I’m no real movie critic. Just a self-ascribed high-key Pixar fan, medium Disney fan, casual Marvel fan, with a healthy interest in indie films.
This review will contain spoilers, not that they’re be any if you saw the original animated classic. However, if you’re like me and consider most things spoilers, things like some creative choices and my opinions on them might throw off your taste or prime you to feel a certain way, so just be aware of that if you want to have an unaffected viewing of the film for the first time.
Now, I don’t care very much about the life action remakes of the classics. I strongly believe in the power of animation, and for a story like Lion King I wasn’t too sure how the emotions and dialogue would translate to real-life animal proportions. However, I absolutely loved the Jungle Book remake, and really liked how they took liberties to make the live action story its own. I also attended a panel at Siggraph where they showed how they rigged monkey faces in the Planet of the Apes remakes, and I thought that turned out well. So I was hoping for a good experience.
The first ten minutes of the film felt exactly the same as the original. And I hate saying that, because I’m going to keep on comparing this to the original, because that’s what I ended up doing the entire film. The film was too similar to not to compare. But it didn’t try to explore anything in a new way – it at best matched the emotion of the original, but it didn’t do more.
See, after the first ten minutes, you started getting close-ups of the animals. And you’d sit there, and be like, oh, this is a close up of a very realistic looking lion. Like a lion you’d see on a safari or zoo or Planet Earth. But then the lion would talk?? and that was a little uncanny. Also, watching them sing was super weird.
But the scenery? Really good. I’ve visited a safari before and it was spot-on.
I also especially liked the design of Scar in the film. The scar he had looked very realistic, and his design was still distinctive even though they lacked the liberties of animation. The animated Scar was colored brown with black hair, while Mufasa got to be Golden Boy. I liked how live-action Scar had basically the same coloring as Mufasa, but with faded colors, a splotchier fur coat, and was much, much skinnier. The animators also did really well with contorting his face to look evil or sinister while still making him look lion-ish.
I also thought the different characterization of the hyenas were nice. They had a good variety of body shapes, vs the lionesses which looked mostly like clones of each other.
Another problem with this live action is that everything is so high detail, you sometimes lose sight of what you should be looking at. It’s a nice problem to have, I know, because every frame is so beautiful and looks like it could be a National Geographic Instagram post. But in a movie, when you want to know where you should be looking, more or less, the extra detail was at times too much.
My favorite part of the movie was hands down the dessert oasis part with Pumba and Timon. Timon’s face and body was well adapted to showcasing emotions, with larger cartoony eyes and an amusing way of standing and walking. Pumba’s face was largely impassive, but his voice actor carried the job so that the overall performance was still acceptable.
The later parts of the movie felt like the beginning, with a lot of lion-talking, jaws not quite looking right as they spoke English, and animals looking at animals where if I didn’t see the original I’d probably not be able to substitute the emotions that I should be feeling in any particular moment. It was also very obvious that it was Beyonce doing Nana – her voice is a little too, I dunno, sexy? for the role. Like, sometimes it was distracting. I also thought “Can you feel the love tonight” was a little too stylized in terms of vocal production. Still sounded good.
Oh, and another complaint – Scar’s evil song near the beginning was way too short, and not nearly as evil. Like I get it – you can’t just project green light on him because green lights don’t occur in nature. And that sucks. But it really was lacking something, and that’s part of what you get when you don’t use animation.
Final rating? If 0 means I felt neutral about it, then this movie is probably a 2.2. I wouldn’t watch it again. I’m still glad I saw it, because it’s always a cool thing to see how professionals translated a timeless story from one medium to another, and what decisions were made in the process, and the story still makes me cry. But it still wasn’t that good.