REARDON: The amazement of a realistic 'Lion King' might also be part of its problem

The story is virtually the same, but the new animation is about as life like as you can get. You'll think you're watching a National Geographic documentary if you didn't know better.

Mark Reardon
July 18, 2019 - 1:46 pm

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

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(KMOX) - I drove all the way to Orlando Florida to see "The Lion King."

Well, sort of. That's not completely fake news. The screening in St. Louis was taking place while I was on vacation in Florida, so I called in a favor and snuck in at the screening last week in Orlando.

The original animated version would probably land in my top-25 movies of all time so was excited, skeptical, and cautiously optimistic about the new photorealistic computer-animated (not live action!) remake.

Let's remember, the original 1994 animated feature was a global smash. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 1997 musical stage adaptation now stands as the third-longest running show in Broadway history and its more than 20 spinoff international productions have grossed more than $8 billion.​

Director Jon Favreau successfully tried this once before with "The Jungle Book" and he brought in some of the same team members like veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and visual effects supervisors Robert Legato and Adam Valdez. The story is virtually the same, but the new animation is about as life like as you can get. You'll think you're watching a National Geographic documentary if you didn't know better. And while that's part of the amazement it, might also be part of the problem.

I don't think I need to go over the story of "The Lion King." If you haven't seen the original or the dazzling stage version you probably don't have an interest. All of the voices are different, but one. You can't have anyone else voice Mufasa can you? Of course not and that's why James Earl Jones at 88-years-old is back as the King of Pride Rock.

The rest of the cast includes:

  • Donald Glover as Simba
  • Beyonce as Nala
  • Seth Rogen plays Pumba
  • Billy Eichner is one of the stand outs as Timon
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor is Scar
  • John Oliver is Zazu
  • Alfre Woodard as Sarabi

​Rogen and Eichner provide the most laughs here, and the rest of the cast is certainly adequate. But for me the emotion in this film mainly comes from memories of the original – and that goes back to the reality of the animation. You can't have a goofy hyena like Ed (Jim Cummings in the original) rolling around the forbidden land with the animals looking exactly like they do in the wild. Which is why Favreau didn't even try.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the lack of facial expression saps the film of some of the emotional connections. The music isn't as potent and there aren't many surprises since it mimics the original story almost line-by-line. 

​Sounds like I didn't like it much? Nope, still loved it.

Maybe I just have some different standards since I hold the original in such high regard. The mark of any good movie for me throughout the course of a year is whether I could go back to the theater and see that same movie again relatively soon. It doesn't happen often, and in 2019 I can only say that about a handful of movies, "Booksmart" for sure.

Despite some picking around the edges I still thought "The Lion King" was a visual stunner and a magical movie. I could see it again today.

I'm still giving it an A-!! 

PS – If you're interested in finding out more about the dazzling animation and VR technology, CLICK HERE to check out this piece!

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