How does one follow a legacy of epic proportions? When young lion Simba walks towards his dad Mufasa, he notices the footprints in the path. He stops, looks down, and realizes his own footprint does not measure up at all to Mufasa’s — it was too big of a legacy to fill. In the new live-action The Lion King, it’s pretty much the same: a remake in the giant shadow of the ones before it.
For the uninitiated, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young lion next in line to be the King of the Pride Lands. When tragedy strikes, Simba runs away in hopes of leaving the past behind. When the past catches up, as the past always does, he must choose between living the carefree life he grew into or living up to the legacy that his father left behind. First an animated feature film in 1994, The Lion King has also been adapted for the theatrical stage. Both the classic film and the Broadway show have enjoyed critical acclaim, so it was really no surprise that in the slew of Disney live-action remakes, The Lion King would have its own new film too.
For the most part, it feels like they could do no wrong: what with a treasure trove of source materials from different adaptations, an A-list cast, and technology that comes with 2019. And yet this remake of the Disney classic falls short. When Disney made the choice to keep the remake as realistic as possible they gave up what the animated film and Broadway classic were known for: colorful and vibrant visuals (their take on I Just Can’t Wait To Be King makes you miss the original), emotive capabilities of the characters (fun fact: this is the main reason why you can see the actors’ faces in the stage production; it’s a way to project emotions into their puppets), and the responsibility of really telling a story, instead of just assuming the people watching has seen its previous reiterations: a common problem with the Disney live-action remakes of late.
Don’t get me wrong: the new live-action absolutely stuns with its photo-realistic visuals. From Pumbaa’s hair follicles to raindrops being reflected on the animals’ sheen, it’s straight out of a National Geographic documentary. The same can be said for the updated music — which Pharell Williams produced — and references: the Hakuna Matata scene, in particular, stands out all thanks to Simba’s (Donald Glover) glorious new riffs and the perfectly-casted Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) with their tongue-in-cheek, laugh-out loud-banter. Outside the musical sequences, several scenes like the wildebeest stampede and a charming sequence showing the circle of life in motion makes this The Lion King worth the watch. Maybe Beyoncé as Nala (or is it Nala as Beyoncé) makes it worth the ticket too, but be prepared: when the credits roll, instead of staying in your seat taking everything in, you might just find yourself missing The Lion King of yesteryears.
Disney’s The Lion King opens in cinemas July 17th.