- Film & TV
- 19 Jul 19
Breathtakingly realistic remake loses expression and emotion to accuracy.
In the 1994 Disney classic The Lion King, patriarch lion Mufasa tells cub Simba about the extent of their power – “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” Hollywood filmmakers have a similar sensibility: everything an audience touches is theirs. Our memories, nostalgia and formative film experiences now belong to Hollywood, and the ‘Circle of Life’ is now the Circle of Reanimation.
Or, in the case of Jon Favreau’s new “photo-realistic rendering.” In his virtually shot-for-shot reproduction of Hamlet via Cats, he’s further developed the technologies he used on The Jungle Book to genuinely awe-inspiring effect. This story of a lion cub learning how to be an ethical leader is shown in breathcatchingly life-like detail. Each animal’s unique movements, fur, hide and pawprints – as well as the stunning African plains and jungles – are captured with a realism, accuracy and respect worthy of a David Attenborough documentary.
But The Lion King wasn’t designed to be a documentary. It was a musical animation, where the animals sing and perform elaborate choreography; where Simba is mischievous but guilt-stricken; where villainous lion Scar is camp and sardonic; where courtier bird Zazu jumps from pompous and posturing to a snivelling coward in seconds. And through Favreau’s dedication to realism – a realism that excludes animals smiling, crying, eyebrow-raising, or dancing - he eliminates what animation evoked so beautifully, and what we all connected to: the animals’ humanity.
The vocal performances – nicely featuring more African-American actors than the original - are strong. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen steal the show as comic duo Timon and Pumba, throwing in some lovely improvisations. As Simba and love interest Nala, Donald Glover and Beyoncé bring emotion and unsurprisingly wonderful performances of songs like ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ – but as with John Oliver’s Zazu or Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar, their characters’ personalities, punchlines and personal struggles are flattened by the animation’s restrictions.