It's hard to feel the love for 'The Lion King'
- This is a photorealistic remake of the 1994 animated Disney film
- Director Jon Favreau can’t capture the excitement of his 2016 ‘Jungle Book’ remake
As the camera tracks across the plains of the African Savannah, strains of Circle of life waft over shots of animals grazing. It comes to rest on Pride Rock. Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is watching over his kingdom and celebrating the birth of his son, Simba. As Rafiki the mandrill (John Kani) anoints the heir apparent, all the animal species bow dutifully.
The image of a cub snuggling in his mother’s arms is adorable. And it’s this king of “awww" moments that director Jon Favreau banks on, just as much as the wow factor of seeing the photorealistic computer animated animals and nature that transports you into this world. The ruffling of the lion’s mane in the wind, the details of the animal kingdom, the colours and the tone of the story are remarkable.
But set the technological and artistic achievements aside, and The Lion King (version 2.0) merges with the old and with Favreau’s other (and comparatively superior) reworking —The Jungle Book. For the most part this reboot is similar to the 1994 original, with additional scenes and songs.
Even as Mufasa gives Simba life lessons to prepare him to take over as king one day, the cub is impatient to impress his father. Misled by an ambitious and angry uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Simba treads onto dangerous turf, resulting in misfortune. Opting for self-imposed exile, Simba (Donald Glover) discovers a new world where he’s less lion and more of a pussycat. He sings Hakuna Matata with his new besties, Pumbaa the warthog, and Timon the meerkat (Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner are in top form as the four-legged Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the piece). Other familiar songs include Can You Feel The Love Tonight and I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.
Simba nurses the hurt of a home lost until he is reunited with childhood friend Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter) and returns to the pride lands that have been ravaged by Scar and his henchmen, a pack of scavenging hyenas headed by queen Shenzi (Florence Kasumba).
Like Scrat, who is chasing an acorn in the Ice Age series, Favreau slips in a sidebar about a travelling tuft of hair. It’s a lovely précis of how things in nature move, are consumed, and so on.
The echoes of Hamlet are retained and given darker hues in an effort to add emotional heft. Conversations about food chains and the circle of life resonate more this time around and while there are dashes of cute and colourful revelry, the question remains: did we really need a near-faithful remake with added flab?