The Lion King was first released as Hamlet in 1609 whereupon it became a fixture of pretty much every English schoolchild’s education from that point on. (Not me, I got lumbered with The Scottish Play.) 400 years later, the Disney corporation got their grubby mitts on it and (allegedly without borrowing from or even hearing of Kimba The White Lion) released a film which, even today sits very comfortably inside IMDB’s top 250 films of all time at number 44.
This is despite it’s lead character being voiced by Matthew Broderick.
And, yet, despite that insane drawback, watching this film again this weekend I blown away by this absolute masterpiece, at how well it’s held up as arguably the best animated film that Disney ever made and defiantly it’s last great animated masterpiece.
I laughed, my nephew cried and I reaffirmed my truth that animated films don’t age.
Now, it’s time to take that masterpiece where if you rewind a certain scene Mufasa gets up and everything is right with the world. But life changing revelations aside we’re going to take this masterpiece, put it in a box and never reference it again for the duration of this review because you don’t need me to tell you to go see The Lion King (1994) and comparing that to the 2019 version is like comparing a 5* restaurant to the dinner I served last night- both count as ‘food’ but you and I both know which one you’d come back to again- (Mine, my cocktails are out of this world).
And look, lets get one thing straight- this film is the best looking CGI film I think I’ve ever seen. Apparently the director included a single live action scene to see in anyone could spot and I certainly couldn’t. This film genuinely looks like they flew to Africa, trained a bunch of animals to act and then just let the cameras roll. I’m certain that one day it’s going to look as fake as a £7 note but I spent half of the film marveling at the way it looks.
Which is both the main strength and weakness of this film. Because otherwise there’s not much else to talk about. It’s The Lion king, 985% (scriptguy, is this a real statistic? Seems a bit low) of the cinema going public know the plot and this film has beat for beat and almost frame for frame remakes of scenes with one clear difference. The whole thing is a photo- realistic film about a bunch of lions. And lions, well, their not really known for their acting skills. The animators probably did what they can but when some seriously realistic looking lions start singing (and to be honest pretty much all of the songs appear to have been forced in against the directors will as he try’s to get them over with as quickly as possible) the whole thing just seems slightly bizarre. The films shot so realistically that there’s no chance for any dynamic lighting or shading or any of the dynamic numbers surviving the change. It might have been a better idea to just strip out the songs entirely and letting the story stand by itself.
After all, it did pretty well without songs for some 400 odd years.
But, back to the cast and with the exception of Seth Rogan, who instantly needs half of his lines cut as they serve no purpose and are simply there because films have recently become terrified of silence for some as yet unknown but agonizing reason. The rest do what they can and their pretty good. Some actual voice actors would have been great but why hire someone that the public have never heard of when an alleged budget of 260 million dollars means that you can hire Beyonce, Donald Glover and James Earl Jones?
The film did do one or two things that I found cool, we actually see what happens at Pride Rock when we didn’t previously, some characters get some slightly different motivations which means that their more developed than had previously been the case but the trouble is, well, the animals just can’t emote that well. Scenes that should elicit an emotion from me just didn’t.
This film feels like… a product. Like the other two live action remakes that came onto cinemas this year, it doesn’t feel like it exists because Disney wanted an exciting new take on a classic story or their circling the drain and desperately need some hits to keep the wolves from the door because DISNEY OWNS EVERYTHING. It feels like they wanted to show off their shiny new tech and The Lion King was the obvious choice. The trouble is, CGI is cold and uninvolving, the animals looked so realistic that I felt like I was watching some kind of demented documentary but if I want to watch a documentary about Lions or the Serengeti then I’ve got BBC documentaries for days about this very topic.
I mean there’s nothing wrong with this film but once the graphics inevitably age, there’s nothing to come back too. There’s padding where there doesn’t need to be any, celebrities where there should be voice actors, realism where there should be fantasy. This film is a product, designed to make a billion dollars in ticket sales, double that in merch and then be forgotten about in time for the next product that’s designed to make a billion dollars, shift toys and then be forgotten about. Because films aren’t designed to be treasured any more, their just disposable products. It’s true that this is an advancement in CGI but that’s all it is. It won’t be remembered 20 years, hell I wont remember it in 20 minutes. Which is exactly how I’ve felt about pretty much every big film this year. Apart from Hellboy. That film is scarred into my retinas.
Oh well, at least it’s the worst Cats related film ‘ll see all year.
My Score- If Nothing Else