Quite a delayed review from me here since I shared this with my other social media handles but I guess it’s okay.
The Lion King.
I hear the name and my heart is overwhelmed with nostalgia and emotions. The original 1994 animation must be the very first Disney movie I ever saw, back when I was five, and must have watched it a million times after that (and still counting). I remember reading the illustrated little book written off it over and over too, ending up sleeping next to it frequently.
I saw the live action of 2019 on the second day of release, despite my brother’s warnings through the phone in the middle of the night after he saw it the first day. I needed to see it.
I was so grateful the high note of the very opening of the title song and first scene – The Circle of Life – was not changed at all and that was all it took to shake me in my seat with the feels. I was mesmerized with the song all over again while singing along softly, even though the original female voice was changed, but something began to feel off as I watched the attempted replica of the song scenes.
No, I thought to myself, this isn’t good.
Because for one, Rafiki sits while lifting baby Simba up into the air for the kingdom to see, lifting being the operative word here. Where is the fiercely enthusiastic Rafiki who thrusts the cub up with pride as he forces his body forward with the hind legs? And Mufasa didn’t hug him like he does in the original upon his arrival.
I came across loads of reviews from people on the internet, some of who were annoyed that we were annoyed with the lack of emotions on the characters’ faces. “What do you expect from real lions?” they asked. And that’s exactly why The Lion King should have never been attempted for a live action remake. It’s the human avatars of their souls that radiated expressions that we understood without the need of words. If they justify these being real animals, when did real animals start speaking the human language, I must ask, let alone hone human emotions like ambition, jealousy, cunningness and cruelty?
It’s a package deal, guys. And I think the original creators didn’t make this an animation by accident. Because these emotions could be emoted only through drawings they create. The special edition DVD I own has two CDs, the second one being an exclusive documentary of behind the scenes. It’s stunning to see how much they observed animal behaviour and sacrificed their muscles into drawing thousands of illustrations until they got a look of each they loved. We can point out who is Mufasa, who is Simba, who is Nala, who is Sarabi and who is Sarafina in a second.
There is one scene of the live-action, however, I loved.
When little Simba gloats to Scar about being future king and how he’s gonna ‘ruuuule it all’, the scene is shot of Simba standing facing the pride lands with innocent excitement while from behind, Scar’s dangerous temper is seen to steam from that ferocious lion face. The camera focuses in and out of Simba’s excitement and Scar’s threatening glare, which was actually bone-chilling. I really loved that scene.
But to be honest, the live-action also felt like being scripted from the original script, like, the characters were speaking as if they really needed to act this out. Nothing felt scripted in the original. The slots of dialogues and the pauses as the emotions sink in were all so fluid and natural. The power of scene constructions was eximious, staunched with nothing but natural beauty.
In stark contrast, the delivery of the remake was blunt and dry.
For instance, the scene of Simba running back to Pride Rock after Rafiki knocks some sense into his head with the help of Mufasa’s spirit (and really, people, we all love that scene because we DO see his spirit! His voice isn’t just supposed to echo from the clouds!) is shot with a sharp focus on the pounding of the determined acceleration of his limbs, the sound of it reverberating all around, telling us he means business. When he ran in the remake, it didn’t feel the same. It looked like he was running off to any place.
Don’t get me started on the way they have executed the original goosebumps raising scene of Simba climbing up Pride Rock in the end, where we understand how he is shouldering responsibility with each step, where we understand he is taking up his destiny and how he is remembering who he is.
Certain comic inputs from the hyenas were missing too. We found them amusing in the original because of the insane cackling one that’s Ed. The voice actor who gave him those cackles and giggles had labored his voice box for four hours straight in the recording room, testing every single silly and mad laugh he could come up with so the best ones could be chosen. And I admit I was looking forward to seeing Ed accidentally catapulting Banzai into the thorns when they chase Simba to kill him. I missed that.
I guess the only factors to save this remake were the original songs they didn’t change as well as the same background music composed by Hans Zimmer. I also loved little Simba, wishing I could reach through the screen to cuddle the cub to me. He was just as adorable as the original cub.
And I am happy with how the kids of this generation have come to know about The Lion King. I’ve been telling everyone who loves this remake, having only seen this, to please watch the original and that they’re missing out on something so incredibly magical if they don’t.
Sorry, Disney, I can only award 2/5 stars for this.