The Lion King (1994) is the greatest movie of all time. I’m not being facetious— I genuinely believe it is a perfect film. I used to watch it on repeat when I was little, a story my father still regales us with over two decades later. At 26, I still regard it as my favorite movie. It is, in short, the greatest movie ever made.
So my opinion, out of every opinion in the world, on the 2019 “live action” remake holds the most weight. Okay, this time I’m being facetious. Kind of. What I’m saying is I’m a Lion King aficionado and I have thoughts on the reboot.
I wouldn’t exactly call this post a review, per se. This is more of an opinion piece. While I’ve reviewed movies in the past, I honestly don’t feel all that qualified to do so. If you’ve noticed, I mainly only focus on story and character elements. You know, the same things you find in books. So this is not a review. Not totally.
You’re probably thinking, “Ren, quit stalling! Tell us what you think of the movie!” To which I say, settle down. I’m getting to it. So, how do I feel about The Lion King (2019)? Meh.
First of all, this
is not a live action remake. It’s all CGI. I don’t know why we keep calling it live action. Because it looks realistic? That doesn’t make it real. So I’m going to refer to it only as the 2019 remake. But this has been my stance all along, and not really a mark against the film.
In order to discuss The Lion King (2019) in a clear and concise way, I’m going to simply discuss what I liked and what I didn’t. And, so we can end on a positive note, I’ll start with my dislikes. In true Jenny Nicholson fashion, I’ll be sharing each as a numbered list.
- I don’t like how Scar is portrayed. He’s too aggressive. Scar is supposed to be cunning and manipulative. He only resorts to violence and aggression when it’s his only option. But in the 2019 version, he is yelling and growling all the time.
New Scar also feels like less of a tyrant somehow. The only thing he seems to care about is hunting as much as he and the hyenas want. Original Scar has Zazu locked up, forbids everyone from mentioning Mufasa, and seems to be going a little mad. The fact that he desires power but doesn’t know how to wield it is a core part of his character. But New Scar has a pretty tight leash on everything.
Making New Scar want Sarabi as his queen and having once fought Mufasa for her is supposed to make his character more well-rounded, but instead takes away from his character. Scar doesn’t love anyone— he kills his own brother and tries to kill his nephew. All he cares about is being the one with all the power. Why would he want to share that? It makes no sense.
- None of these characters have any expressions. I won’t spend too much time on this since this talking point has been talked to death, but it really does come at a detriment to the film. The animators wanted to make everything look realistic, I get that. But it’s a movie about talking animals. We’ve passed the point of realism here.
The issue isn’t just the weird disconnect between speech and expression. It actively robs the emotion from pivotal scenes. I usually cry when Mufasa dies, but it was difficult to empathize with an affectless Simba. I didn’t tear up until he curled up next to Mufasa (and then New Scar ruined the scene).
I also cry usually during the scene at the end where Simba walks up Pride Rock to take his place as king. I felt nothing during this scene in the remake. Where is Simba’s determination? Where is Rafiki’s pride? Where is the lioness’ awe? I got nothing from anybody and it sucked.
- They extended some scenes for seemingly no reason. And I don’t mean significant scenes. The scene of the mouse that Scar catches in the beginning of the film is extended. We watch that mouse run around for like two full minutes before Scar shows up.
The other extended scene is when Simba’s fur blows off and reaches Rafiki. This takes mere seconds in the original. In the 2019 remake, this scene takes four to five minutes. For a large chunk of screen time, you’re just watching a ball of fur travel across the Serengeti. Nobody needed that. Nobody. They just wanted to show off their CGI animation.
- WTF was “Be Prepared”? I am almost offended by what they did with the song. They cut most of it and, again, made Scar far too aggressive while singing it. I assume they trimmed it down and altered it because Chiwetel Ejiofor isn’t a singer, but they also could’ve hired someone who can sing or dubbed him. They made all the wrong choices in the arrangement of this song.
- The hyenas are now a rival gang/secondary villains. This is a really strange choice because now there’s too many conflicts. The lions and hyenas are rivals, but also not really because the lions have all the power. Shenzi is now the leader of the hyenas, but I guess also Scar’s minion. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
- Sarabi feels like a completely different character. She doesn’t stand up to Scar, except to tell him she won’t be his queen. All her spunk has been removed. Because of how she defies him in the original, the implication is she, Nala, and the other lionesses are all in cahoots. In insisting they remain in the Pridelands, New Sarabi effectively removes all support for Nala who now acts alone.
- The way Scar lured Simba into the gorge was a little better. I mean, not by much, but still. In the original, Scar says he has a surprise for Simba and throws in as an aside that he should practice his “little roar.” In the remake, Scar takes Simba down to the gorge to “find his roar.” He tells Simba everything he wants to hear, including that Mufasa once did this too and everyone will see Simba as a grown up.
The down side to this is that we lose Scar’s iconic line, “Simba, it’s to die for.” So, a point for some excellent manipulation on New Scar’s part, but a demerit for his lack of dramatic irony.
- Timon and Pumbaa. That’s it, just Timon and Pumbaa. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan bring these characters to life in a way that is familiar, yet fresh. They infuse this movie with the humor it is largely missing up until they appear. They are, hands down, the best part of this film. So many hilarious one-liners and great banter. Apparently a lot of it was improv too. These two really saved the film for me.
- The shot-for-shot remake scenes are everything. I know the point of remaking a movie is to bring something new to the table, but these scenes felt like coming home. I just… I really liked ‘em, man.
Despite having way more things I disliked than liked, I found the film to be overall fine. Well, more like mediocre. There was no reason to remake this film because, unlike other Disney films, there were no questions that needed to be answered. This remake adds nothing to the story or the canon. But hey, at least it’s better than The Lion Guard (which is not canon).
Have you seen The Lion King (2019)? What did you think of it? Let’s have a discussion in the comments!