Disney live-action "The Ling King"

Review: ‘The Lion King’ Live-Action Film

The Lion King is not a new story, though this reimagining does do a good job of making the story feel fresh and different.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. If you are planning to see The Lion King, stop reading now and enjoy the movie.

If you haven’t read my article Movie Trailer Thoughts: The Lion King, I encourage you to. The previous article gives a view on why I love this movie so much and a snapshot of what I hoped would be featured in this 2019 version.

The Excitement

As a lover of the original animated feature film, and a repeat audience member of the musical, The Lion King holds a special place in my heart. When I heard Disney was working on a re-imaging of this classic film done entirely in life-like computer graphics, I was a little skeptical but more so excited to see my favorite characters brought to life in a different way. I really had neutral hopes for the 2019 movie—I wasn’t totally excited, and I wasn’t really disappointed by the trailers. And, that’s about where I landed once the credits rolled.

The PAWS-atives

The scenery

A strong positive of the movie is the scenery. Pride Rock and the rest of the kingdom looked fantastic. The way the light filtered through the clouds, the way the grass swayed with the gentle breeze, the ripples of the water, the look of Pride Rock at any time of day—simply magnificent. I adored the evening sky views the best, as they seemed like a star tracker sped up to show the passing of time. Little things like the branches of trees, or the way the dust rose as Simba ran through the sand, was all very appreciated. It looked so real and helped sell the setting of the story.

The voice acting

The voice-overs were meticulous. Every word sounded sincere and in the moment. The actors and actresses truly pushed themselves to breathe life into the cast and you could hear it with the script. The songs were also really lovely to listen to and didn’t feel like they were simply in the movie because they were in the original. I even adored the placement of Beyoncé’s new song for the movie, “Spirit”. Every script line and every song was very well delivered and had a fantastic tone overall.

The animals

The animals also looked wonderful. They moved and breathed. Their animal noises all made sense and sounded very natural. The very beginning where the antelope (or gazelle) are racing toward Pride Rock to greet baby Simba was oddly done and felt like some of them were copy-paste poorly. Basically, I noticed the one leaping with its head down and then couldn’t “un-see” it as it raced past the screen over and over again. I tried not to laugh, but the pose was pretty silly. Regardless, you could tell that the animation team worked hard to capture every nuance of each animal. From fur patterns, to horns and tusks having a grainy look, to feathers being adjusted mid-flight, and lions posed to pounce. The animals looked realistic throughout the film.

The Nagging Negatives

It didn’t emote with me

But a movie that encompassed such realism in the way of animation, made this feel a little bit like watching a documentary about our planet, and less like watching the story of Simba’s life. The animals simply didn’t emote, at all, and I felt like I was watching the movie instead of feeling like I was within a story being told.

For example, I’ve cried every time I see Simba rush to Mufasa’s side, only to realize his father isn’t getting back up after the incident at the gorge. I’ve cried during the musical, and every time I see it in the animated movie, no matter where I’m viewing it. But seeing it done with realistic lions, and seeing a huge lack of emotion on Simba’s face just… well, it fell flat with me and I had no tears. I was disappointed at that part because once that transpired I knew that I wouldn’t be having the same emotional attachment that I had for the animated version nor the musical. It simply became hard to feel any emotions from the characters because it looked like they weren’t feeling them either, despite their emotional words.

Realism animation style

Another thing that was very different due to the realism animation style was the lack of discerning features on each character. Timon and Pumbaa are, of course, much easier to point out. But Sarabi blends in with the other female lioness, and adult Nala does as well. The time difference between Mufasa, Scar, and adult Simba make these three male lions easier to distinguish.

But for anyone who hadn’t watched the original film over one hundred times, telling Nala and Sarabi apart from the pride (and apart from one another) was difficult to do. (Nala has nearly solid black on the back of her ears and has yellow-blue eyes, and Sarabi has “tear” markings of lighter fur down the sides of her nose from her eyes, though even these subtle differences are hard to grasp when on the big screen.)

The Circle of Life

The lack of emoting from the characters in this realistic version of my favorite movie definitely made it harder to enjoy fully. However, I did enjoy the subtle nods to The Lion King 1½ (we got a bit of “The Morning Report” song!), and the larger bows to the musical (so many good songs that translated well from the musical to this version of the film, as well as more from Sarabi, and a deeper look at Scar’s character). Overall, The Lion King felt like a good summary film somehow encompassing the original animated film, the 1½ sequel, and the musical. The ending of the film also ended as the original film did—with a glimpse of Simba’s first-born daughter, Kiara.

My Rating: A Lion Cub Mew

Despite the large flaw of a lack of emotion on the characters’ faces to match what their voices were carrying, The Lion King is a stunning movie done in crisp computer graphics that will have animators excited to see.

I doubt we’ll see The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, or any of The Lion Guard coming soon to theaters. I’d even be completely surprised if these sequels suddenly get slated for the “realism makeover” of The Lion King (2019).

I’m glad Disney continues to breathe life into The Lion King, but I’m not wild about this version. Out of 5 stars, I’m giving this one a 3. It’s a fun movie but the lack of emotion makes it hard to connect to. A lion cub mew is cute, but not nearly as attention grabbing as an adult lion’s roar. 

What did you think of The Lion King? Agree with this review? Let’s hear it in the comments below, or @GeekGals on Twitter.

Featured image credit: Disney

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