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The Lion King review - a dazzling photocopy | reviews, news & interviews

The Lion King review - a dazzling photocopy

The Lion King review - a dazzling photocopy

A technological triumph doesn't touch the heart

Father's pride: Musafa and SimbaDisney

The cynicism of this film’s existence squeezes all the feeling from it. It approaches cherished childhood memories of the original The Lion King (1994) with a view to remonetising them. Technological advances apart, there’s no reason at all for this Lion King.

The plot proceeds precisely as before, with lion cub Simba (the voice of Donald Glover once grown) pottering happily around the Pride Lands, an ecologically balanced Eden ruled by benign despot Mufasa (the returning James Earl Jones). Simba’s uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), pictured below, here ravaged and spectrally white, again plots regicide, with the aid of the hyenas who haunt the Elephants’ Graveyard, a petrified landscape as bleached as Scar’s skin and the bone-dry barrenness which will overtake the Pride Lands, once his ravenous appetites’ rule.Scar and hyena minions in The Lion KingFather-son bonding is quite affecting, as Mufasa and Simba playfully tussle and Jones’ sonorous voice imparts life lessons, including his implicit awareness of his own eventual death (aka “The Circle of Life”, as the Elton-Tim Rice mega-ballad again has it). The CGI realism of this wholly animated addition to Disney’s previous live-action remakes, modelled by director Jon Favreau on BBC wildlife films, also makes Simba agreeably cute. But the warm blood that’s missing is shown when Musafa is betrayed and murdered by Scar, tumbling from a high rock to his doom. Where this originally rivalled the primal shock of Bambi’s mother’s death, the moment now seems merely functional.

It’s quickly passed over, anyway, as Simba moves happily through adolescence under the idiotic tutelage of warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner). Favreau, who made his name with the hip, snappy adult comedy Swingers (1996) before becoming a blander lynchpin of the Marvel and Disney remake franchises, at least ensures the humour crackles. 

This Lion King is certainly a marvel of CGI, giving a sense of weight to the soft pad of a paw on rock. Sound design is equally immaculate, adding a low whistle of tangible desolation to African desert air. Favreau sometimes uses these resources emotionally, as when the warmth slides from Scar’s eyes like a shark about to bite, and hyenas’ snouts fill the frame with horror film realism, snapping at the hunted lion cubs.

Zazu and Simba in The Lion KingThe problem is the absence of surprise. It’s a bit more of an eco-parable than it was a quarter-century ago, and Simba’s future queen Nala is played by Beyoncé with slightly more feminist assertion. What Disney are offering isn’t art, though, but an expensive upgrade akin to the remastering which lets record labels sell you the same album twice. It’s part of the same tawdry, inbred cinema ecology which has introduced Spider-Man three times in 17 years, and sees further Disney remakes, Marvel and Star Wars films scheduled into infinity.

Just think how fresh the films which revived Disney’s ailing animated empire were – from the innocent feminine optimism of The Little Mermaid (1989) to The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s intimations of Nazism and contemporary genocide in former Yugoslavia, to Aladdin’s stand-up showcase for Robin Williams. In 2019, the company is still timidly pedalling the past. Tell us a new story, please.

What Disney are offering isn’t art, but an expensive upgrade


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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