Let me preface this post by saying this: The original Lion King will always be better than any other version, ever. Just saying. Also there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the new film and you don’t want to be spoiled (I know, I know…how can there be spoilers if it’s a remake? Well, there can be because of new scenes or moments that weren’t in the original film…anyway, spoiler alert for those who mind…)
I have to say this right off the bat: Mufasa dying is still such a heart wrenching scene. And I will tell you why, the music. Hans Zimmer’s score is the real winner here. And I have come to the realisation that for me, The Lion King is almost more about the music than it is about the story. But, let me back track here and highlight a point critics have already made about this new version of the film.
The photo-realistic animals can’t emote like the cartoon animated characters from the original. And they are right. And that would be an issue if one was expecting them to show emotions like humans. But, they’re not. They are animals and I think the photo-realistic CGI animation did it quite well. Not perfectly, some characters, such as Scar, came across better than others in that regard. But, to say that it took away from the magic of the original? I don’t agree with that.
Because, aside from the fact that you can’t take anything away from the original since it still exists, it’s the music that creates the magic of this film. Not the animation. The combination of Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M and a cast who can actually sing (no auto-tune anywhere) is what really moved me. Sure, the voices of Timon (Billy Eichner) Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and Zazu (John Oliver) were a bit jarring the first time I heard them, because they seemed flatter in their songs than in the original (more so on the official soundtrack). But, who could beat Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella and Rowan Atkinson? And some of James Earl Jones’ lines didn’t have the same impact as in the original. However, overall this whole film was a feast for the senses. How cliche is that? Haha.
Also, referring to the official soundtrack release, specifically, it sounds like they actually recorded that at a different time to the songs in the film. As the vocals in the movie versions did seem a more animated. Or perhaps the context just made their voices come to life more.
Speaking of new and context, Be Prepared. The new 2019 version. Worked perfectly within the context of the film. So. There. 😝
Now, I can’t really talk about this new film without going into the animation itself. It is absolutely stunning. Not flawless, mind. There is one scene near the beginning where Sarabi’s paws look a bit weird when she’s cradling Simba in Pride Rock (you can’t un-see it now, can you?), but seriously, the animators for this film have outdone themselves. Like I said, a feast for the senses.
There will be those who will absolutely hate that Disney did this to their beloved Lion King. But, this is also my beloved Lion King and I adore the animation.
Now onto the characters themselves and the choices of actors. Having James Earl Jones reprise his role as Mufasa was a good decision, though I must admit he didn’t bring as much gusto to the role as he did in the original. There were some lines that fell a little flat, but at the same time, he is absolutely iconic to that role so having him come back was a beautiful nod to the original. The young actors cast as young Simba and Nala were well chosen and I loved the rendition of Just Can’t Wait to Be King.
The casting of John Oliver as Zazu wasn’t bad. He’s very different to Rowan Atkinson, but he made it work and I liked his dry wit (“I had a brother who thought he was a woodpecker…”).
Now, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner as Pumbaa and Timon, respectively was a stroke of genius. They were easily the best part of the film. The way they riffed off each other was a delight. Especially during Hakuna Matata.
Donald Glover as adult Simba I don’t have as much to say about, except that he played the role well and his singing voice was good. Beyoncé as Nala, though? She brought some strength to the role and I liked how they fleshed out her character a little more as Disney has been doing lately with their female roles.
Having Beyoncé play a part in the film also meant a new song was added to the soundtrack that I would have to say is one of the best new song for a Disney film in ages. Spirit has a beautiful quality to it that I can’t quite put into words. It almost sounds like being taken to Church. Haha. I do think they shoukd’ve kept the original instrumental score in that part of the film where Simba is racing back to Pride Rock; however, it wasn’t out of place.
Speaking of that song, the soundtrack is the best soundtrack of all the remakes that Disney has done so far, and that is saying something. Especially as the original soundtrack, I believe, is one of the all time greatest Disney soundtracks, followed only by The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The opening chords of Circle of Life gets me every time and the updated version, which has a different lead vocals, still has the same essence of the original. The instrumentals have mostly been updated/remastered and Han Zimmer’s score as I already mentioned is what brought the whole film to life.
In the end, for me, this film was a nostalgic, yet fresh walk through the journey that is Simba’s life. It will never be better than the original. But, I think it is unfair to say that it should. It is different and beautiful. But, hopefully it will encourage us to revisit the original and remember why we love it so much.