The Lion King (2019) - A Review: Tons Of Courage But Little Heart

The Lion King (2019) - A Review: Tons Of Courage But Little Heart

By Michael P Coleman

The cast of director Jon Favreau’s new “photo realistic” The Lion King faced a daunting dilemma: how do you introduce the story to a new generation that may see the largely hand-drawn 1994 original as old-fashioned?

After seeing the new film, that question remains largely unanswered. 

I have grown to understand the need for updates like this.  As the lights dimmed in the theatre, almost every kid — of every age — dimmed the smartphone they desperately clutched in their hands.  Particularly for most younger people, a visual “wow” factor is a requirement for a movie to really resonate. 

This new Lion King delivers on that front.  Its a stunner, with computer-generated, sweeping vistas of “Africa” that may well prompt a call to my travel agent. 

It’s also an almost scene-by-scene recreation of the animated original, with an extra hour or so of largely unnecessary movie ham-fistedly tacked on.  To borrow a great line from a Hollywood musical that’s stood the test of time, if only this new Lion King had a heart. 

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy some of The Lion King.  John Oliver’s Zazu was a pleasant surprise, as were Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa.  The legendary Alfre Woodward was serviceable, while underutilized, as Sarabi.  Donald Glover largely impressed as adult Simba. James Earl Jones, reprising his role as the voice of the adult Mufasa, was predictably majestic. 

But as brilliant as Jones is, his character (and the story) only work if Scar is as sinister as Jeremy Irons presented him in the original.  Early on, Chiwetel Ejiofor left me with some hope that he might evoke a compelling Scar, but minutes later, during the character’s big production number, the actor revealed he was simply not prepared.  Disney should have just brought Irons back for this remake.

And then there’s Beyoncé.  Or, rather, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as she’s billed in The Lion King, in an apparent bid for cinematic credibility.  She probably thought she needed three names ‘cause James Earl Jones has three, and she wanted to measure up on the marquee. 

I had been waiting for the better part of two decades for Knowles-Carter to impress me on film.  The wait continues.  Bey’s going to need more than a longer name: she’s going to need some acting lessons.  The movie’s computer-generated images were far more realistic than her voiceover work.  Queen Bey’s performance — if it can even be called that — was the movie’s weakest link, by a long shot. 

That said, this new Lion King had a few laugh-out-loud moments, including a hysterical nod to another Disney animated classic, but two hours is a long time to sit for that.  In a couple of cases, and in the film’s pivotal scene, the movie panders to the audience in a way that the original never does. 

And what prompted swapping out the Broadway production’s stirring “He Lives In You” with Beyoncé’s uninspired, mumbled, nebulous “Spirit,” as Simba journeys to try to regain the throne? 

We may never know the answer to that question, but we do know this: Disney’s 1994 original is one of the company’s crowning achievements.  This new remake, while visually gorgeous, is not.  Young Simba may be having trouble waiting to become the king.  But in that darkened theatre, this writer was rather impatiently waiting for the lights to go up.  I needed to get home and plow through closets and boxes for my Lion King Blu Ray. 

Mike Coleman headshotonly nologo 300Click here to connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman, click here to check out his blog, or click here to follow him on Twitter.