This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
animaldoctor’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I'm honestly really not sure how to rate this movie. If you take it as a film on its own merit without having seen the original film, it's fine, I suppose. The CGI is legitimately impressive, almost photorealistic, and almost guaranteed to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, which I personally have mixed feelings about. The voice acting is good, for the most part, but the dialogue is incredibly clunky. A lot of it feels really one-note and expositional, sometimes repetitive, and it just doesn't feel like natural dialogue. If I were to rate this as a film on its own, I'd probably give it a 2.5 to 3 star rating and probably give it somewhere between a C and B- grade. However, as a remake of the original Lion King, I would give it a 1-star rating, D- grade because of how insulting this is to the original film. I should have listened to everyone. It's literally just The Lion King, but worse and more hollow. That's it. It has some new scenes like Nala escaping Pride Rock that don't feel like they were necessary but are still kind of cool to see. However, aside from that and maybe a couple other minor character changes, that's it. Most of the changes they make don't make the movie better, to be honest, they just make it worse, and that's really sad. I saw potential in the trailer, but the film itself delivered none of that potential.
I think the biggest problem I have with this film was actually the use of photorealistic computer animation to make this film look live-action (like Jeremy Jahns said, this movie is intended to be taken is as live-action, so I am going to call it live-action). As impressive as the CGI is, making it as realistic as possible is a detriment to the way the original film was stylized. The original film decided to go with a style that incorporated characters that looked like real animals, but also took small liberties with the anthropomorphism to make them more expressive and feel more human and with the locations to make them feel more colorful, vibrant, and varied. Because this film is trying to match as closely to real-life Africa as possible, the animals are forced to keep the same facial expressions throughout the entire film and the scenery has to look as close to scenery from the Kalahari Desert as possible, so the expressions and characters feel hollow and the locations feel repetitive and very dry. I'm honestly not as bothered by the lack of emotional expression when the animals are trying to speak-- it's when you're supposed to look at them when they're completely silent and try to gauge what emotion they're feeling from a blank facial expression that's really the main issue with their realistic blank faces. It's also an issue when the musical numbers in this film break out and you're not allowed to have big, grand, colorful musical sequences like in the original film. It's just animals singing. They're just walking through their environment and singing. That's it. That's really not that interesting when you compare it to the original film.
I honestly didn't connect with any of the characters in this movie because none of them feel like real characters. Scar and the hyenas don't feel nearly as menacing as they did in the original film. The hyenas in particular bothered me because in the original, they were a combination of funny and menacing that leant slightly more towards the menacing side, so you felt like they could be truly great companions to Scar if they worked hard enough. Here, the hyenas are treated basically as comedic relief villainous sidekicks, which just didn't work as well for me. On top of that, as great of a job as Chiwetel Ejiofor is doing as the Scar in this version of The Lion King, he doesn't really feel like he has that much of a villainous presence in this version. Mufasa feels much blander, Timon and Pumbaa, while absolutely not terrible, definitely don't feel like they have as nearly as much chemistry here (as great as Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen are here and as funny as they are on their own-- they probably would be the best part of this movie had I not seen the original, since they do deliver some of the best lines), Rafiki's charisma is completely gone here, Simba and Nala don't feel like they have that much depth to them, and John Oliver as Zazu, who does have some of the best lines in this film, sometimes feels like he's delivering lines for his talk show and not as an actor for a movie. I just didn't connect with any of the characters here. It's a big problem when the film you're watching is trying to make you feel like you're watching real events and the characters just don't feel real.
There's nothing exciting about this movie. Most of the shots are either a still shot or a shot that moves with the animals and they really don't feel that unique. This is definitely my least favorite Jon Favreau film, and he's one of my favorite directors. Elf is one of my favorite comedies, and I personally really loved The Jungle Book live-action remake, but here, Favreau doesn't give any flare to his direction. Some of the scenes don't feel as grand, either. There are a couple of shots in this film that in the original were grand emotional moments with a sweeping score and exciting character and camera dynamics-- the scene where Mufasa plays with his father after finding out kings get scared to, the "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" sequence... the stampede sequence... all of these scenes are filmed with one single still shot in this film with re-created Hans Zimmer music that feels, for lack of a better term, half-assed. Seriously, it's like Hans Zimmer didn't even want to do this movie and remake his own score again. Like I said, the original score is probably one of my favorite films scores of all time, but in this film, the old music comes across as shallow, the backtracks for the old songs are just copy-pasted from the original film, and the new music just feels like a generic movie score. There's a new song, "Spirit," that's a good song but is just added into this film like a generic pop song and adds nothing to the story. Most of the song sequences, like I said, are just animals moving around. "Be Prepared" is turned into a minute-long monologue/song sequence where Scar speaks some of the words and sings some of the others... I mean, even if I hadn't seen the original, that choice probably would have been weird.
Why was more effort put into an animal acapella version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" than "Be Prepared"? Seriously, a new cast of animals is added into Timon and Pumbaa's forest for no discern[i]ble reason and they join Timon and Pumbaa to sing an acapella version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Why? Why was that necessary? All those animals added was a subplot where Simba thinks about wanting to befriend a prey item and Timon and Pumbaa saying that's not how the world works only for that subplot to be just resolved 30 minutes later with barely any development and with no mention of that antelope/prey item ever again... seriously, the only reason that was in this movie was to lengthen the runtime. That's it. The original film was an hour and a half and this film is two hours, and you can really tell sometimes when the director is trying to extend the runtime. I'll talk about another big instance of that by the end of this review, but I want to get back to "Be Prepared" really quick because there was something strange that happened during this scene. I watched this film at my local theater, and I could have sworn right after that song/monologue was over that I heard, like, a 7 or 8 year old kid audibly say, "That was funny." When the live-action remake of one of the most intense Disney movies makes even a KID think that the big villainous song sequence of the film is funny, you know you've really botched up your remake big time. Oh, and you wanna know something that really annoyed me? While I am SO glad they didn't recreate the Timon and Pumbaa hula scene in this movie (honestly, thank God), what they did do honestly angered me: Timon starts speaking in a French accent basically saying that Pumbaa will be great as a main entrée... and then... Timon starts singing "Be Our Guest." HE STARTS SINGING BE OUR GUEST!!! WHAT?!? You are in the middle of Africa!!! You have never seen a Disney film in your life!! Get out of here and screw you, movie!! That's the only pop culture reference in this movie and it feels so out of place. Oh, and Timon somehow knows what a puffin is despite the fact that he lives in Africa. Don't ask me how.
There's one more thing that I wanted to say in this review, and it's probably my least favorite part of this entire movie. In the original film, when Simba kicks up the dust and it manages to blow all the way to Rafiki's tree so that he finds out he's alive, it made sense because you could believe that the wind happened to carry that dust to Rafiki's tree and you know that Rafiki is spiritually connected to the world around him, so it makes sense that he could realize Simba was alive. In this film, Simba loses a single tuft of fur which is then carried down a river, picked up by a bird and put into its nest, shaken out of its nest and eaten by a giraffe, pooped out by the giraffe, carried away by a dung beetle and dropped by said dung beetle, blown away into a dust devil and into the path of an ant, and carried away by said ant to Rafiki, who has not been established as being spiritually connected to the world around him but is somehow able to look at the tuft of fur and immediately go, "Simba?" Um... EXCUSE ME?!? The number of coincidences that needed to occur for that to happen is so astronomical, it's absurd. That really does sum up my main problem with this movie-- its attempt at realism makes a lot of the characters feel flat and a lot of the story elements make no sense whatsoever.
As a film on its own, you could watch it. It's fine. The CGI is absolutely incredible and scarily photorealistic at times and the voice acting is as good as it could be for the script these actors were given. However, as a remake of one of the greatest animated movies of all time, the characters are just a shell of their former selves, the music and sequences don't feel nearly as intense or emotional, the realism in this film hampers its logic, and its just forgettable overall because of how bland the movie is compared to the original. People did legitimately cry during Mufasa's death sequence in this movie, but I hope that was because they haven't seen the original film, they remembered how emotional the scene was in the original film and thought about that, or they just got emotional because the idea of an animal or a person dying was upsetting to them. If they actually cried at the honestly mundane way Mufasa's death sequence was executed in this movie, I don't even really know what to say to that. I personally like the Jungle Book and even Beauty and the Beast remakes. Sure, they had their fair share of problems (particularly the latter), but they tried new things and added backstory that felt appropriate for that specific film while also staying true to the original source material and keeping the likability of the characters. With this remake, there's barely anything new added and the characters aren't likable or interesting here, so what's the point? A lot of the dialogue feels like 2019 modern dialogue, there are some really drawn out humorous sequences-- it's changes like that that just show that when this film actually does try to change something, it epically fails, and that's just sad.
Letter Grade: D+