It is time! The sun has risen on the future of Disney’s live action film slate, welcoming the monarch of all tales, The Lion King, to ascend to the throne with thunderous applause. Brought to life by Jungle Book and Iron Man alum, Jon Favreau, The Lion King is cinematic eye candy at its best, bringing top notch special effects front and center in a breathtaking package of stunning imagery that pushes the boundaries of anyone’s wildest expectations.
Just like The Jungle Book, The Lion King delivers on high expectations, diving into the whirlpool of next generation visual magic that is a mix of digital sorcery and real world dynamics. Even from the film’s trailer, you can get a strong sense that the final product is absolutely breathtaking. Nothing else comes close, and it really brings a strong impression that leaves a lasting impact.
The other element to pay attention to is the film’s fierce loyalty to the original story. The film doesn’t throw it all away, and instead brings back the same tone and structure from the original animated film. Though, in doing so, Disney has created a double edged sword that needs a delicate balance to hold it all together. As a devoted fan of the original movie, and someone who considers The Lion King to be the best Disney animated feature of all time, it’s a tough act to follow. No matter how diligent you can be with the original source material, every beat of the drum has to have the same rhythm, and even more than that, needs to create a fresh sound to go along with it. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you just throw on the original instead?
This film definitely keeps that in mind, throwing in some fresh takes while retaining the original charm and luster of what came before it. The biggest takeaway is the humor, which knocks it right out of the Pride Lands. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen virtually stole the entire movie, right alongside John Oliver, who each fit their parts perfectly, not only honoring the great actors who came before them, but bringing in a brand new take that was really refreshing and delightful.
One easter egg in particular is an absolute riot, since it fits so perfectly with what you’d expect from Timon and Pumbaa while still being distinctively unique to Rogen and Eichner’s performances. The fourth wall crumbles down due to incessant laughter, and it’s all thanks to the genius of these two. Though, for the sake of not spoiling the fun, you’ll have to venture into the theater yourself to discover more.
The power of Mufasa’s death is also just as strong, really bringing forth the tears in all their melancholy glory. James Earl Jones is just a great in this role as he has ever been, which still leaves the audience desperately hoping to save him from his awful fate. From start to finish, you really get the essence of what makes Mufasa such an enduring character. He’s strong, yet vulnerable, proud yet humble. It’s a character that wouldn’t be possible without James Earl Jones, and bringing him back for this really made all the difference in the world.
Though, as fun as this adventure may be, one of The Lion King’s biggest weak spots is pacing. At many points, the plot rushes to the next scene, not taking the opportunity to savor the moment for its full potential. The musical numbers are the easiest examples, since each one doesn’t have nearly the same build up in scene as you’d get from the original. What made the original so iconic was the drawn out theatrics of the music in scene. “Be Prepared” had jokes, chilling homages to tyrannical leaders like Stalin or Hitler, in your face intensity with brilliant greens and oranges. You don’t feel that same driving force in this adaptation at all. The songs don’t carry the same weight, and for many, that is a flaw that will cause some major strain.
On the other paw, Disney also wasted a fantastic opportunity to weave in new pieces of story. Some of the stronger live action adaptations, such as Disney’s Cinderella, thrived off of adding new elements that develop more backstory. Very little time was used to flush out a few additional scenes, but they all served a greater purpose of expanding the familiar world into something much more diverse and detailed. Having those additional moments also helps control the flow of the film, keeping it from rushing too far forward. A few new scenes, or even some expanded dialogue could have really made a huge difference in the final product.
Nonetheless, the overall picture is a monumental undertaking, and one that definitely honors the original. The Lion King is a treat, and a welcome addition to the Disney library. Whether its your first introduction to the story, or a reminder of the glory days of the Disney Renaissance, it’s definitely something to be proud of. Hakuna Matata!