You can understand why people didn’t want Disney to remake the animated “classic” The Lion King but when you see the finished product, with the photo-realistic animals bringing the story to life, you can also understand why they chose to do so. You can’t argue that The Lion King isn’t impressive. If you can look past the songs, which we will come to later, at no point do you feel like you are watching “CGI-Animals.” If you allow yourself to do so, The Lion King can convince you that this story is being played-out by real animals.
The story itself isn’t changed. Aladdin and The Jungle Book’s remakes made changes to the story, even if some were slight, in an attempt to improve or adapt to the “realistic” take on the tales. It is difficult to see where you can improve upon the original classically animated tale so director Jon Favreau gets past this by making a remake with little to no changes to the story. This is a gift and a curse. It is great because the story of The Lion King is strong and familiar, adding credibility to this movie. It is unlucky for the remake though that as it will always be caught in the shadow of the much more beloved and better original.
As an experiment in technology, The Lion King is a huge achievement. The realistic elements add a fresh approach to the story and there are moments which are improved by the photo-realism. The peril is heightened, which means that when the hyenas are threatening our hero it is much more scary than the comedy characters they are presented as in the original. The female characters are given a more prominent story or at least do not feel sidelined for the second half of the movie as you could argue they are in the 1994 film.
Unfortunately, the realism also takes away some of the Disney magic. The characters lack emotion in their expressions which means key moments lose their impact. One specific moment which would usually have floored the audience doesn’t hit anywhere near as effectively because you lose the pain and anguish that an animated version of the characters could easily convey.
This is also really apparent in the songs too. The songs have largely remained untouched but without a beaming smile for “Can’t Wait to be King” or an evil sneer for “Be Prepared” the songs just look strange being “sang” by a “real” lion. This is an example of the lack of “magic.” One of the best parts of the original movie has unfortunately lost it’s heart.
This is the major issue overshadowing the whole movie. The people who were upset that Disney dared to remake a classic, particularly as they leave the story effectively untouched, have a little bit of justification. This in no way damages the amazing original but it doesn’t improve upon it either and it leaves the movie feeling more like a showcase of how far we have come technologically rather than delivering a new and exciting version of The Lion King for a modern generation.
Overall, The Lion King is impressive. The photo-realistic effects brings the animals to life and you will forget that you are not watching “real” animals. It also, thankfully, leaves the great story of The Lion King untouched. It does lack some of the original’s magic and charm and you can’t help but wonder what the point of it all was.
Rating – 4
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