- Movie Rating -

The Lion King (2019)

| September 29, 2019

The live-action remake of Disney’s The Lion King is a colossal miscalculation.  Of all the Disney classics that could have been re-rendered into this format this is probably the one that needed the most re-thinking.  The greatness of the original is that it existed in the free-floating universe of animation, where the characters could move around in an animated space.  In live action, it has the disadvantage of the mandate of the laws of gravity.  At all times you are consciously aware of the movie’s physical limitations and that’s a mental hurdle that is nearly impossible to overcome.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m being haughty or nit-picky but from the film’s opening I struggled to find a dramatic foothold.  The problem, for me, is in nature of the characters themselves.  They are lions.  In the animated version they had large eyes and expressive faces.  In live action that’s hard to render.  Real lions have small eyes and limited expressiveness, meaning that the emotions in the human voices don’t match the character we are seeing on screen.  You’re always aware of that limitation and so you are constantly left on the outside of the movie.

Let me give you an example.  The pre-credit sequence of the original opened with Rifiki approaching Mufasa at Pride Rock.  There is an upward angle of Mufasa’s smiling face – a proud new father who is ready to present his newborn son to the world.  In the live action movie, when Rifiki approaches Mufasa, the lion has no expression.  It’s just a lion on a rock.  There is no depth, no emotion, no weight.  That’s a problem all through the movie.  The faces of the characters can’t register the deep and heavy emotions that this story needs and that’s a fatal flaw.

The gravitational limits are even worse in the musical numbers.  The Broadway-style production numbers of the original are presented here as a musical overlay without the lilt of the anti-gravity animation brought on by the characters emotions.  When little Simba sings, “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” he runs across the jungle floor rather than in the animated original wherein he was vaulted upwards and swung around by the animals who will someday be his subjects.  The live action version can’t move in such a way, so the moment of Simba’s joy and exaltation stays in first gear.  There’s no joy.  There’s no magic.  Sure the song is there but the scene is just . . . so what?

That’s the whole movie.  It’s all scenes that are carbon copy transplanted from the original without any consideration of how it might work in live action.  The filmmakers have worked hard to get the animals to move right but no one ever seems to have understood the limitations at work here.  Yes, it’s been done well before.  Babe is the obvious comparison, but that was a story that was written around what the animators could do with the animals.

Beyond the limitations in the computer technology, this is a very muddy looking movie.  The African savanna is one of the most colorful places on Earth but for whatever reason, the movie makes this world look muddy and damp and unappealing.  That’s a real blow because it is the work of legendary cinematographer Caleb Dashanel, the man who photographed The Right Stuff, The Patriot, The Passion of the Christ and one of my favorite movies Being There.  What happened here?  Why does everything look so damp and murky? This is a Disney film, it should be wall-to-wall color!

I want you to know that this review is not a simple case of half-assed nit-picking.  I tried.  I really tried to find a foothold in this movie, but always I was aware of where the movie was failing, and it kept clouding my forward-vision.  I kept thinking about the people who never saw the original Lion King, especially kids.  What will they get from this?  Will they get the magic of the original?  Will they understand why the original Lion King was one of the best-selling movies of all time?  I seriously doubt it.

Even if you’ve seen the original, you may find it impossible to like this one.  I’ve said this over and over with these remakes (though I have yet to see Dumbo and Aladdin). The money made from these retreads will surely inspire the studio to produce more. But I would like to see Disney return to original content and leave these classics alone. I hope this is short-lived. Just like those deadening DVD sequels. I just can’t wait for this this trend to be over.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2019) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized