite this fact, though, there is a lot to be praised about the film. The voice cast is fantastic, and I could not have been more pleased to hear James Earl Jones reprise his iconic role as Mufasa. It was also Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen that surprisingly took center stage with their voicings of Timon and Pumbaa. They stay true to the original characterizations but shine as they bring touches of their own senses of humor to their performances. Also, their moment with the song “Be Our Guest” might be one of my favorite parts of the entire film. In fact, the new renditions of the original music worked well throughout the entire film, and I thought the new song “Spirit” fit in seamlessly. Most of the original songs sound a little more deconstructed and lend an even more authentic experience to this story. Also, I think it goes without saying that this film is visually breathtaking in every way.
Overall, The Lion King is a visual upgrade to the already heartwarming story that we watched growing up. The photorealistic animation was an effective way to revisit this story, and it made moments like Mufasa’s death even more devastating. I also like the way they changed the looks of several characters, and I think that Scar’s look perfectly embodies him as a character. I understand the complaints about this iteration not having enough changes from the original, but I think the voice cast, visuals, and music make this one an enjoyable watch regardless. I would recommend enjoying The Lion King on the big screen, especially if the original is one of your favorite Disney films.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.