Beyoncé Presents: The Beyoncé King: Starring Beyoncé.
While I’m still not 100 per cent on board with the trend of pumping out live-action remakes of every Disney classic – you can check out my review for Aladdin (2019) here – I’ll admit I was unusually excited for The Lion King (2019). Not only has director Jon Favreau assembled a cast of actors I adore (which happens to include BEYONCÉ), but he also did an incredible job with The Jungle Book (2016). The Jungle Book has probably been my favourite of the live-action remakes so far because of its dazzling effects and the fresh spin it put on the beloved story. Though The Lion King is equally as dazzling, the story is almost identical to the one we’ve known for the last 25 years. Seriously, watch the original and then this one and you’d be hard-pressed to find many differences. By the way, you can check out my review for the original cartoon here.
Based on the Disney movie of the same name, The Lion King follows Simba, a young lion cub who is destined to become king. When his treacherous uncle Scar frames him for the murder of his father Mufasa, Simba flees home to live in exile. After remembering who he truly is, Simba returns to Pride Rock to challenge his uncle for the throne.
It was tricky going into this movie because I literally just watched the original and was reminded of how wonderfully amazing it is. Also, if I wasn’t blown away by the new Aladdin, a remake of my all-time favourite Disney movie, what chance did The Lion King have? At least it had the benefit of the aforementioned involvement of a stellar cast and director but as it turns out, even that wasn’t enough to save The Lion King. Just like Aladdin (and a handful of other live-action remakes if we’re being honest) I found this movie to be good, well-made and entertaining, but lacking the charm, fun and magic of its namesake. Again, if we’re being honest, this movie is good, well-made and entertaining because the original is good, well-made and entertaining. Look, I can complain until the cows come home about how this is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the original, but the truth of the matter is, it simply had to be. Everything about the original film is beloved and iconic so to deviate from that even slightly would be heresy. Although, shaking things up worked for The Jungle Book which added a more emotional depth to its story, and for Beauty and the Beast (2017) which cleared up questions fans had about the original. With each aspect of this new version, The Lion King does one of two things: creates a near-perfect imitation of the original, or bastardizes it completely.
Let’s start with the positive. This movie is fucking astonishing to behold. A visual and technical marvel in every sense of the word, it’s easy to believe that you’re watching real-live animals in an Animal Planet documentary. The stunning artistry of this movie coupled with the sheer adorableness of each CGI animal, is sure to keep you thrilled and smiling each time one shows up on screen. In keeping with the original movie, rest assured that the masterpiece that is the “Circle of Life” sequence once again captures the majesty of the animal kingdom. You know what else is in keeping with the original? James Earl Jones as Mufasa. 25 years later and Jones’ voice still SLAPS! Even if he is repeating lines from the original ver batim, the delivery and power of Jones’ voice is unmatched.
On the other hand, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar is largely underwhelming. Admittedly, Jeremy Irons is a tough act to follow vocally. Like Will Smith’s Genie, Ejiofor gets major points for giving a performance that while not quite living up to its predecessor, takes heavy inspiration from it and in turn delivers his own interpretation of the character. Unfortunately, like Marwan Kenzari’s live-action Jafar, the new Scar is downgraded from legendary Disney villain to generic bad guy. Lacking any of the delicious wickedness and twisted genius that made the 1994 character so mesmerizing, the 2019 Scar fails to terrify or intimidate. Or entertain, really. Where was the campy villainy? First Jafar and now Scar? Really, Luke Evans’ Gaston is the only villain to capture the dark humourous side of the villains we love and fear so much.
Thankfully, the music in The Lion King is still as fantastic as ever. Except for one glaring misstep: “Be Prepared” is a watered down travesty that lacks any menace or fun and I’m still not over it. The rest of the music however, is phenomenal. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s “Hakuna Matata” is a delight and Beyoncé singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is every bit as breathtaking as you’d imagine. While there’s nothing technically wrong with any of the songs or their singers, across the board they suffer from a lack of theatricality. This is the same problem I had with the songs in Aladdin! They all sound fine, but they just don’t hit you in the feels the way the original do. Nor are they as fun. Also, without the freedom and imagination of animation, each musical number feels a little stale as the animals can do no more than run and jump around. Without true choreography, you don’t get the extra level of comedy to “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” or truly see the romance blossom between Nala and Simba during “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Sigh. That’s the price we pay with these remakes grounded in realism. Sidenote, it bears repeating that Beyoncé’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is heavenly and I’ve listened to it 8,000 times since seeing the movie last night.
As adult Simba and Nala, Donald Glover and Beyoncé do adequately. I’ll admit, I may have audibly gasped the first time I heard the choir of angels that is Beyoncé’s voice. Both actors are perfectly fine, but for whatever reason their performances just lack the same emotional punch as their animated counterparts. Now, excuse me while I slide to Hell for admitting there was something less than perfect about Beyoncé. Like I said, the voice acting is fine so I think the main problem lies in the animation of the lions. Oh wow, are these lions incapable of conveying emotion. They’re almost like puppets, saddled with one expression for the entire movie. It’s a small thing, but without the main characters being able to properly emote, it’s hard to be invested in their story.
However, Eichner and Rogen are simply sensational as TImon and Pumbaa respectively, expressions be damned! The definition of comedic relief, the pair carry the movie and inject it with the sense of fun it so often lacks. Together they’re the perfect blend of homage to the original while putting a fresh spin on the characters, really the only time the movie succeeds in doing so. Eichner and Rogen own the screen whenever they appear and I’m almost on board for Disney to do a live-action version of the sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998) just to get more of them.
I have a feeling that my verdict for the next few Disney remakes (of which there are at least five or six in the works) is going to be the same as my verdict for The Lion King. It’s a perfectly fine movie that will pleasantly entertain, but in the end will never live up to the classic it’s based on. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but mediocre remakes are just a part of the Circle of Life.
Will you see the new The Lion King? Are you a fan of the original?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!