From the moment The Lion King trailer first aired, fans felt divided about the latest Disney remake. Worries about what this version might add quickly became concerns about the photorealism of talking animals in water cooler talks. Upon first watch, those questions were valid – but may be forgotten thanks to the gorgeous backdrops of the film.
Lion King Dazzles With CGI
Anyone who’s seen The Jungle Book knows that Jon Favreau has mastered the nebulous world between animation and live-action. Nearly every shot of The Lion King resembles a frame of the animated classic come to life. Sometimes that gets repetitive, but mostly it’s breathtaking. A minute-long sequence of fluff floating through the savannah becomes a work of art. The animals are as real as ones in a David Attenborough nature documentary, making it easy to forget they’re engineered.
That majesty also represents one of the biggest obstacles for The Lion King, on the other hand. Simba (Donald Glover) and Nala (Beyoncé Knowles) pass for real lions, which makes their human voices disconcerting. This is not a knock on the performances, because they were top-notch. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Florence Kasumba especially shine as Scar and Shenzi, breathing new life into old villains. But while the creatures look amazing and the actors sound incredible, the two don’t always reconcile.
Classic Story With A Modern Touch
As previously mentioned, most of The Lion King is a faithful adaptation of the original. But there are some fun extras thrown in, as well as updated versions of previous jokes. Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen) are the main culprits of this, and their natural chemistry is infectious. There are several moments during their travels with Simba that are worth a rewatch all on their own.
Scar and Shenzi, on the other hand, transform in a different way. Beyond Ejiofor and Kasumbe’s powerhouse performances, there also lies a deeper understanding of their motivations. Viewers will come away with a more chilling impression of the hyenas after The Lion King. Meanwhile, important beats may not hit those who lived through the original as hard, but they’re a revelation for first-timers.
The Lion King may not reinvent the wheel (or the circle, as it were) thematically – but it changes the game visually. Film aficionados will watch to check it out for the blend of technology and craftsmanship alone. And if their heart revels in Simba’s tale of growth along the way, that’s even better.