The Lion King is the most important film in my life for me personally. It was the first production I watched as a kid from start to finish. To this day, I remember the moment when my parents returned with a VHS cassette with the movie, and I was able to enjoy the colorful world created by Disney. I didn’t cry over Mufasa. I was too young to understand what death is, but I was sad. “The Lion King” created my film taste by showing me some motifs that I love to this day, or as a person, passing on to me valuable, universal values. For me, this Disney animation is a kind of movie bible, without which the love of cinematography would not be possible. So I do not need to explain that I was waiting for the live-action of “The Lion King” with no less impatience as for the finale of the Avengers’ adventures.
Simba is a young, somewhat smart but brave young lion who wants to inherit the throne from his father Mufasa. The lion cub is curious about the world and understanding the circle of life that he has heard so much about from his father. However, not all in the kingdom of lion worship the king. Simba’s uncle, Scar, is plotting progress to take over Lion’s Rock. Once his plan is successfully implemented, Simba is banished from the kingdom and left to his own devices. On his way, he meets Timon and Pumbaa, two inseparable friends who will raise a young lion. Some time later, the past will be remembered for a proper heir to the throne.
Jon Favreau’s Lion King is an almost perfect copy of the 1994 animation. Maybe even too perfect, because generations who grew up on the Disney animated classic will find nothing new to discover here. There is nothing to cheat, but the Shakespearean story has long since become archaic, and the creators have not decided in any way to update, refresh or add new elements. Of course, the story of the tragic fate of the young pretender to the lion’s throne can still catch the heart, and some motives are simply immortal, so in the second half, when the story begins to gain momentum, it’s hard not to feel that it has lost some of its relevance. Despite the fact that the film is 15-20 minutes longer than the original, I cannot argue, with one exception, why the film is longer than in the animation. So there was a time to expand Scar’s motivations a bit, explain the destructive power of hyenas on the ecosystem, or even attempt a strong pro-ecological message. The creators did not take advantage of this possibility, instead they meticulously recreate scenes almost 1: 1 from the original.
Herein lies another live-action problem of “The Lion King”. Everything is strangely familiar, including the music and dialogues, but the animation was incredibly inventive in the composition and arrangement of the musical scenes. In the hyper-realistic version of Jon Favreau, there is no room for any fantastic elements, despite the fact that we still see talking lions on the screen or philosophical treatises about the life of a warthog with a meerkat. So the songs lose their visual power, and many extremely important scenes don’t carry any emotional charge. For example, the most important scene from the entire movie, that is, running along the narrow gorge of the wildebeest, where in the animation it looked like a terrifying, deadly mass. In this version, they are just running animals, without any additional context. The same is true of the only song performed by Skaza, which originally showed what strength Simba will have to face in the future, here performed without panache and deeper meaning.
There are many examples, because emotionally the film was completely put. Maybe this is due to the cult status of animation for me, but only the well-known music and a few dialogues made my heart beat faster. The hint of nostalgia was felt, but not at all where I would have expected it. Before the screening, I was sure that I would shed a tear with Simba over Mufasa’s body, and during the final duel (which is staged brilliantly) I would be extremely emotional. It did not take place, however, because the changes, although cosmetic, were enough for the film not to move the appropriate strings sentimentally, and the characters excessively faithful to the physiognomy of real animals, could not express their emotions with the expressions of their mouths.
“The Lion King” is an extremely solemn, pathetic and anagogical story, but in Jon Favreau’s version it is too little perceptible. The film still has valuable lessons to teach, for example about deserving one’s destiny, the power of justice and tolerance, and the importance and interdependence of every little life on the fate of others, but I’m not sure if the live-action version is giving them the right force. All comedy scenes with a reliable duo of Timon and Pumbaa are great. They appear in the middle of the movie, and this was the first time “The Lion King” had gotten energized. The smart meerkat and the dimwitted warthog are the strength that the film needs, and at the same time, with its slapstick situations, they evoke loud laughter. I wish there had been a brilliant Timon hula dance scene with Pumbaa as a delicious dinner for hyenas from the end of the animation, but as it was said before, the photo and hyperrealism did not help Favreau’s film.
However, you have to give the king back what is royal, because the movie, made entirely on computer screens, looks insane. Something so realistic, with attention to the smallest details, rendered with almost documentary reverence, has not yet been seen in the cinema. The Lion King is certainly the next step, perhaps even a milestone, in the development of CGI for use in the movie industry. The created African savannah looks as if it was taken alive from a travel agency catalog, and the animals look, sound (when they do not speak) and move very naturally. Only once again it is difficult not to hide disappointment when the pursuit of realism loses the artistic layer of the visual aspects of the film, in which the color palette is significantly limited. Nevertheless, Avengers: Endgame with its sensational final battle scene must bow to this year’s king of special effects, who will undoubtedly receive an Oscar in this category.
Looking at the cast of the original dub, I was very curious to see how it would come out. Just for Donald Glover giving the voice to the adult Simba, I couldn’t convince myself of. But it is more the effect of getting used to the excellent Polish dubbing of animation than the voice of the actor who does not suit this character. Chiwetel Ejiofor makes a great impression as Skaza, where from the very first lines of the dialogue you can feel that we are dealing with the main antagonist of the film. John Oliver as Zazu, Beyoncé as Nala, or John Kani as Rafiki may also like. Also sensational is James Earl Jones as Mufasa, who was able to give this character the required majesty. However, the show is stolen by the duo Billy Eichner as Timon and the sensational Seth Rogen as Pumbaa. Even for these two, it is worth hearing the original dubbed movie.
The live action of “The Lion King” does not live up to the classic animation. First of all, it lacks the emotions and weight of the whole story, which, although faithfully rendered, the meaning, strength and magic of individual scenes have disappeared somewhere. Disney makes its own circle of life with the next movie, and we with it, but not in the form we would like. I remember the animated film to this day – this story, emotions during the screening, songs, jokes. I forgot about the live-action of “The Lion King” right after I left the cinema. So this movie is like its protagonists: cute on the outside, but empty inside.