Disney has always been a dominant force in cinema, but with their acquisitions of Star Wars, Marvel, and most recently Fox, the studio has morphed into a Thanos-like presence in Hollywood. Aside from their acquisitions, Disney internal studio has had a surprisingly hit-or-miss year with their own creative projects, as both Dumbo and Aladdin were met with mixed reactions despite the latter’s box office success. The same can be said for their latest live-action remake The Lion King, which ultimately feels like a shell of the 1994 film it’s based on.
This remake adapts the original film in a nearly identical manner. We follow the journey of Simba (Donald Glover), a young lion who suffers a tragic loss when his father and king of the animal kingdom Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is killed. With the help of some friends, he learns about life and his responsibilities as a future king while dueling with his evil uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Remakes are common practice in today’s cinematic landscape, giving studios an interesting opportunity to recreate a classic while cashing in on its brand appeal. Based on The Lion King’s middling final product, it seems Disney was only concerned with the latter point when reinventing this film.
Visually, the live-action look acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, the incredible realism put into the animals’ designs are impressive, creating a life-like version of this story that has its occasional moments of visceral impact. At the same time, the transition from animation to live-action removes much of the personality from the original film and its respective characters. The animals aren’t able to emote similarly to their expressive animated counterparts, losing a lot of the emotional power that comes from the material.
One of the major drawing points for audiences with this remake is seeing a star-studded cast step into these familiar roles. Some stars like Seth Rogen and John Oliver are successfully able to bring their charming personas to the big screen, but most of the actors end up feeling wasted. It’s a shame that both Donald Glover and Beyonce aren’t giving more of an opportunity to make the crucial roles of Simba and Nala as their own, as the film seems more concerned with following the blueprint of the original rather than adding to it.
If you’ve seen the original, The Lion King can’t help but feel derivative. There are virtually no new creative ideas brought to this, leaving a film that’s appeal rest solely on your ability to stomach another re-telling of this story. Without much to add, audiences are left with one of the year’s more disappointing films.