Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Review: "The Lion King" is impressive to look at, passive to sit through

The Lion King Review
Whether its watching your favorite superheroes come to life onscreen. Whether its the ignition of the "Star Wars" franchise. Or whether its rewatching your favorite cartoon movies as a kid now as live action remakes, Disney has become comfortable just selling your nostalgia right back to us. Sure, they call it merely making old favorites for a new generation. But isn't that what they all say? Aren't they just counting on the old generation to bring their kids, to see if maybe they can remaking their classics again for the generation after that? 

Your enjoyment of "The Lion King" will depend on how powerful your nostalgia is for the old movie from 1994. I would gauge the same thing for all of these live action Disney remakes. How far outside the box they decide to go while still remaking the movie are the ones that stick out the most to me. The others? Well, they feel like watching somebody sing karaoke of your favorite song. Jon Favreau did an impeccable job making a live action Jungle Book. Out of all the Disney live action movies, that is currently my favorite. "The Lion King" is my favorite Disney movie ever. So, if any of these remakes forced me to carry some heavy baggage into the theater, its this one. But since Jon Favreau did such a tremendous job on "The Jungle Book," we are good hands, right?

First and foremost, "The Lion King" is breath taking to behold. Breath. Take. Ing. If "The Lion King" is anything, its a showcase of the sheer power of special effects, and I am sure we are looking at an early front runner for Visual Effects Oscar for the winter. The movie itself? Well, it's an oddly passive experience. The whole time it tightrope walks on the line between being a nostalgic rush and being just another karaoke version of a classic tale. Sure, the pretty pictures are just that, pretty. But if you are looking forward to something more, the movie just kind of runs on autopilot.

The biggest eye-opener is that Jon Favreau did very little to make this movie stand out. I love "The Lion King," I grew up with "The Lion King." Its a movie I definitely feel like I know inside and out. With these remakes, there needs needs to be an angle that feels fresh and innovative. "The Lion King" just seems like a frame-by-frame retelling of the original animated movie, partially on fast forward. There are only a few superficial changes to certain things, but basically what your watching is the animated movie in live action. 

I visited New York City in 2003 with my family and one of the things we did while there was see "The Lion King" on Broadway. It was spectacular show. Just dazzling and mesmerizing, a experience that goes beyond detail. The difference between the 1994 movie and the Broadway musical isn't simply me watching actors dressed like animals. There were a few different songs and a couple scenes that slightly change the meaning or highlight a theme differently. Sure, a stage musical and a movie are two completely different experiences but he musical went beyond to make a different experience too. Live action "The Lion King," if we can even really call it that, works basically as an updated version of the original animated movie. Its basically the same movie with different voices. I wonder why pay money for a movie ticket for the same experience you can have at home, albeit more kiddy?

The best live action Disney updates do something different with the material, but "The Lion King" plays it so unbelievably close to the original movie that, put side by side, just look too identical. Not only that, a lot of the movie suffers from a lack of feeling. The live action movie misses some of the humor and emotion that made the original film a keeper. Movies are empathy machines on a level I've never seen before, and the best movies don't just allow an audience to watch something, they feel it. The original "Lion King" still gets me today. This new one doesn't hit you in the heart the same way the original did, and I know that's possible because Favreau did that with his "Jungle Book."

Choosing regular actors to voice animated characters can be made or broken by which actor is chosen. I have to be dead honest, as much as I like Seth Rogen, his work as Pumbaa took me out of the movie. Every single time, it took me out of the movie. Rogen's voice is so distinct, and so on-the-nose iconic that you feel like your almost watching a parody of "The Lion King." I liked John Oliver as Zazoo. I liked Donald Glover and Beyonce Knowles-Carter does good work as Nala. I am going to go ahead and assume they both did their own singing, and of course its good. As much as I love Chiwetel Ejiofor is a masterful actor, but I don't think his voice work can honestly compare to the work by Jeremy Irons as Scar.

If you need a nostalgia overload, go ahead see it. If you need to see one of your favorite movies from yesteryear, go ahead see it. The visuals will definitely knock you flat. Just know this isn't going tug the heart strings as much as the original did. Even knowing the original isn't going to make you interpret this one any differently. This feels like a movie that was merely made just so more billions of dollars can flood to Disney, billions they really doesn't need, without anything new to bring to the table. Without the fun and humor of the first film. Sorry, but I'll take Ninja Rafiki over brawler Rafiki any day of the week.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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