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The Lion King (2019) Movie Review

A Remake You Can Re-Lion?

In this era of endless reboots, sequels and remakes, it was inevitable that Disney's modern classic animated tale, "The Lion King" would get an update. The original film has been remastered and enhanced several times for new home video formats and even remastered and re-released for IMAX theaters in 2002. The film was also adapted into a popular live action musical that is still running on Broadway today, 22 years after its initial release. Now the tale is being told on the big screen anew, 25 years after the first film's debut, and this version is a testament to the incredible advancements made in CGI (computer generated imagery).

Though the trailers and previews may lead you to believe that they've somehow taught lions and warthogs and hyneas to sing (and dance), the hyper-realistic look of the film is entirely computer-generated. Simple sequences like a dung beetle rolling a ball of, well, dung down a hill and a stampede of wildebeets through a canyon are so painstakingly detailed and realistic that they appear to be clips from a nature documentary, but they're actually entirely fabricated inside artists' minds, with the help of advanced CGI software and hardware. No matter what else one might say about the film, the sheer realism of it is incredible. But is that enough?

From a story-telling perspective, the new film, directed by Jon Favreau ("Iron Man," "The Jungle Book") stays true to the original. The Lion King Mufasa (powerfully voiced once again by James Earl Jones) has a son Simba (voiced by JD McCrary, and later Donald Glover) who is destined to take over as ruler of the Pride lands. Mufasa's envious brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plots to murder the king and/or the prince so that he can rule in the king's stead. Simba flees to avoid his shame in causing his father's death (so he thinks). In exile, Simba meets up with fun-loving pals Pumbaa the warthog (Seth Rogen) and Timon the meerkat (Billy Eichner) who teach the young cub the carefree ways of Hakuna Matata.

As time passes, Simba develops into a fully grown Lion. His former best friend and soon-to-be love interest Nala (voiced by Shadadi Wright Joseph, and later Beyoncé) also leaves the pride lands in search of help in overthrowing the tyrranical Scar. As the two reunite, Nala pleads with Simba to return to the pride and take his rightful place as king. But Simba declines, leaving Nala to abandon him in search of other assistance. Meanwhile the mystical baboon and adviser to the king, Rafiki (John Kani), also learns of Simba's survival. He tracks the prince down and convinces Simba to abandon his carefree lifestyle, and challenge Scar in order to fulfill his destiny. Again, the story is nothing new if you've seen the original film or the musical. But they have changed up a few things, in addition to the look of the film.
Modern CGI technology, like that used in "The Lion King" is blurring the line between artifice and reality.
In the original, as Simba and Nala reunite and are frolicking in the jungle, Elton John and Tim Rice's tune, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" provides the backdrop. It's a perfect combination of plot development and powerful music. In this new version of the film, the song is still there, but many of the lyrics have been changed, and it's now a sort of duet, sung inside the heads of the two leads. I can see why they did it this way -- it would be a shame to waste the singing voices of  Beyoncé and Donald Glover (a.k.a. "Childish Gambino")-- but it just doesn't work very well. It's a fine reinterpretation of a great original song, but it just seems weird that the two characters are "singing" it without their actual lips moving (it is an internal dialog, after all). It just doesn't work as well as the original for character or plot development.
Seeing "The Lion King" in IMAX is worthwhile for the enhanced audio and visual quality alone.


In keeping so closely to the original source material, it just seems like the new film doesn't have much to add. There are definitely high points: the interplay between Timon and Pumbaa is highly entertaining, providing several laugh-out-loud moments. And the opening "Circle of Life" sequence set on Pride Rock is simply jaw-dropping. For a new generation of youngsters who are unfamiliar with the story, or for die-hard fans of the original who want to experience it from a fresh perspective, "The Lion King" should prove to be enjoyable. It's also worthwhile viewing for those who want to see what truly cutting edge computer generation animation can look like. But other than that, there isn't much new to see here.

I watched the film in an IMAX theater and recommend that you do the same, if you can. Most of the musical numbers expand to fill the entire IMAX screen and this makes these segments even more immersive. In a traditional movie theater you will be missing some of the image at the top and bottom of the screen. Also, the detail of the CGI holds up extremely well on the huge IMAX screen and the excellent soundtrack benefits from IMAX immersive surround sound.

All in all, it's a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with your little ones, but - other than the CGI - don't expect anything too ground-breaking.

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About Udara Madusanka

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