A technological marvel and a fitting re-telling of a story that has found its place in multiple generations, Disney’s 2019 The Lion King stands firm on its own two (or four?) legs as a terrific film in its own right while remaining faithful to the 1994 film that it’s based on.
The first thing that stands out when watching director Jon Favreau’s (Iron Man, The Jungle Book (2016)) latest take on the iconic tale is how far this technology has come; with the computer-generated animals and environments almost effortlessly capturing the natural beauty of the African savannah in which the film is set.
While many films in the past few decades have failed in capturing believable photo-realism with similar technology, this version of The Lion King has managed to transcend the uncanny valley of CGI, creating a film that audiences can sit back and sink their teeth into. From the more dramatic, pinitol scenes to smaller sequences, such as a rat ducking between blades of grass, the textures and movements of every little detail in this film are nothing short of breathtaking.
With Favreau being responsible for the similarly good-looking The Jungle Book in 2016 – a film that incorporates more live-action than The Lion King, which according to Favreau only has one live-action shot in the entire film – in The Lion King he manages to take these advances in digital storytelling and push them to an unprecedented new level.
While the technology is what really pushes the film forward, all the other elements of any good movie come together to create something truly memorable. The film does a terrific job of capturing the character and charm of the 1994 original, in no small part due to its absolutely star-studded cast. Leading the pride is Donald Glover (known for shows Community and Atlanta as well as his rap career under the name Childish Gambino) as Simba and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (you know who Beyoncé is) as Nala – both fitting choices to sing the newer renditions of the film’s iconic songs (alongside JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph portraying a young Simba and Nala respectively).
The film also sees the voice of the original Mufasa, James Earl Jones (also the original voice of Darth Vader) return to his iconic role of Simba’s father, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange, 12 Years a Slave) as Mufasa’s treacherous brother Scar, the film’s cunning and compelling villain.
Among the show stealers of the cast were Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street, Friends From College) as the wise-cracking meerkat Timon and Seth Rogan (Superbad, The Disaster Artist) as the dull but enthusiastic warthog Pumbaa, who fans of the original will recall stole the screen way back in 1994. Between Eichner’s lighting quick quips – which might even be better than Timon’s in the original – and Pumbaa’s generally excited demeanour, their cheerful nihilism and comedic antics stole every second of screen time they shared.
Another great comedic performance came from John Oliver (Community, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) as Zazu, the ordered and often flustered red-billed hornbill and right-hand bird to Mufasa, another role that broke up some of the more dramatic scenes with much-appreciated humour.
This already stellar cast is round out by performances from Florence Kasumba (Black Panther), Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) and Eric Andre (The Eric Andre Show) as the spotted hyenas Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi, who prove more dangerous than their comedic counterparts in the original; as well as Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave) as Simba’s mother Sarabi and John Kani (Black Panther) as the mystical and baboon Rafiki. The spectacular voice performances from this stacked cast paired with the surprisingly expressive performances of their digital characters made for an engaging experience almost no different to watching real, human actors on the screen.
Alongside the stunning visuals and compelling performances were the new takes on the iconic songs that defined the original The Lion King. While this latest adaptation doesn’t lean so heavily on the use of musical elements, with some songs (despite being very nostalgic) almost dragging the story down, hearing the iconic songs once again on the big screen for a new generation is definitely something that should get audiences excited. The films score, composed once again by the renowned Hans Zimmer, is a perfect fit, driving the story forward and steering audiences through the various turmoil’s and triumphs fans of the original will know all too well.
A universal family story told for a new era of what’s sure to be new fans, Jon Favreau and Disney’s 2019 reimagining of The Lion King, much like the 1994 original, is sure to be an instant classic. From its incredible usage of modern technology to its faithful retelling of a beloved cinematic tale, The Lion King is a film that will no doubt continue to resonate with and inspire countless generations to come.