The Lion King

A long overdue review for a movie that never should have happened. The Lion King is a modern and overlong retelling of a wonderful Disney film from the early 90’s that fails tremendously due to a misguided approach to the material, a tonal dissonance, and uninspired voice acting.

The story is more or less the same as the original film. It follows Simba, the son of Mufasa the King of the Pride Lands in Africa. Mufasa’s jealous brother Scar murders Mufasa and blames Simba. Simba goes on a journey to find himself and reclaim his birthright. This is an epic and emotion driven story about big heroes, dastardly villains, and sweeping scale. This movie approaches this story with photo realistic special effects. The social effects are stunning and truly the most convincing CGI landscapes even created. However realism does not serve a story about the Shakespearean intrigue within a royal family of lions.

The realism just sucks the energy and emotion out of every scene. There is no forward momentum built up when every animal is devoid of emotion. When Mufasa dies, Simba’s face is impassive. There is no emotion that registers. Lion’s do not have emotions therefore his face is a blank. When Simba and Nala fall in love they stare at each other with blank black eyes that convey nothing. The filmmakers avoid closeups throughout a lot of the movie. This creates a nature documentary style which is objective and distant at moments when the film should be subjective and engaging. This whole approach of slavish realism, is a massive mistake that kills any true impact or engagement the story could have.

The tone of the film is basically subdued ambivalence. This is a direct result of the nature documentary approach. The subdued tone would be all right if not for the fact that the film is at times a musical and also a broad comedy with fart jokes and bodily humor. In the movie, Simba runs away for years to live with a meerkat and warthog while Scar rules the Pride Lands with an iron fist. The original sticks with Simba entirely during this segment. The new movie cuts back and forth. This cross cutting creates a horrible jarring effect. The movie shows depictions of predators savagely taking down prey and then cuts to a warthog farting. The darkness and cruelty on display in scenes in which Scar abuses the female lions does not work with scenes in which Simba eats grubs and sings about going with the flow. By showing the devastation of Simba’s home it raises the stakes on Pride rock, but it also makes Simba’s refusal to return home and help feel all the more petty. It diminishes the character of Simba and creates too harsh a dissonance between the two segments.

The films cast has been hyped and praised, but they let the film down big time. None of the cast add anything special to their roles except for Seth Rogen as Pumba and Billy Eichner as Timon. These two give it their all and their line deliveries are perfect. They are very good. Everyone else feels subdued to the point of phoning it in. Chiwetel Ejiofer has gravity as Scar, but his emotions never raise above a 4. Beyonce isn’t any good here. Her delivery is stiff. The young Simba delivers a nice convincing turn, but his emotional voice is at odds with the emotionless face his character has. James Earl Jones’ voice is showing his age, but his inflection and delivery is still fantastic. However due to the film’s documentary approach it often feels as if Jones and the whole cast is narrating a Planet Earth special. Their voices don’t seem to be coming from their characters. They feel disconnected.

This film is bad. There are some highlights and some fun moments. It is nice to hear Jones again. The stampede sequence is very good. The Hyena’s are genuinely scary and intimidating. The computer effects on display are lightyears ahead of anything else. And the story itself is so good it is impossible to hate the film entirely. However the movie as a whole is not good. It is poorly conceived and misguided. It is not exactly my cup of tea. – C+

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