The Lion King 2019 is now in cinemas, but how does Disney's live-action remake compare to the animated original? Director Jon Favreau has largely remained faithful to 1994's The Lion King when crafting his own re-imagining of the classic, but there are still some big differences between the two.
There are some moments in The Lion King 2019 that are taken beat-for-beat from the original, such as "The Circle of Life" opening, with Rafiki (John Kani) presenting Simba (JD McCrary) as a little lion cub to the other animals of the Pride Lands. The story from there is mostly the same too, moving through Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor)'s plans and Mufasa (James Earl Jones)'s death, through to Simba (Donald Glover) growing up in exile and eventually returning home to reclaim Pride Rock from his villainous uncle.
For all the story, songs, and characters here are rooted in the original The Lion King, however, it can't avoid making some key changes. Because of the technology involved alongside some of the adaptation choices made by Favreau, Disney's The Lion King remake does end up being a different beast to the animation.
The Photorealism Changes The Look
The biggest and most obvious difference between the two versions of The Lion King is quite simply how the film looks. Whereas the original utilized the same 2D hand-drawn animation that Disney were known and loved for, The Lion King 2019 continues to push forward the same technology that Favreau used so well in 2016's The Jungle Book. It's incredibly photorealistic, which changes the entire look of the film. In the original The Lion King, there's no getting away from the fact that you are watching a cartoon. But in the so-called live-action remake of The Lion King, it all looks extremely real - at least, until the animals start talking and singing.
The technology used by Favreau here is, for the most part, groundbreaking. If you stripped away the dialogue and songs and instead replaced them with David Attenborough narration, it'd be like you're watching the most expensive nature documentary ever produced. This has its own drawbacks though, because, well, real animals don't talk and sing, and so it looks rather weird when they do. It also means you they portray the same facial expressions as with animation, which means the animals, despite looking so life-like, lose a lot of the character, energy, and emotion that brought the original The Lion King to life.
The Songs Aren't Fantastical
The focus on having a sense of realism spreads beyond just the look of The Lion King remake and into another of the movie's most important elements: the songs. The music is a huge part of why The Lion King animation is so beloved by Disney fans, and while the songs have carried over to the new film, there are some key differences in how they work in the film.
In the original The Lion King, the songs are moments where the film bursts into life; they're colorful, fantastical creations where the animals sing and dance, the backgrounds changing and spotlights shining. It's not just that the songs themselves are great, but that they mesh so perfectly with the animation, which allows the team to get more creative with its setting, while also still carrying the necessary emotion in songs like "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?". Because The Lion King 2019 is so realistic, that's all gone. Instead of the dancing animals and colorful backdrops of "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", you have Zazu (John Oliver) simply chasing Simba and Nala (Shahadi Wright Joseph) through a crowd of animals. "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" takes place during the daytime. It's just not quite the same.
Scar's Backstory Is Different (& Be Prepared Is Rewritten)
Of course, those changes pale in comparison to how "Be Prepared" is used in The Lion King. While it initially seemed as though the song wasn't going to be in the film at all, it does appear, sung by Ejiofor's Scar, but it's a very different take to Jeremy Irons' version. It's half the length for a start and loses almost all of its classic lines, such as "I know that your powers of retention / Are as wet as a warthog's backside", in favor of Scar winning the Hyenas over to his side with an emphasis on defeating Mufasa. Irons' version was a devilish delight; it was dripping with wit and lyrics that rolled off the tongue, while playing to how Scar considered himself more intelligent to everyone else. In The Lion King 2019, it becomes more akin to a battle shout from Ejiofor, who doesn't so much croon the lyrics as he does force them out.
This ties into how The Lion King 2019 changes Scar as a whole. This goes quite generally, since he has a change in demeanor: whereas the original Scar was positively Shakespearean and yet, thanks to Irons, also a little camp and unafraid to have some real fun with his villainy, the new Scar is a more serious, battle-weary menace. To accompany that, they've given him some additional backstory, which includes a previous fight with Mufasa, and that Sarabi previously chose Mufasa over Scar too.
The Hyenas Have More Autonomy
One of the reasons for The Lion King remake's "Be Prepared" being so different, aside from some changes in Scar's own personality, is that the hyenas have been given a serious upgrade too. In the original The Lion King, the hyenas a laughing fools who Scar manipulates into doing his bidding. In The Lion King 2019, they're given much more autonomy.
This is particularly the case for Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), the only hyena from the original to still exist here. Whereas in 1994's The Lion King she was just one of the pack, in Favreau's live-action remake she becomes their leader, and one who has a long-running history with Mufasa, which then becomes a personal rivalry with Nala (Beyoncé). As with Scar, the hyenas are made out to be far more threatening here too, rather than the bumbling fools of the original The Lion King. They do still provide some comic relief thanks to the banter between Azizi (Eric Andre) and Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), but they are a more credible enemy here.
Timon & Pumbaa Live In A Proper Society
Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) are arguably The Lion King 2019's biggest success in terms of adapting from the original. Their arrival into the film injects it with a much-needed dose of energy and humor, which they rarely let up from there on out. Although much of the story remains the same, there are a few differences between the original The Lion King's Timon & Pumbaa and the duo found here. That includes some new jokes, with Eichner and Rogen allowed to improvise, and getting to actually complete the "farted" line, but it also goes for where they live.
In The Lion King animation, Timon & Pumbaa are like drifters. They go wherever their spirits - or stomachs - take them and only really seem to have each other. In the remake of The Lion King, however, it's shown that the duo live in something resembling a proper, functioning society. We're introduced to some of their other friends, including an antelope, an elephant shrew, and a bush baby, and we see that the jungle they live in is lush and prosperous, supporting their way of life. That too, though, has a slightly darker tone to it: "Hakuna Matata" still means 'no worries', but there's an almost nihilistic quality to it now.
The Beauty & The Beast Moment
Sticking with Timon and Pumbaa, we come to one of The Lion King 2019's biggest and most controversial changes to the original. In both versions of the Disney film, when Simba leads the team back to Pride Rock to confront Scar, Pumbaa is used as bait for the hyenas. This plays out pretty hilariously in the original, with Timon doing a hula dance to grab the hyenas' attention.
That moment is replaced in The Lion King remake, however, by a reference to another Disney film (one which has also been remade). Instead of being a hula girl, Timon adopts a French accent and starts performing "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast. Does this mean the characters of The Lion King have seen Beauty and the Beast? Probably not. But is it one of the biggest and likely most divisive changes in The Lion King 2019 compared to the original animation? Definitely.
- The Lion King (2019) release date: Jul 19, 2019
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019
- Mulan (2020) release date: Mar 27, 2020