Disney continues its dominance of the global box office with the new The Lion King – the studio’s latest remake of one of its animated classics. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King shows how a young Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover) overcomes tragedy to become the rightful king of the Pride Lands.
While it mostly stays faithful to the 1994 animated classic, the new Lion King changes a few things and adds some original scenes to give old-school fans something new to look forward to. As expected, some of these changes improve the source material while the others don’t. Here are four ways that The Lion King improves on the original movie and six ways it did not.
It goes without saying that the remake’s animation is some of the best CGI seen in a modern blockbuster. Featuring photorealistic renditions of the animals and their domains, The Lion King takes digital filmmaking to heights previously thought to be unreachable.
The Moving Picture Company–the studio behind Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book–returns to bring the Pride Lands and its inhabitants to life. Using virtual-reality technology and cameras to create a VR-simulated environment, the animators created what Disney is proudly calling “a new form of filmmaking.”
In the original, the hyenas–Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed–are Scar’s memorably vicious minions. The animated hyena trio is a goofy lot that while humorous, shouldn’t be taken lightly as Scar learns in the last seconds of his life.
The remake features a new trio–Shenzi, Kamari, and Azizi–who are noticeably deadlier and meaner. Shenzi is now the hyenas’ fierce Alpha, while Kamari and Azizi share a comedic tandem centered around the latter’s disrespect of personal space. By choosing to introduce entirely new hyenas, the remake stands out in this specific aspect.
Before Nala pounces on Timon and Pumbaa, the two are seen goofing off in their private paradise while singing The Token’s famous song “The Lion Sings Tonight.” This happens again in the remake, but it’s more energetic and (debatably) better sung.
Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella (Timon and Pumbaa, respectively) sung well in 1994, but Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen (Timon and Pumbaa, respectively) sing a longer snippet of the song and are backed up by some friends. The scene is short but perfectly encapsulates the fun-loving nature of the two best friends.
The Circle of Life is the central philosophy of The Lion King that’s quoted a lot. It’s also sometimes mocked because it clearly benefits those at the top of the food chain. Timon and Pumbaa, who know they’re prey, counter this with their own philosophy: the meaningless line of indifference.
Because the two could be eaten at any moment, they’ve adopted a cheerful brand of nihilism to justify their carefree lives. This extension of their famous motto “Hakuna Matata” is a funny (if shortsighted) retort to the profound Circle of Life that adds to the duo’s humorous personalities.
With very few exceptions, the remake of The Lion King is a word-for-word retelling of the original. One of its few but noticeable changes is the pacing, which quickens the flow of events. This, however, only causes more problems for the remake.
The remake follows the same outline of events but shortens (i.e. "Be Prepared") or cuts some key moments (i.e. Rafiki’s life advice) to quickly get to the next scene. Even if it’s 30 minutes longer than the original, the new Lion King feels strangely rushed and leaves no time for proper character development.
The Lion King boasts some of the most talented people working in the industry today, but even the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar or John Oliver as Zazu couldn’t save this remake from being bland at best.
By no fault of their own, the cast can do little to elevate a retread of the original. The old script is an ill fit for the new voice actors since they’re working with material not written for them. Some exceptions include new conversations for Timon and Pumbaa and the hyenas’ banter, but these are small saving graces.
It’s impossible to deny how amazing the CGI used for The Lion King is but this slavish ode to realism over anything slightly colorful or fantastical is the remake’s downfall. In effect, it sacrificed everything that defined the animated classic to look like the most expensive episode of BBC’s Planet Earth.
This obsession with reality affects everything in the movie, ranging from the characters’ looks to their singing. One example is the opening sequence, where Pride Rock no longer explodes in vibrant colors during the sunrise as it now boasts realistic shades of flat yellows and browns.
Most animals don’t share the facial features and functions of people, making it difficult for filmmakers to imbue them with the emotions that comprise the human experience. This problem is easily remedied by cartoonists and animators, who can stylize animals and inanimate objects to resemble people.
But because animals can’t realistically have a wide range of emotions, the new Lion King features a cast of hyper-realistic lions, hyenas, and more that just so happen to talk. The end result is a movie populated by lifelike yet lifeless animals that anatomically can’t express the appropriate emotions in their scenes.
Like the other animated classics of the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s, The Lion King boasted an impressive soundtrack featuring the works of Elton John and Hans Zimmer that’s revered today. Its remake, conversely, handpicks a few tracks to recycle while adding new pieces that simply don’t fit.
With the involvement of current pop sensations like Beyoncé, Donald Glover, and Pharrell Williams, it was inevitable that new material would be composed but the most recent additions glaringly stick out instead of blending smoothly with the original soundtrack.
What helped immortalize the songs of The Lion King were their gorgeously animated sequences. From the playfulness of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” to Scar’s rousing militarism in “Be Prepared,” the 1994 classic maximized its animation to complement the songs.
But for realism’s sake, the remake abandons the imaginative dance numbers and imagery in favor of photorealistic animals running around while reciting lyrics to the tune of some familiar beats. One notably strange change is “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” being sung in the morning. Calling the CGI musical numbers “lifeless” is an understatement.