The opening to Disney’s Lion King (1994) is utterly, and undeniably iconic. In this contemporary re-imagining of the classic animated feature, director Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) matches the sequence almost shot for shot with a photorealistic remake and it is pure magic. From the opening notes of ‘The Circle of Life,’ you feel a sense of warmth and nostalgia flowing from the screen which grows and grows until the moment Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) opens his mouth. From this point onwards, however, the film fails to truly capture the magnetism of the original.
The Lion King (2019) excels with its stunning photorealistic CGI. It feels more like watching a nature documentary, which gives new life to Simba and his world. In the quiet moments this shines through and you almost forget it’s a Disney film, almost half-expecting David Attenborough to start speaking at any moment. However, this limits the expression of human emotion that the characters are capable of. It’s hard for an audience to empathise when you can’t detect the emotions on Simba’s face, denying viewers a vital aspect of the original film. For the first time in twenty-one years, I did not cry at Mufasa’s death because the level of grief displayed by 2D Simba was not even touched upon in the photorealistic remake.
Timone and Pumba (Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen respectively) barrel in and save the film from feeling like a careless, flat imitation. Their chemistry is tangible and surprisingly endearing without mimicking the original duo. Beyond this, the cast was clearly chosen for star power and vocal ability rather than their ability to emote using only their voice. Despite Beyonce’s powerful vocals, the film lacks ‘Spirit’ and there is no heart. Much of the plot and visuals remains the same but with a bizarre added scene of Simba’s hair floating around that feels like it lasts half an hour. Nothing important is missing and all the notes of the original film are there but the magic has vanished.
Ultimately it’s a great film made beautiful by brilliant technology, but 2019’s The Lion King is like a badly aged version of the original, it is slightly darker and mature but not necessarily any better for it. If the original is Mufasa then this new version is Scar. It is fighting for a place as king but ultimately is no match for the legacy left behind. When it comes to heart, the 2D version has the lion’s share.
Words by Danni Scott