Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” is very much like Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho.” It’s a glossy, new setting, with a bold new cast, but when you cut right through the nostalgia lenses, it’s basically the same movie all over again. “The Lion King” doesn’t leave a lot of room to surprise its audience, as it basically plays it safe and copies the original film almost verbatim. Why watch a remake of “The Lion King” when you can simply stay home and watch the 1994 original? I can’t think of much of a reason, save for the all star cast.
Destined to be king of the Pride Lands, young cub Simba is blamed for the death of his father, King Mufasa, by his conniving and evil uncle Scar. As Simba flees to escape the guilt of Mufasa’s death, Scar steals the crown. After fate intervenes, Simba is called back to the Pride Lands to re-claim his rightful throne and confront Scar, and his army of ravenous Hyenas. Rather than giving “The Lion King” a new twist (a la the Broadway musical), inject some new overtones, or just sidestep the musical element altogether, Jon Favreau’s remake is painfully by the numbers.
There’s no energy, no luster, no enthusiasm, and it wastes everything from time, the incredible animation, and an all star cast. I’ve seen “The Lion King” in theaters, on VHS, DVD, Cable TV, and the Disney Channel, and truth be told, I’ve seen it again, except with a different kind of artistic medium. Everyone from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, and Donald Glover are somewhat overshadowed by the inherent mission to conjure nostalgia from the audience. Not even the return of James Earl Jones as Mufasa does much to stoke the interest in what is a routine and dull reworking. When I say the animation is excellent, I mean it. The character models and recreations of key scenes from the original movie are stunning to watch unfold.
The circle of life prologue is where the animation crew is allowed to hook the audience in, and it works as it allows you to marvel at what is purely amazing modern animation. While it is a nice bit of recreation for the sake of flaunting technology, there is nothing new taken away. Among some of the baffling slight changes, the screenplay downplays the role of Rafiki, the ideas of fate and destiny, and points out so much of the plot beats for us rather than allowing the characters to develop naturally as they did in the original.
Zazu literally points out that Simba and Nala will fall in love. Why is there a bigger emphases on Zensi and Nala feuding? Why did Zensi hate Nala personally? And if Scar and Sarabi were once together, why did she choose Mufasa over him? Save for re-arranging scenes, and downplaying the musical aspect of the narrative, “The Lion King” is the same movie we’ve all seen at least a hundred times since 1994. “The Lion King” offers almost nothing to fans old and new save for a shiny coating of paint.