Donald Glover … Simba Beyoncé … Nala Chiwetel Ejiofor … Scar John Oliver … Zazu James Earl Jones … Mufasa John Kani … Rafiki Alfre Woodard … Sarabi JD McCrary … Young Simba Shahadi Wright … Young Nala Penny Johnson … Sarafina Keegan-Michael Key … Kamari Eric André … Azizi Florence Kasumba … Shenzi Seth Rogen … Pumbaa Billy Eichner … Timon
Directed By Jon Favreau
The Lion King Review:
One of my favorite things about Jon Favreau is that he loves breaking new ground in the places storytelling can go. What if Iron-Man could lead to a bigger expansive world? Boom. The MCU is born out of a movie that took a huge gamble on its star and premise. In Chef we got an introspective look at what film means to Favreau and took us on a deeply personal journey through his mind with food as the guiding metaphor. It was inspiring to see a director go back to basics in such a cathartic feel-good movie about falling back in love with film–I mean cooking. With The Jungle Book, his reinvigoration to push boundaries brought us one of the best Disney’s live-action films and that found potential in a new landscape to tell beloved stories in.
With The Lion King, the technology that was introduced in The Jungle Book is simply too good. The photo-real environments and animation of wildlife are completely elevated in Favreau’s remake of the 1994 animated classic. I liken it to Walt Disney’s innovative work creating very realistic first-of-their-kind animatronics of animals for the parks in rides the like Jungle Cruise, here we have fantasy mixing with reality in ways never before seen. When you watch this Lion King, it truly feels like you’re immersed in the wilds of Africa and seeing Hamlet-inspired Lion feuds. Looks straight up like a Nat Geo show in Dolby vision.
The voice talent led by Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Alfre Woodard, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, with Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner is one of the greatest Disney ensembles ever brought together. Full stop. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” performed by Beyoncé and Childish Gambino? Perfect. Even Eichner and Rogen’s contribution to that manages to plus another unforgettable rendition of a Disney classic. Their Tomon and Pumbaa definitely were a huge highlight that balanced out the drama between the lions. Ejiofor created a chilling and calculating Scar versus Glover’s Simba who played up the imposter syndrome of having to fill the legacy of Mufasa by living the Hakuna Matata life to avoid it. The power Glover’s performance came from a turn that showed the courage it took Simba to choose his destiny as king and seeing past his uncle’s gaslighting. Felt really relevant to see Simba overcome the blame placed on him that made him feel inadequate and take back power from an elder who scorched their land and squandered resources before it was too late. And seeing Lionesses in the pride try to hold off complete and utter damage and taking care of the pack against a tyrant was also *chef’s kiss*.
The photoreal animals in The Lion King are an incredible technological feat that is a commendable exploration of what the future of film can look like. But like advancements in animatronics, there’s only so far that the suspension of disbelief can be stretched. The film absolutely works to lay the foundation of what we can reach. However, the emotion of the performances and story are limited by a real animal’s inability to emote. And that made scenes that were once easy to extend ourselves to relate to in the animated film feel bewildering. It’s hyper-real and maybe needed to keep some of the fantasy aspects of animation from its predecessor for character design to marry these two great powers. In The Jungle Book and in Detective Pikachu and even in the past with the Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, it’s way easier to believe those animals/creatures have complex lives by their facial design. Do we believe it more because there are humans in the film to play off? Is it challenging for the brain that is familiar with the animated film to process real looking lions fighting over a throne? (They’re big cats so yeah that’s believable in a sense.)
The Lion King will make you feel a sense of wonder for many reasons including memorable new takes on iconic scenes, stand-out comedic and musical performances and awe over the visuals. But also wonder at why it doesn’t fully fit together with the best of technology and powerful performances. Maybe kid audiences, won’t feel a sense of battling to keep a suspension of disbelief? It will be very interesting to see the direction this medium will go moving forward.